Review: Mushroom Wars18 Feb 2013 0
I'll admit, I didn't expect much from Mushroom Wars, a PS3 downloadable real-time strategy now ported to iOS. Yes yes, not entering in with preconceived notions, so on and so on, journalistic standards, yada yada, something something bias—whatever. Look at these pipsqueaks! They're all cute and colorful and full of, ugh, whimsy. “How can these lilliputian fungi scratch my hardcore strategy itch?” I asked, (rhetorically). But fast-forward a few hours and there sits my scabrous hankering for tactical engagements, raw and absolutely scratched to hell.
The mechanics at the fungal heart-equivalent of Mushroom Wars should be familiar to most of the real-time strategy-minded out there. There's a single-screen battlefield. Maybe we have a river and some rustic looking bridges, maybe not. There's an assortment of buildings on this battlefield. Maybe you own some and the enemy owns the rest, or maybe there's a range of neutral territories between you and your fibrous foe.
Of course, there are different classes of buildings. Villages, and only villages, spawn your troops—automatically, in fact. These villages—and the rest of the game's structures, for that matter—can be upgraded once the number of troops housed inside them reaches a certain level. Upgrades provide long-term benefits (greater defensibility, increased troop spawning, etc.) for a short-term drawback: in a grim twist, troops are literally “spent” (presumably killed and used as fertilizer) to purchase upgrades. Towers, the only means of indirect, long range combat in the game, get shoot-ier, and forges, which increase the power of your forces, get even more power... increase-ier.
Troops housed in buildings can be moved around easily via touch-controls, with a handy slider on the left selecting for just how many wee soldiers you want to shuttle around—a nice touch, even if the 50% and 25% options really only become useful late in the game, when your armies swell to their fullest in the face of Mushroom Wars' tougher campaign levels.
You can probably see where all this is going. Capture key strategic locations, hold the front while massing troops in the rear, and slowly wear down the enemy to achieve victory. And you're right, of course. That's basically the rub, aye.
But Mushroom Wars excels in wringing every last spore out of its chosen mechanical truffle. This is a title that, as a whole, is deeper than any single one of its parts might suggest. Enemy troops, for example, can only be seen while they're moving between structures. It's impossible to know whether one or one-hundred troops are prepped and ready for defense once they're safely ensconced within an opposing fortification. Well... impossible unless you watch the enemy's troop movements as closely as your own, so that you know which structures are chock-a-block with troops and which are ripe for a low-risk raid. You did that, right? Oh, but you're also going to want to have better defensive positions fortified before that raid, in case you're counterattacked. And oh, oh, you're also going to want to make sure you have morale on your side. I mentioned morale, yes? No? Oh...
Morale couldn't be simpler in Mushroom Wars. Do good stuff (upgrade buildings, kill more than you're killed, take over several fortifications in quick succession) and the little suns on your side of the screen light up. Let your enemy run the table, or feed them a mass of troops in a suicidal attack on a heavily defended position, and their suns light up. The more suns you have the better you are at doing... things. Like, just sort of... generally, all around. Ahem.
So maybe Mushroom Wars doesn't do the best job of explaining just how things like morale, the defender's advantage, and technological superiority work. But those things are there, they do work, and even if you can't explain why, these mechanics are intuitive enough where you can safely rely on weaving their benefits into your strategy, while also being obtuse enough that no battle is ever, truly, one-hundred percent decided before it starts. Not observably, at least.
There are other masterful touches too, elements gradually introduced over the course of the campaign: the ability to change structures from one type to another, a (slightly wonky) double-tap maneuver which lets you move all your units at once, mushroom aliens—too many precocious little bits and bobs to list here. So, instead, an anecdote:
Command sent us packing straight to Zalarshire after the battle at Keretham. Guess you might call that some kind of thanks, though you can bet your spores none of us grunts looked at it that way. All we could see was that the Bluez had already dug themselves in, and deep, by the time we'd set up a staging ground on that damnable island. Bastards even had a forge up and running, cranking out some shiny toys. We were outnumbered and outgunned. Orders were to secure a series of strategic locations in the area. In this case, “strategic” included a heavily fortified artillery tower—held by local bandits who'd just as soon shoot us as the Bluez—smack dab in the middle of the island.
Now, brass ran the scenario through a couple times, and every which way it was grim. No way we could hope to secure either the north village or the one to our west and survive a counterattack—not as long as the Bluez still had that forge. And the tower? Forget it. Mowed down in an open field, and, you guessed it, wide open for clean up. Seemed like there was no way to maneuver our way around, unless... unless we counted on the enemy to move first. If the Bluez overestimated their strength by even a hair in pushing on that tower, it'd weaken the rebel position enough to allow Hotel Company to rush in and secure the artillery. That would cut the enemy push right in half, and, if we could hold the line, set us up for a attack on their forge. All assuming, of course, that they made the first move...
-Sgt. Myke Celium
5th Battalion, Allied Mushroom Forces
October 16, 19XX