Mushroom Wars 2 Review – Plants vs. Aliens… vs. Cash Shop
In 2009, Mushroom Wars landed on Playstation 3. It received critical acclaim, was named one of IGN’s "Top 25 Playstation Network Games," and spawned a sequel, Mushroom Wars: Space!, on iOS and Android. Now, Zillion Whales is hoping to take the RTS world by storm once again with Mushroom Wars 2. Can they pull off another victory, or will Mushroom Wars 2 lose the mobile RTS crown?
Mushroom Wars 2 opens with a beautiful cinematic. The music and visuals give off a very Alice in Wonderland vibe, which seems appropriate in a game featuring mushrooms. The cinematic, while not story-rich, introduces the four tribes: brave Shrooms, alien Proteus, amazonian Shii’Moris and necromantic Grims.
Once the cinematic ends you’re thrust straight into episode one of the campaign, which centers on the Shrooms. The campaign opens with another cinematic, which tells the story of an old man and his mosquito, and a young warrior with a drive to conquer the invading tribes. It’s no narrative masterpiece, but it does further the unique atmosphere present in Mushroom Wars 2.
The gameplay itself is a classic case of “easy to learn, hard to master.” You begin with a hut or two, which produces mushrooms. Your goal is to use your soldiers to take over the enemy huts, which are also producing soldiers with the intention of taking you out. You select whether you want to send 25, 50, 75, or 100 percent of the troops from one hut to another, all with a swipe of your finger. Your soldiers then run straight toward the hut you chose. Once there, they enter the hunt and duke it out with the enemy. The whole thing largely comes down to numbers, as the defenders receive a bonus against the attackers. This leads to especially tense moments where both teams are waiting for their numbers to grow so they can make their move.
As you progress through the campaign the game introduces additional layers of complexity to the mechanics. Early on towers are introduced. These defensive structures pick off any enemies that get within range, which can be expanded at the expense of units. The attack power of towers makes them especially dangerous to take over, as the defender not only receives their defense bonus, they pick off a large chunk of your units as they charge toward the building.
These early levels, for the most part, do a great job of not feeling like your typical dumbed-down tutorial. Rather, they feel like you’re taking part of a journey, growing in strength and learning new tactics along the way. The intuitive swiping-based control scheme definitely helps with this, as the game has very little lifting to do in the way of teaching you controls. This allowed me to jump straight in and start playing, something many mobile games do a poor job of.
Overall, the game plays and looks great. The in-game graphics, while a far cry from the beautiful cinematics, are still fun to look at. Watching miniature hordes battle to the death took me back to the glory days of Age of Empires – well, minus the mushrooms. The soundtrack is also great and helps create a cohesive and believable universe. On a similar note, the sound effects are a riot. The screams of the little mushrooms as they go parading across the screen are downright comical at times.
The game also features a multiplayer mode in the form of competitive and team-based 4-player battles. The gameplay is fast and furious and lends itself to quick matches, which is perfect for a mobile game. That being said, the developers made the strange decision to remove unit numbers from above the buildings in multiplayer mode. This leaves much of the fighting a total crap shoot, as you send all of your units into a building and hope for the best. It also kills a lot of the fun. The team-based matches are still somewhat enjoyable, as you coordinate attacks with your teammate. That being said, I found the removal of unit counts over the buildings largely killed what could have been a much more enjoyable multiplayer experience.
This brings us to the in-app purchases. Unfortunately the game gets a lot wrong here. For starters, the aforementioned multiplayer can only be played three times in a row before you have to wait for it to recharge. If you want to play multiplayer to your heart's content, it costs $2.49 a month, or $19.99 a year, both giving you unlimited multiplayer time. The game does give out occasional free weekends of play, however, it seems absurd to charge for it in the first place. There are countless mobile MMOs, almost none of which charge a monthly fee for playing. These games use servers that are much more complex and expensive to run than the ones needed for a simple player-to-player match, so I find little reason to charge in this case.
The cash shop also rears its ugly head in the campaign as well. Early on in the first campaign, the game asks you to pay $4.99 to unlock the rest of the campaign. This wouldn’t be much of an issue were it not for the fact that the next three campaigns also cost $4.99 each, or $11.99 for all four. The campaigns are rather lengthy and will likely provide several hours of playtime each, but the price still seems on the high side. I’m fine with paying for quality content on mobile, but still feel something like $2.49 an episode would be more reasonable.
Last but certainly not least, the game also offers an unlimited-everything option for $74.99. This unlocks all four episodes once they’re released, and allows for unlimited multiplayer. If you do a breakdown of the cost, this means you would have to play nearly three and a half years and pay for the $11.99 bundle to begin taking advantage of the “value” here. That is, if the multiplayer servers haven’t shut down by then.
In the end, Mushroom Wars 2 offers a unique RTS experience that’s sorely needed on mobile, all with a great aesthetic that’s hard not to like. Unfortunately the game is behind some pretty big paywalls, in terms of the mobile market. Were these campaigns $4.99 each on PC or console, I could see them being easier to accept. The $11.49 price for the entire saga would even be a little more acceptable, if it allowed for unlimited multiplayer. The idea of paying monthly to play a mobile RTS seems a bit absurd, and I don’t see it being something that will sit well with the masses. The game is already being slammed by users on iOS for its pay model, which is unfortunate. There’s a quality game here just waiting to be played. If only the developers didn’t hide it behind so many paywalls.
Overall: 7.6/10, an easy 9 if the prices are lowered to match the market.
Mushroom Wars 2 is currently available on iOS, with plans to launch on Android, Steam, Xbox One and PS4.