What I’ve always thought the Xbox needs is more Real Time Strategy (RTS) games, as the genre is not noticeably over-represented on the big black box. So, it was with hope that I approached the latest game from Zillion Whales, Mushroom Wars 2. Despite the fact that this game was released on Steam way back in 2017, and on mobile platforms after that, I was hopeful that with five years of experience behind it, the port to Xbox would be a successful one. Are those hopes in vain, or is Mushroom Wars 2 a smash hit?
You don’t need to have played the original Mushroom Wars in order to get the most out of Mushroom Wars 2. The world has been struck by a massive meteorite, and all life seems to have been destroyed. After a while, as Jeff Goldblum says, “life finds a way” and mushrooms start to sprout. Not just any mushrooms, mind, but sentient mushrooms who can not only organise themselves into armies, but can utilise magic, forge weapons and then, inevitably, go to war with other, differently coloured mushrooms. It’s almost like conflict is inevitable or something…
With the reason for us going to war sorted, it’s time to examine the game in depth and what better way to start than with the presentation. As you’d expect from a game that has found success as a mobile title, the graphics are small, but quite well detailed. Each battle that you take part in, in the single player or the much vaunted multiplayer (more on that later), takes place on a single screen, in an arena type setting. In this arena there are a number of structures that can be captured, and in a nice touch, the structures change depending on which faction occupies them. So should the red mushrooms, as an example, capture a tower, that tower will fire out cannonballs. But when the alien mushrooms (don’t ask!) capture the same structure, it shoots lasers instead. The little mushrooms you control are pretty cute to be honest, and you almost feel bad for sending them up against other mushrooms, but they’re not to reason why and all that.
Sound wise the game is pretty sparse, with the little guys cheering when they capture a building, and the noises from the towers being the only real audio highlights of any note. There’s not even any music in the levels to listen to. The story of the game is told through dramatic static cutscenes with suitably ominous music, so that’s quite nice I guess.
The presentation is pretty much as you’d expect of an RTS, yet what about the gameplay? Well, it is split along two lines – that of the single player campaign and the multiplayer modes. Sticking with the single player for the time being, there is a lot of content to go at, with over 100 levels split over two chapters. And with multiple difficulties on each level, each granting a different number of stars when they are beaten, there’s a lot of content to go at before you can claim to be a Master Mushroom Warrior.
Doing so won’t be simple though as Mushroom Wars 2 is very much the definition of easy to pick up, difficult to master. As you begin each level, you are given a certain amount of troops and an objective – either capture all the enemy buildings, take over certain key buildings or hold specific structures for a period of time, hoping to reduce your score to zero. Basically, every match can be won by wiping out the opposition, but sometimes there are other ways to achieve victory. Each structure that you hold (except in certain cases, such as when the house is on bare earth) generates troops, and if you attack an enemy structure with more troops than they currently have, you capture it.
And that is basically the entirety of the gameplay. In Easy mode, you can see how many troops each enemy structure has in it, so you can know if you are going to succeed, but with the higher difficulty levels you can’t see this, so every battle feels that little bit more tense. On the highest difficulty in fact, the enemy forces seem almost psychic, knowing the instant you decide to launch an attack and reinforcing the buildings at seemingly the speed of light. That said, as with most RTS titles, the same basic “tank rush” tactics that were honed with the old Command and Conquer games is still the best approach, with overwhelming numbers the best way to ensure some kind of success.
The single player moments are decent, but with any game of this type multiplayer seems like it should be where the main fun is held, especially as Mushroom Wars 2 comes to market with ranked and casual modes alongside options to set-up matches to be exactly how you want them to play, right up to 2v2 super rumbles. However, and this is a major issue, despite my best efforts and multiple attempts, I haven’t been able to find a single match to play through and so the only way you will be able to sample the multiplayer side of thing is if you have a bunch of like-minded friends who will invest in Mushroom Wars 2. This is a real pity, as fighting a real person is always more challenging than the AI, but it is what it is.
In all, Mushroom Wars 2 is a pretty good single player RTS, however if you want to make the most of the multiplayer side of things, you’ll be wanting to drag some friends along for the ride. There’s not an awful lot of choice for Xbox players to enjoy with the genre, and so whilst this one isn’t by any means an essential play, if you like an RTS, Mushroom Wars 2 almost becomes the default choice. Just don’t expect a vibrant online community to join.
Mushroom Wars 2 is available to download from the Xbox Store