Mushroom 11 (PC) review
- A unique concept - and one handled well to make an enjoyable game
- Some very clever puzzles, often managing to look complex but hiding a simplicity
- Presentation, in terms of both graphics and audio, cannot be faulted for their atmosphere
Not so much?
- Be prepared to occasionally rage-quit, as physics isn't always on your side
- The game isn't long - time played is more about re-attempting puzzles
Mushroom 11 is something different – a platform game without the ability to jump or move; a puzzle game which gives you one solution to numerous problems. It is a new idea, and can be both satisfying and frustrating, but makes it easy to step away and return with new ideas.
will admit to having been rather smitten with Mushroom 11, having played an early version of it at Rezzed nearer the beginning of the year. Today, on what the game happily points out is in reality National Mushroom Day, the completed game is released and we get to take a look at it as a whole.
Set in a bleak post-human world, Mushroom 11 has players guiding an amorphous shape as it crosses this environment, absorbing stray insects and plants as it passes. Movement of the creature is achieved by using the cursor to delete segments of its body, which will always grow straight back while it is in contact with a surface.
Using words, it probably makes less sense than when you actually experience it in play. As the regrowth is normally from the opposite side to the destroyed pieces, you will quickly find you can make the creature move (by literally growing in the direction you want), and with this basic mechanic sorted the game gives you a huge number of problems to be solved.
Holding down buttons, splitting the mass to work with two objects at once, shaping yourself onto conveyor belt hooks, even feeding the creature through shredders… all possible. Its core ability is a surprisingly powerful tool, but the level design goes beyond just how you can move unhindered.
There are solid physics underlying everything, and mass affects many things laid in your way. The creature itself can balance or topple – sometimes usefully – and there are times that trimming the shape to adjust its centre of gravity is an essential skill, where platforms may need to swing together, or flywheels needs to be made to spin. Most importantly, when things go wrong and you find yourself failing a puzzle, knowing there are hard physics instead of an unlucky random number generator behind it all stops it becoming dispiriting.
Because – let’s be blunt – Mushroom 11 is hard. The first three levels or so are covering the basics of moving and coping with a large boss, before the challenge starts ramping up and you’ll find yourself having to reshape yourself under pressure, with hazards than can kill you and opportunities to escape you can miss. Fortunately, the game also knows it is hard, with checkpoints issued fairly generously, and when arriving on the other side of whichever hazard has been trying its hardest to give you grief you’ll often be greeted by both the checkpoint, and knowledge it’s likely marking the start of the next problem too.
The other advantage to regular checkpoints is how easy it become to interrupt gameplay. During play for review, a couple of puzzles did cause me to discover swear words I didn’t realise I knew, and stepping away from the game was usually the key to coming back ready to progress. This is another key point – many of the puzzles can inspire frustration, but when beaten you realise that the solutions are often simpler than they appear, and the ability to come back fresh is a key part of seeing this.
Paths through the levels are fairly linear, although thanks to the physics-based nature of the game there are sometimes unexpected ways to advance. Exploring can be rewarded though, with insects and plants often just off route and ready to be consumed if you can find places to climb, fall, or generally move outside the regular path.
The game’s aesthetic is bleak but beautiful; without people around, the things they have made are wasting away, and seeing billboards, memorials, and fairgrounds in this setting is quite spooky. A later trip through an automated – and operating – abattoir is also quite disturbing, but ultimately seeing the life of the creature and all the unlucky critters it consumes stops the lack of a human protagonist being too downbeat. People may have ended, but the world hasn’t. All of this is accompanied by a soundtrack from Future Sound of London, an ambient electronica sound that can provide a relaxing counterpoint to the challenges in the gameplay.
Mushroom 11 is something different – a platform game without the ability to jump or move; a puzzle game which gives you one solution before testing you to use it in numerous problems. It is a new idea, which is incredibly rare itself, and applies that idea in a way that both challenges and frustrates, but makes it easy to step away and return with new ideas.
Mushroom 11 is available from today via Steam
Family Fiends Findings?
- Rated E – 10+ (due to mild blood appearances) by the ESRB
- The setting of a bleak, uninhabited world can be unsettling, as can some of the specific locations – an abattoir being a key example.