Developer: Zillion Whales
Publisher: Zillion Whales
Played on: PC
Release Date: October 6, 2017
Played with: Mouse & Keyboard
Paid: $0 (Key provided for review)
I suck at RTSs. Over the years, I’ve tried repeatedly to get into the genre, yet never managed to make any headway. From mainstream successes like Halo Wars and Total War: Shogun 2 to smaller, more “accessible” titles like Boid, I’ve always hit brick walls almost immediately. Going up against the AI sees me getting stomped as soon as the tutorial ends (or sometimes even earlier than that), and multiplayer is completely out of the question.
With my stellar track record, I was more than a bit apprehensive when approaching Mushroom Wars 2. However, its adorable art style won me over, aided by promises that it was approachable for players of all skill levels. I must say, I’m extremely glad that it did.
Starting life on mobile devices, Mushroom Wars 2 already takes a scaled-back approach to its UI and options, foregoing things like rally points and command groups in favour of a simple point-and-click approach. You can select multiple structures to send troops from, and choose a percentage (in increments of 25) to send, but once they’re on the move, you have no control over them, save for certain powerups. However, this doesn’t make the game feel any less strategic, as quick thinking is still required to ensure success.
Battles all take place on one screen (no map scrolling required), making it easy to track the action. Each building can be transformed at will into a unit spawner, a turret, or an armoury at the cost of some soldiers; the former two can also be upgraded, while the latter provides a flat power upgrade to any units that pass through. Later maps throw in additional gimmicks, like tunnels that quickly transport troops across the map, destructible walls that open shortcuts, and barren ground that won’t support unit spawners.
All these mechanics keep things interesting and varied, which is good considering that the title still feels like a mobile game when it comes to time commitment. Most play sessions saw me going through a maximum of around ten story missions before I decided to take a break, though your mileage may vary. It works well here though, because it’s a game that doesn’t demand much your time, but also offers a lot of content for those who want to stick with it for longer.
In addition to its two lengthy campaigns (each of which gives you a chance to try out a couple of the factions on offer), Mushroom Wars offers a slew of multiplayer options: ranked 1v1 matches, 3 and 4 player free-for-alls, and 2v2 team battles. All of these can also be played locally, and with the game providing controller support, it could make for a great party game.
A major part of that once again comes down to its accessibility. Granted, I only completed the campaign on the Easy difficulty; the lowest of the four settings. However, it provides such a gradual increase in mechanical complexity and “unfairness” (i.e. How much of a starting advantage the AI player(s) have) that I only ran up against one noticeable difficulty spike. Even then, it only had me stuck for an hour or so, and overcoming it had me practically glowing at the accomplishment. To put it simply, I would easily recommend this title to anyone who’s looking at getting a taste of the RTS genre.
For those that devote more time to the game, there are four “factions” in the game, each of which has three commanders to choose from. These commanders have four unique abilities that can be used to aid their troops or inhibit opponents in the heat of combat. All this is run off a morale system, where, as your troops successfully capture and defend structures, you gain more morale to use on your abilities, while also earning a small amount passively. Chances are, regardless of your preference, you’ll be able to find at least one commander that works for you. Despite their differences, each faction’s path to victory essentially comes down to out-swarming the opponent, but the methods of doing so can vary wildly. Will you rapidly juggle units between your barracks to get them all upgraded, or barricade everyone behind a field of heavily-upgraded towers?
As I mentioned earlier, what really drew me to Mushroom Wars 2 was its art style, and it was totally worth it. From the opening moments of the game, I practically needed a mop to clean my heart up off the floor. Its whimsical aesthetic is complemented by great and varied character designs, delightful battle cries from your soldiers, and music that feels way less repetitive than it has any right to.
As an RTS neophyte, I know that I’m not seeing Mushroom Wars 2 from the perspective of a genre veteran. It’s entirely possible that seasoned players will find the title to be shallower than the other options on offer, which may deter some from picking it up. I’ll just say, though: I tried a story mission on Expert difficulty, and almost cried. If you’re thinking that there’s no way this game could offer a stiff challenge, you may want to think again. Plus, the sheer amount of easily-digestible content here means that RTS pros may still find a lot to love if they’re not interested in committing to a high-stakes StarCraft 2 match. I know that I said I was worried about going into Mushroom Wars 2, but I am happy to report that it’s the most accessible, adorable, and rewarding RTS that I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. If this turns out to be my gateway drug to the genre, so much the better.