One of the appointments I had in advance for Play NYC was to see Mushroom Wars 2 by Zillion Whales, an RTS-esque game where you send out adorable little armies of mushroom men to attack mushroom huts and claim them for your own. I've never played the first game and I deliberately went in as blind as possible to see what it was all about in my own eyes.
Mushroom Wars 2 is a simple game at first glance. Each player begins with a single hut in their color; all of the other huts are grayed out and neutral. You use a controller to select the hut you own and then choose a target to send troops out to. Once you are able to overwhelm the number of garrisoned units, you capture the hut for yourself. This same principle applies to taking over huts owned by the other players, which is the meat of the game. Have a look at a gameplay trailer to get a feel for things:
When I first saw the game being played, I thought it looked terribly simple. Although it has online multiplayer, the setup at Play NYC was using local multiplayer. Both players could see where their opponent was directing their attacks. Surely it would be an easy matter to counter attacks as they came in. Boy, was I wrong.
Yes, you can see where attacks are directed. However, it takes time for the troops to move from their origin to their destination. Imagine, if you will, a game of air hockey with a bunch of moderately-paced pucks and three goals. If you only focused on one puck, it wouldn't be that hard to keep track of it. If you had to focus on ten pucks, defending your three goals, and attacking the three enemy goals, we're talking about something entirely different. What made it especially challenging was that troops took the most direct path from A to B, so sometimes you couldn't be sure where an attack was landing until it was already hitting.
I played two games of Mushroom Wars 2. Zillion Whales representatives on site explained the basics of the game to me while another pair of people were playing the game. I sat down to give it a whirl after getting a basic understanding of the mechanics. I thought I was doing alright until I noticed the number of huts that were in my color was rapidly diminishing. It wasn't long before I had been completely overwhelmed. I was then told that they put me, a complete newbie, up against the guy who designed the game. I'm amazed that I held out for as long as I did (which wasn't very long at all).
I then when up against a different member of Zillion Whales who admitted that he wasn't as good at the game. I ended up winning the second match, but it was a much evener battle. I had begun by reinforcing my side of the map and building up my forces. I also upgraded buildings where I could, a mistake that I had made in the first game; buildings can be upgraded to increase production of units by sacrificing units already garrisoned there.
A few probing attacks on my end (and vice versa) resulted in some weaker huts trading hands, but we were more or less fighting evenly. I had my troops concentrated in a few forward bases because, well, that seemed to make the most sense to me. After glancing around the board, I noticed that there was a hut that had almost no troops in it. I sent a large attacking force in to capture it. Any additional troops after the initial attack immediately garrison, which meant that I could use my new hut to attack anywhere else. I moved quickly to send a bunch of small attacks to weak points to sow chaos.
While my opponent was dealing with the troops in his midst, I still had production going on back at home. Although I had to fend off some attacks and we traded huts here and there, I more or less had the advantage of tempo. I crept up the northern side of the map to secure additional forward bases to press my attack. After that, it all snowballed to a point where I was able to overwhelm my opponent.
I think it's fair to compare Mushroom Wars 2 to something like Starcraft II (or really any other RTS) in multiple respects, though it's also different. You move troops between buildings, but you don't control the units themselves once they're moving. You have macro elements (upgrading your forts, managing your garrisons) and micro elements (ordering attacks and defending your huts on the fly). You have an economy & upgrade system of sorts with the mechanic of upgrading huts to generate troops. Zillion Whales has more or less made an RTS Lite that is still a ton of fun.
What I would really like to see is a couple of high-level Starcraft II pros play the game because I think it'd be amazing. The game is simple at its face; it seems that there's only one type of unit and three or so different kinds of buildings (the majority of which on the map are regular huts), but the mechanics of how Mushroom Wars 2 plays out means that a lot can happen very quickly. I actually had very little in the way of downtime. I got the same feeling that I did with trying to juggle everything in an RTS (production, defense, scouting, attacking, etc.) but at a lower level.
Graphically, the game looks good. There wasn't anything there that made me go "Wow!," but everything in the game looked nice & clean. It's not a Ferrari, it's a Toyota—but there's nothing wrong with that. The visuals are perfect for what the game sets out to do.
Sound design is similarly on par. Again, nothing particularly exceptional or terrible—it's right where it needs to be. It complimented the game well, as it should. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to hear very much over the general noise of the convention I was in the midst of, so you may have to take this particular area of my assessment with a grain of salt.
Where Mushroom Wars 2 really shines is in its simple execution of the RTS formula. (And to be clear, "simple" is not a denigration in any way—it's a compliment). I have mild PTSD from my illustrious and short career on the Starcraft II Ladder (0 and 5), and I just don't think I could handle a game of that pace without putting in dozens or hundreds of hours of practice to refine my skills. Zillion Whales has created a game in Mushroom Wars 2 where I can get that same kind of fun as I would in any other RTS with plenty of depth but at a much more casual pace. I enjoyed it, and I think if you like RTS-style games (or would just like to branch out in the genre) it would be worth checking out.
What do you think of Mushroom Wars 2? Have you had a chance to play the previous game by developer Zillion Whales? Do you think you would enjoy a slower-paced, more casual RTS experience or is the higher-speed gameplay part of the appeal for you? Let us know in the comments below!