A few weeks ago I previewed Zillion Whales' Mushroom Wars 2 at Play NYC 2017. I sat down with the developers and played a couple of rounds of the game using a controller and learning how things worked. The game has since been released on Steam, and while playing on PC is a bit different due to the control scheme, it's fundamentally the same game.
Right off the bat, the first thing that makes Mushroom Wars 2 stand out a bit is the focus on buildings. Your units do not fight one another as they would in most real-time strategy games; the core focus centers around the structures in fixed positions on the map. Sure, you can build towers that will attack enemy units within their range or you could use one of your hero abilities to affect enemy units, but the core of the game centers around controlling static points.
The three main types of buildings are Villages (which produce units), Forges (which enhance the attack and defense of your units), and Towers (which fire at enemies in range and are a bit tougher to capture). Villages automatically produce more units for you over time and can be upgraded three times for faster production and a larger maximum population. Forges don't produce units at all, and while having more is better, the diminishing returns on the power increases mean that you'll rarely need more than one or two (if at all). Towers don't produce units either, but their offensive capabilities make them ideal for holding chokepoints on maps and acting as staging areas for attacking enemy structures.
Aside from the core buildings, Mushroom Wars 2 has two special buildings that apply in other game modes. Conquest is your standard "capture every building to win" that RTS players are well familiar with. Domination features special mushroom towers that rapidly generate units when captured; players must attempt to capture and hold all the towers on the map to win. King of the Hill has shorter, chunkier towers that act similarly in terms of production but are mechanically different for the game mode. Each tower you hold reduces your score ever closer to zero, and the first person to reach zero wins.
Some maps also have special buildings or features that mix the game up a bit. There are floor tiles that increase or completely stop unit production, tiles that speed up or reduce movement and buildings that change the way you move units around entirely such as wind pushers or caves that act like Nydus Canals in Starcraft. The 40 multiplayer maps that launched with the game's Steam version rarely feature these buildings; you're more likely to encounter them in your time playing through the game's 100 campaign missions.
Mushroom Wars 2 has a campaign split into two episodes with 50 levels apiece (plus seven tutorial levels in the first campaign, some of which aren't strictly necessary to play). Episode 1 (titled Mosquito of a Dead Man) has you playing as the more "normal" Mushroom warriors looking to fend off invading forces and quell insurrection within your adorable little mushroom realm. Episode 2 (titled Pahom's Rachitis) has you take on the role of what can only be described as "zombie mushrooms" as you engage in a quest for power and conquest. Each campaign lets you choose between two heroes from that particular race, each with their own abilities.
It's a shame that the campaign only features two heroes each and doesn't touch on the other two races since each hero provides a different gameplay experience. For example, Klotz of the zombie mushrooms has the Exchange ability which allows you to trade buildings with an enemy. This could let you deploy a fully loaded tower in the heart of enemy territory while simultaneously stealing one of their own buildings by isolating it from their reinforcements. Some abilities enhance buildings (such as Kenor's Explosive Shell, which increases the damage of a Tower's weapon for a short time) and some affect the battlefield (such as Marty-O's "Energy Shield" which kills up to 150 enemy units passing through it). The game provided plenty of campaign missions, but it would have been nice to touch on the experiences of the other races, too. Perhaps we'll see them in an expansion pack or DLC in the future.
The majority of the campaign missions offer four difficulty levels. I beat most of the missions on Medium difficulty and only brought it down to Easy when I had lost a few times. Even on the easier difficulty setting, some missions were a challenge. While rolling about with a deathball of hundreds of units is viable in a game like Starcraft II, but it's less useful in Mushroom Wars 2. Once your units sally out of a building to attack, they're committed. Your opponent can't see where they're heading, although they can try to take a guess and reinforce buildings appropriately. Nothing really stops you from sending out multiple attacks at the same time, and my experience is that feints and counter-attacks while a big battle is going on can help you reshape the battlefield to your advantage. There's not much pain in losing a Level 3 Village if you can capture two buildings on the enemy's flank.
One of the areas I take issue with in Mushroom Wars 2 is the way that units deploy. You can choose to send out 100%, 75%, 50%, or 25% of a garrison of one or more buildings (if you've chosen to bandbox and select a bunch). This is a good way to keep deploying simple, but the way the controls and interface work feels unintuitive to me. 1-4 on the number row are bound to 25-100% in ascending order while the numbers are presented in descending order on the screen (from 100 down to 25). It felt a bit confusing to me, and I wish that the option to flip the numbers on the UI and rebind the keys existed so that I could rearrange things to a way that made more sense. In fact, you cannot rebind keys at all in Mushroom Wars 2. The default controls aren't completely terrible, but some users appreciate the ability to customize and it's not great to lack the option to rebind keys in a modern video game.
Another minor problem I had with the campaign was the sheer imbalance of unit distribution. Many of the missions are set up asymmetrically, so you might have one building with 100 units in it and your opponent(s) will have 3 buildings with 40 units each, essentially giving them a starting numerical advantage as well as a production advantage. While this seemed unfair at the beginning, I believe it was probably necessary to give the AI a fighting chance. I've found that it was possible to bait the AI into attacking certain structures (such as Forges) by moving units around, although I generally avoided using these kinds of cheesy tactics. There were also more than a few instances where the AI came to a complete standstill and wouldn't make any moves at all, essentially waiting for me to make the first move. Even towards the end, it was rare for the AI to attempt a desperation maneuver on a weaker structure. I feel this is an area that could do with a bit of improvement, but even with these flaws, I found the campaign missions engaging and challenging.
The campaign is plenty entertaining, but any real-time strategy game's longevity lies in its multiplayer. The beginning of my time with the PC version of Mushroom Wars 2 involved playing through various multiplayer modes and with different heroes on stream. Kevin and I had plenty of fun figuring things out and occasionally messing around with one another.
Mushroom Wars 2 seems to be in it for the long haul with multiplayer. Aside from the standard custom games, they have a ranked 1v1 system and support for replays. The game saves each and every one of your matches (even the casual ones) for future viewing. There have even been a few tournaments hosted through ESL such as this recent one and one hosted in May for the iOS version of the game. I do feel that multiplayer misses out by not having a Play Vs. AI option, although that feature is coming in an update very soon after the Steam launch. It would have been better to have this at launch.
Whether you're playing single-player or multiplayer, the core of the game seems similar to any other RTS: establish your production, control choke points, and hit targets of opportunity. Being able to manage multiple attacks and counter-attacks is the major focal point for playing well, and I would love to see what high-level professional games would look like. A set of featured replays offers a glance into some of the better gamers playing Mushroom Wars 2; while it's very interesting, I feel that we've just scratched the surface in seeing the limits of the game pushed.
Graphically, Mushroom Wars 2 features simple and clean visuals. It's easy enough to tell what's going on at a glance and that's important for when you need to make a split-second decision about mustering an attack to hit a target of opportunity or defend one of your structures The game's well-made cinematics wordlessly tell a story of mushroomy strife, conquest, and revenge with a lovely art style.
The music of the game is where the artistic bits of the game really shine. The game's music sounds much like any other epic orchestral score in a fantasy RTS or strategy game, but the choice of instruments gives it a diminutive feel which is all the more appropriate considering the rather tiny size of the soldiery. I did encounter one bug with the music where the game's BGM would continue to play over the victory music during the campaign, resulting in a jumbled auditory mess.
The last area of the game I'd like to speak on is the maps. Most of them felt well-designed in terms of their flow and positioning of buildings. The extra environmental features are a nice touch that livens up the standard gameplay every now and again. However, a few maps in both campaign and multiplayer had movement paths that were a bit difficult to figure out at a glance. I often found myself hit from a direction that didn't clearly seem like traversable terrain, and this could have been more obvious in these specific instances.
I've played Mushroom Wars 2 with a controller for about a half hour and 25 hours on PC with a mouse and keyboard. (I have yet to try the mobile versions of the game.) Between the two control schemes, I preferred mouse & keyboard, but the controller gameplay was serviceable enough. It's certainly not as difficult to play as something like Starcraft 64 was.
Mushroom Wars 2 makes for an interesting casual RTS experience that nonetheless provides plenty of depth for people who really want to get into the game. If you enjoy RTS games or you would like to get into them, this will make for a fun, quick experience that won't drive you up a wall or eat up 45 minutes of your time in a stalemate.
Our Mushroom Wars 2 review was conducted on PC via Steam with a code provided by the developers. It is also available on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, Android, and iOS.
What do you think of Mushroom Wars 2? Do you prefer RTSes that are mechanically simple or are you more interested in the games with greater complexity? Let us know in the comments below!
Mushroom Wars 2 is a simpler-than-average real-time strategy that nonetheless possesses a good bit of a depth and has potential for competitive play.
- Easy To Understand Game Mechanics
- Robust Multiplayer, Competitive, & Replay Systems
- Adorable Art Style
- Inability To Rebind Keys/Change UI
- Campaign Only Features 4/12 Heroes