Smashroom Review: A Tale of One Fungi (Get It?)
Sometimes you play a lovely little platformer, and it’s relaxing and delightful. And sometimes you play a lovely little platformer that’s somehow fun and frustratingly difficult, and you almost, almost hurl your controller through your television. Smashroom, from Jonathon Calsolaro, is one of the latter.
There’s a Fungus Among Us
The story of Smashroom, such as it is, revolves around a human that has somehow been cursed, turning him into an adorable, sentient, ambulatory mushroom. It’s up to you to travel through the forest and break the curse. And that’s pretty much it. It’s simple, it’s fine, and like many platformers, none of us are really here for a deep, intricate plot anyway. No, the primary driver is definitely the gameplay. And Smashroom’s is certainly unique-ish.
I say unique-ish because there are plenty of expected mechanics from the genre; you’ll jump, you’ll overcome obstacles to reach other platforms, and you’ll fight enemies and the occasional boss. Pretty standard, boilerplate stuff, and there’s definitely nothing wrong with that. Smashroom at least adds its own interesting mechanic into the mix. For some inexplicable (yet delightful) reason, your little mushroom buddy can explode, which serves two purposes: the first is that it acts as a double jump, and the second is that it can damage enemies. To keep it from feeling too simple and gimmicky, you can also charge up your explosion. This will send your mushroom buddy hurtling to greater heights, and will cause more damage to enemies.
Combat plays an important role in Smashroom. Each stage (or “chapter” in the game) is littered with enemies. Many of them seem to be adorably derping about, but some of them will actively pursue you. To attack them, you have a couple of options. First, there is the aforementioned explosion ability. You can jump near an enemy and trigger your explosive ability, and the more charged it is, the more damage you’ll do. You can also jump and perform what’s basically a ground pound, slamming down through obstacles and/or enemies. And finally, you can press down, which draws your cute li’l mushroom cap down around you and shields you, and you can shoot out what I assume are spores to each side of you. These spores cause damage, and you can find hidden upgrades in some of the stages that will add an element to your attack.
Smashroom also contains a nifty leveling up system. You can see how many experience points you need to get to the next level in the top right, and a meter shows how close you are to getting there. Upon level up, you’ll be presented with four options that, as far as I could tell, seemed random. Options that might appear include: increased health, increased energy (used for your spore-shooting attack), increased defense, and/or adding an element to your attack. The only downside to the leveling system is if you die frequently, as I do. Every time you die, you’ll lose half of your accrued experience points, which means you may find yourself under-leveled for when you get to the boss fight of each stage.
Trust me, you’ll want to be as powered-up as possible for the bosses. Many of them are extremely difficult and challenging. Which is not to say they’re not fun! Because they really are, for the most part. I loved the design of each boss, and really liked that you had to employ wildly different strategies for each one. For example, with the second boss, you have to wait for him to circle around behind the waterfall and then back out front. While he’s circling around, you’ll need to climb up the platforms coming down the waterfall so you can get atop him. He has one weak section, which you’ll need to continually attack until it breaks open, after which you can deal direct damage to his health. Even the bosses that gave me a tension headache (looking at you, Magical Moth) were still cleverly designed and wonderfully unique.
These Mushroom Puns Are in Spore Taste
The art style of Smashroom is superb, as has come to be expected from these retro-inspired games. Y’all are probably tired of hearing me go on about my love for pixel art, but I mean, look at those pixels! Each and every one of them lovingly arranged. Your li’l mushroom buddy looks great, the enemy designs are pretty solid. The bosses look and feel epic. My only complaint is that for some of the stages, the color palettes started to blend together a bit too much, and made it hard to remember one screen from the next. Which can be difficult, considering there’s a light metroidvania-ness to the game wherein you sometimes have to find keys and backtrack to their respective locks. The music is also quite good, though at times perhaps a little too understated.
There’s Mushroom For Improvement
Although Smashroom was at times too difficult for my liking (and/or abilities), it’s a pretty solid game. Killer art, great music, fun mechanics and combat, and an engaging level-up system make for a fairly polished experience. If I had to find something to nitpick about (other than the difficulty), I’d say that the controls don’t always feel as tight as they could. Sometimes it feels like you’re li’l shroom is a touch too floaty or slide-y when he shouldn’t be. And while it may not stand out as one of the greats of the genre, Smashroom is still a fun experience that platformer fans will likely enjoy.
Final Verdict: 3.5/5
Available on: PC, Switch (reviewed); Publisher: Forever Entertainment; Developer: Forever Entertainment; Players: 1; Released: August 5th, 2021; MSRP: $12.99
Editor’s note: This review is based on a retail copy of Smashroom provided by the publisher.