Review: Mushroom Wars 210 Oct 2017 1
Review: Mushroom Wars 2
Released 17 Sep 2017
After years of real-time strategy languishing as a genre thanks to changing player tastes and a dearth of new ideas, I found it a bit surprising that the shot of innovation the genre needed has come primarily from mobile games. Clash of Clans and Clash Royale, while not particularly great games, have proven incredibly popular, and their success has led directly to more developers exploring the RTS mobile space.
One of these has been Mushroom Wars, which began life on the PlayStation 3 but found its fanbase on iOS and eventually Android back in 2013. Mushroom Wars 2, now handled by developer Zillion Whales, has been out since last year, and now with a brand-new Steam release, we figured we’d give it a look-see. As in the first game, Mushroom Wars 2 is a conquest game about building up forces in villages in order to conquer new settlements and take over a map. In this world, it has been fungi rather than primates who wound up achieving sentience, so you’re a mushroom commander of mushroom soldiers who live inside mushrooms and are at war with mushrooms. The game’s title is certainly accurate.
While there’s a story of sorts, told wordlessly through painterly scenes of elder mushrooms passing knowledge along to the younger warrior mushrooms (mosquitoes are involved somehow), it’s vague and largely uninteresting. This didn’t bother me, though—the times when I find myself playing mobile games are most often when I’m on a bus or a train, and I’d much prefer getting straight into the action over watching non-interactive exposition.
New to Mushroom Wars 2 are heroes, which you can select at the beginning of each match, whether you’re playing the campaign or multiplayer. These don’t show up in battle, but instead carry a unique loadout of new special abilities. They can speed troops up, add to morale, or sneakily take over unguarded enemy settlements.
Once battle begins, you’ll have a few settlements to start out, depending on the map and scenario. Your starting villages will immediately begin generating soldiers, with the number available displayed in a little cloud overhead. You can sacrifice troops to make your settlements larger or change them into forges (which improve your army’s performance) or turrets (which will automatically fire at enemies). Larger settlements can hold more soldiers and produce them faster, but the later upgrades get expensive.
From here, it’s a matter of directing troops toward settlements you want to reinforce or attack. The simplest way to do this is to drag a finger from the origin village to the target village, but a three-finger tap will allow you to draw a line through multiple settlements to send all their soldiers at a single target simultaneously. Double-tapping an eligible village will initiate an upgrade, and a single tap on a town will open a small radial menu that gives you options to upgrade or transform into a forge, a turret, or back into a village.
Sending troops out against enemy settlements is simple and elegant, and I’ve never gotten tired of watching the stolid little mushroom soldiers marching shoulder to shoulder (or perhaps, cap to cap) in their tight formations. It’s tempting to send the entire force every time you attack, but it’s important to maintain garrisons, which you can do by selecting the size of the force you want to send out (100, 75, 50, or 25 percent of the village’s total pool). The three-finger tap gesture was a bit fiddly and prone to misclicks at first, but over time I got used to it and found it very useful -- even if I still occasionally fumble an order. It’s a game about rhythms, and while the mechanics are simple, there’s a depth to it that reveals itself as you play increasingly challenging matches. You start recognizing the push and pull of attack and defense, and feints and bluffs become part of your strategy, particularly in head-to-head.
Mushroom Wars 2 is lovely to look at as well, with a vibrant color palette and a friendly art style. There seem to be about three dominant art styles in mobile games these days, and while Mushroom Wars 2 isn’t pushing the envelope much on that front, the presentation is still beautiful, with beams of sunlight playing across green Saturday morning forest floors and reflecting in aquamarine cave pools. Playing on my Galaxy S8, I was able to choose from a variety of resolutions as well, up to 1920x1080, which I thought was a very nice touch. The game runs fluidly, but I did find that load times could be annoyingly long.
I found head-to-head multiplayer to be the game’s most exciting mode, but it’s unfortunately saddled with an all-too-familiar “pay for charges” business model that eventually keeps you from playing. Heroes’ abilities need to be charged up with gems, which you can buy for cash. Gems can also be used to purchase gold, and you can use that to unlock new heroes. To play beyond the first few tutorial missions, you’ll also need to purchase campaign episodes, which each include 50 levels and are listed at $6.49 per episode. Two have been released so far, with two more planned, and you can opt to buy a season pass that includes all four for $15.99 instead of picking them up piecemeal. For a mobile game, that’s on the pricey side, and having to grind out in-game currency to unlock heroes or just to play matches is a big drag.
There’s just enough free content to give you a taste of Mushroom Wars 2 on mobile, and it’s a beautiful-looking, fun little game that has a surprising amount of depth to it. The question is how you feel about the price tag, which is mighty steep for the mobile space. Where you find yourself on the cost versus value proposition will come down to personal preference, but Mushroom Wars 2 is certainly worth at least a look.