A fantastic little tower defense game hit casual gaming websites last week, flying in under the radar with little fanfare, yet quite deserving. Mushroom Revolution is a cartoon-styled strategy game rooted with the tried-and-true tower defense formula, with a simplified elemental tower system similar to last year's hit, GemCraft. A sequel to the obscure Mushroom Farm Defender, Mushroom Revolution is actually more of an updated an improved version of the original, with better graphics and bigger gameplay. At first glance, the comic-looking mushroom "towers" and cutesy creeps might seem like it chooses style over substance, but the gameplay is actually pretty engaging (and challenging), able to hold its own among most of today's popular tower defense games. A large variety of both offensive and defensive tower types offer many different ways of completing each level, which is the main reason Mushroom Revolution stands out in a genre that's been forced to keep reinventing itself to stay relevant.
There's really no drawn-out story as to why you're using mushrooms (called Gomphus) to defend against incoming waves of little Pokemon-looking creeps, yet the premise is so whimsical anyway that you probably won't mind. There's a nice help screen that gives you the basics of what you need to know, which is more than adequate to get you started. You begin by purchasing and placing a Gomphus somewhere on the playing field, just like any other tower defense game. Most of the action is controlled with the mouse; just click a Gomphus in the bottom panel to buy it and place it on the field. Tap [space] to cancel your purchase, and use the [arrow] or [WASD] keys to move around (or just drag the cursor to the edge of the map). There's only one type of Gomphus available to buy (which serves as the basic tower type), but that little brown mushroom can be upgraded and tweaked to provide many different abilities. These abilities are given to your Gomphus by adding different-colored gems to it, each gem representing an element (fire, water, earth, wind and thunder). A single gem only changes the Gomphus' attack to that element, which certain creeps are either resistant or susceptible to. But once you add a second or third gem, things really get interesting.
Different combinations of gems yield different kinds of attacks; you of course you have your obligatory "slowing" type of tower, but there are many others that perform really cool abilities like damage-over-time, splash damage and cash-stealing. There are even a few abilities I've never seen implemented in a tower defense game, and I'm a pretty big fanatic of this genre. But I won't spoil them; half the fun is discovering what effect you'll get from different gem combinations. The first level is more about exploration and learning than anything else, and it's where you'll discover most of the 20 different elemental combinations available. Thankfully, you can track what each gem combination yields by clicking the menu button and opening the "Combination List." You also get "accessories" to play with, which are little charm-looking objects you'll receive after you successfully complete every fifth wave of creeps. Each accessory has a specific function that can supplement a tower with things like increased range or a faster reload time. It's important to try and match accessories with towers that would benefit the most from their ability, since you can't swap them out.
Analysis: Mushroom Revolution is a great little casual game that's just as accessible to gamers who aren't fans of genre to those who are. The developer, Fortunacus, is no stranger to developing these kind of games and really nailed it with this release, finding that elusive median where lofty vision meets grounded playability. There are a few features that might be found bothersome, such as the inability to change gems and accessories, the high number of enemy waves in each level or the static zoom-level. Although you can spend points between levels on upgrades like higher damage and life, a few more options would have been nice. Most of these boil down to personal preference though, and don't really hinder the game experience. Personally, my biggest complaint is that Nintendo and this developer never met, because Mushroom Revolution would have made a great WiiWare game under the Super Mario Bros. franchise (just think Goombas instead of Gomphus, with a few other changes)!