'Mushroom Men' sprouts quirky good time

It sounds like the premise of a cheesy 1950s science-fiction film — a green meteorite plummets to Earth and the ensuing space dust causes fungal and plant life to become conscious — but this tall tale is from a quirky new video game for the Nintendo Wii platform.

Created by Red Fly Studio of Austin, Texas, Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars introduces us to Pax, a 3-inch-high scout from the peaceful Bolete mushroom tribe, who discovers he's different from other mushrooms. While setting out on a journey of self-realization, Pax helps protect his clan and allied tribes against the malevolent armies of Lepiota and Amanita mushrooms, as well as dangerous creatures such as rats, spiders and hornets.

Played from a third-person perspective, Mushroom Men is an action-adventure hybrid with plenty of "platforming" elements such as jumping on objects to reach higher areas, collecting items, exploring hidden areas for bonus goodies (including concept art unlocked from the main menu) and fighting. With the latter, the Wii remote is waved around to wallop baddies and the A button causes Pax to jump for an aerial attack, while the tethered nunchuk controller is used to block, roll and move Pax around.

Mushroom Men also offers an interesting weapon-building system, in which items you find can be used to create new weapons in one of four categories: slashing weapons, piercing weapons, bashing weapons and radical weapons. Different weapons work better with certain enemies so you can pause the game to enter the gear screen and equip Pax accordingly.

You can also point the remote at the screen and press the B trigger button to unleash special powers, such as "Sporekinesis" that lets you magically move big objects like baseballs or two-by-fours. At other times, puzzles must be solved to progress through a level, and if help is needed, a nearby character might be able to provide a hint or two.

Because our hero is a teeny mushroom, you get to experience the world from Pax's miniature perspective, involving such things as running through discarded soup cans, jumping on playing cards, balancing on a TV remote like a bridge or using a smart phone's stylus as a staff. The populated, colorful environments have a wacky Tim Burton-esque feel, often with slanted camera angles and trippy music written by bassist Les Claypool of the band Primus. Mushroom Men might remind seasoned PC gamers of a psychedelic adventure game from 1996 called Bad Mojo, in which you play as a cockroach — though this new Wii title features a lot more action.

Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars is an endearing new franchise (which also includes a Nintendo DS prequel called Mushroom Men: Rise of the Fungi), and while it's not terribly deep or challenging, it proves to be a fun and zany adventure for kids and kids at heart.

Contact Saltzman at gnstech@gns.gannett.com.

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