by Murray Lewis
reviewed on PC
Mushroom Men: Truffle Trouble is a 2.5D puzzle-platformer in which you play as a mushroom trying to escape the amorous advances of the 'Truffle Princess' – a hideous, hulking ogre with bright pink hair and a violently passionate obsession with the protagonist. It's certainly enough to refer the designers at Red Fly Studio for some sort of psychotherapy, and the linear gauntlet of floating blocks that make up each level has a distinctly ethereal atmosphere, but is this game a dream come true for platforming fans, or is it just a nightmare waiting to pounce?
The game starts us off with some nice-looking cutscenes, introducing us to our hero – a sentient mushroom called Pax – and the Truffle Princess, by way of a valentine's card and some creepy voice-over. Sadly, there are no further character details to be found, like who Pax is, who the Truffle Princess is, or, indeed, why this world has sentient mushrooms and giant ogres with attachment issues. Such details are obviously unimportant. Instead, it's just established that what we're going to be experiencing is Pax's dream world – a warped, Max Payne-style torment of corridors with the ever-present threat of the Truffle Princess to keep you sweating. And sweat you will.
Levels in Truffle Trouble consist mostly of shuffling blocks about. Every level is made up of identically-sized blocks, some of which you can move. Some of the blocks act like trampolines, and sometimes you come across objects like cannons, but mostly it's just regular old cubes which just act as platforms. If that sounds a bit unimaginative, well, it is.
There are four distinct areas in the game as you move around parts of Pax's house, so the visuals change from place to place, but the core gameplay of heaving a small variety of boxes back and forth never changes. The textures might change, but a block is still just a block. I found I spent most of my time with the game solving the same puzzle over and over again, like some kind of polygon-pushing puzzle purgatory. 'How do you rearrange these blocks into stairs?' asks the game, repeatedly. It puts the relevant blocks into ever-more awkward positions, sure, but the goal is always the same – build a way to climb over the barrier, so you can reach the next one. Perhaps it's supposed to be an artistic statement?
The real star of Truffle Trouble, for better or worse, is the Princess herself. A therapist's wet dream, this bug-eyed debasement of femininity pursues you relentlessly through every level, tearing it apart as she goes. If she catches you, it's game over, although it's not clear whether that means marriage or death (or both) for poor Pax.
With the Princess hot on your heels, the game has a constant feeling of tension. There are no mid-level checkpoints or last-second chances to escape; being caught means being dumped straight back to square one, and that pressure never lets up. It's genuinely exhausting. Fortunately, for those who can't stand the heat, there is an out: bumping the difficulty level down to 'easy' removes the Princess entirely, giving you all the time in the world to figure out the increasingly convoluted puzzles. Given the brick wall-esque difficulty curve on offer, this seems like the only sensible option if you want to actually progress. I can't help but feel that the game loses a key part of its identity with the Princess out of the picture – she's half of the title, after all – but I think it might be genuinely impossible to complete many of these levels with her breathing down your neck, or at least without restarting half a dozen times per puzzle as you scramble to find solutions.
The unbearable frustration is aided and abetted by the fatally imprecise controls. I'm not a platforming guru, but I'm far from cack-handed. Even so, I found myself constantly bumbling into enemies, pushing blocks the wrong way, and falling off the world entirely. The fact that there's an achievement for falling off the world ten times in one level seems like a tacit acknowledgement that there's a problem here.
The rules that govern Pax's movement seem inconsistent at best. Take running towards the edge of a platform, for example. Sometimes he will simply refuse to step off, sometimes he will drop over the edge and hang on by his fingertips, and sometimes he'll leap merrily into oblivion. Exactly what made him do any one of those three things seemed to change each time, so every ledge became a gamble. By moving very slowly, I found I was just about able to keep on top of it all, but at the pace required to keep ahead of the Princess? Forget about it.
Playing the game with the Princess enabled, as it's meant to be played, means you're doomed to multiple restarts just to overcome the shoddy controls and find a working solution to a level, let alone the best solution. Ultimately, Mushroom Men: Truffle Trouble is a game that throws increasingly difficult puzzles at you but gives you no time to think about them. This might be acceptable if the puzzles were interesting, but there's so little variety that playing ends up feeling like a chore. With other, better platformers out there, it's hard to find a reason to recommend that you spend time with this one.
An interesting, if disconcerting, concept. Appealing visuals.
Oft-broken controls. Dull puzzling. Ridiculous difficulty level.