On a pizza? Most definitely. As a burger topping? Goodness, yes. Mixed into a salad? If healthy is your thing, then we suppose so. But to be honest, we never imagined that mushrooms would make the jump from 'oh-so-tasty foodstuff' to 'starring role in a videogame' with much success. More fool us then for having any doubts. Thanks to its old-school platform stylings, emphasis on exploration and a refreshingly different storyline, Mushroom Men: Rise Of The Fungi is one of those games that starts off slowly and then grows on you until you're totally consumed by it. A bit like real fungus then, only less messy.
Admittedly, we've always had a thing for the underdog so Mushroom Men's premise grabbed our attention before we even got past the incredibly short opening tutorial. Taking control of a young mushroom lad named Pax, your way-too-much-for-one-man-to-handle mission involves travelling the land, looking for shattered meteorite parts (the same meteor that brought the mushroom race to life in the first place) and trying to restore peace to the warring mushroom factions.
That the land is essentially ours but seen from a two-inch-high perspective makes things tough, because even the simplest obstacles become gigantic mountains to overcome. That the meteor pieces have driven the local wildlife berserk - creating crazed moles, mutant rabbits and an owl with three eyes for instance - doesn't help. Oh, and then there's the fact that aside from a select few tribes, most of the mushrooms you'll encounter want to rip your cap clean off.
Mountains Out Of Molehills
Despite being at a massive disadvantage from the start though, Mushroom Men gives you all the tools you could need to see Pax's mission through to the bitter end. A big part of this is how the game allows you to approach each situation in a number of different ways, both in terms of combat and puzzle solving. Granted, Mushroom Men isn't a sandbox-style open-ended adventure that lets you wander around aimlessly just messing about. It has fixed levels that have to be progressed through and key objectives that need to be met in order to move onto the next stage. But equally, Red Fly has worked hard on the level designs and puzzles contained within to ensure that there's never just one way of approaching a problem...
For example, take the first major area you encounter - a sprawling shed area infested with a variety of creepy crawlies and some particularly nasty rabbits. The aim is naturally to clear the area of the bunnies so you can move on without getting munched, but as they're significantly bigger than you it's not exactly clever to approach them head on. That's not to say you can't though, because Mushroom Men's combat system offers enough blocking, dodging and combo attacks to deal with anything you encounter. However, when the environment is littered with alternative methods of dispatching said rabbits (mainly of the 'drop things on their head' variety) that can be found by exploring upwards as well as on ground level, you start to see that the game places as much emphasis on exploration as it does on fighting.
Undoubtedly, this combination makes Mushroom Men's gameplay feel incredibly old-school. Almost all of the levels encourage you to search every corner in case they contain something hidden, be it an item required to make progress, a new path to overcoming an obstacle or a unique piece of scavenged material to turn into a new weapon. This weapon-building element is almost a game in itself, because there are so many combinations and so many hidden 'scav' items to find that those willing to search a little harder are always going to be rewarded. Needless to say, Mushroom Men more than satisfies our obsessive/compulsive side through its multiple layers of depth and large number of items to collect. Think Banjo-Kazooie but with more fungus than bears and you'll get the idea.