Developer: Red Fly Studios
Publisher: Red Fly Studios
Release Date: March 10, 2015
Platforms: PC via Steam
Mushroom Men: Truffle Trouble is a game without a clear identity. For those that have played Atlas’ similar block-puzzle game Catherine, it will seem a sort of pale imitation. For those that haven’t, it will seem like nothing more than a bizarre set of puzzle-platform levels with little thematic consistency. The minimal story offers little context, and the gameplay fails to innovate meaningfully in the genre that it calls home.
The Nightmare Begins
Truffle Trouble is, at base, a simple side-scrolling puzzle platformer with straightforward mechanics and riddles. The player takes control of Pax, a mushroom man who is apparently the subject of the unrequited interests of the Truffle Princess. At night, Pax experiences nightmares in which the Truffle Princess, taking an enormous and hideous form, chases him across three-dimensional levels composed entirely of blocks.
The cubes littered in the levels can be pushed, pulled, or picked up by Pax in order to progress and escape his nightmare. Some blocks have special properties, such as a trampoline surface or sticky coating that inhibits the action of jumping. Others, like ice blocks, cause Pax to slide around and even prevent you from placing blocks on top of them. These terrestrial elements re-emphasize the games scale, proving that small objects can create obstacles for our fungal friend.
In fact, due to the finicky controls, even knowing the solution is not always enough if you happen to make a mistake in carrying it out. It’s also easily possible to push blocks off the level, or create other situations that prevent progress through the level. In such a case, there’s no choice but to start the level once more from the beginning. There is no rewind or undo feature, and any failure to progress will see the Princess successfully capture Pax. Yet again, this will also force a level restart.
While time is usually paired with other gameplay mechanics to create a sense of challenge, it is the only real element providing any sense of challenge to the gameplay. However, it couples itself instead in taking the game on with a “trial and error” perspective in which the only chance of success is to replay the level over and over again until you know the puzzles by heart. Early in the game, there’s also an unnerving spike in difficulty before a relative plateau that suggests a lack of attention to the difficulty curve.
None of the puzzles are particularly challenging in their own right, but the time limitation created by pursuing Truffle Princess ensures that many are nearly impossible on the first attempt.
For those that want an easier adventure into the other mushroom kingdom, the Princess is removed entirely on easy difficulty, allowing completion of each level at the player’s leisure. Unfortunately, doing so reveals the game’s simplicity. While the levels are otherwise exactly the same as in harder difficulties, the puzzles now pose little challenge, and reveal their repetitive nature.
The game is split into four sections, each of about ten levels. Each section tends to utilize the same mechanics, and even the same background design. It doesn’t seem it is intended to steer the nightmarish happenings for Pax, but instead they are only present to mask and pad the game’s length.
Fortunately, even on normal and hard difficulties, falling off the level yourself or being killed by the few insect enemies results in nothing more than a rapid respawn at the point of death. Additionally, by collecting spores placed around the levels allows you to build up Pax’s spore power, which can be spent to transform into special forms. These forms include a spider that can climb walls, a moth that can fly for a short time, or a mole that can dig his way through obstacles and enemies. These buy time, but at the cost of often having to go out of one’s way to obtain the spores that fuel the transformations.
The animations of both Pax and his transformations are well done, as are the short cinematics between each section. Pax’s loopy backflip when you attempt to jump on ice blocks, and the curls of smoke from the cannon fire excellently reinforce the cartoony and light hearted nature of the game. The sound design is equally polished, if unremarkable. It’s unfortunate that the time clearly put into these elements are not present in the underlying gameplay.
The Morel of the Story
Those expecting the second half of Catherine’s gameplay–featuring interactive plot elements and a complicated character story–will be disappointed. There’s nothing more to Mushroom Men: Truffle Trouble than its simple platforming and repetitive puzzles, and little context to even ground the nightmares that Pax is experiencing. While creating the appearance of depth, it doesn’t do much but pad skeletal frame of the game itself.
Those that love trial-and-error gameplay and/or mastering finicky controls may enjoy Mushroom Men: Truffle Trouble. That is, if you can overcome its palpable feeling of frustration. For others, it will likely prove to be more an exercise in endurance than fun.