Mushroom 11 Review
Mushroom 11 is a unique game that doesn’t particularly fit in any of the archetypal genres that we usually box games into. The closest description would be that of a physics-based puzzle platformer, but that description still doesn’t quite hit the mark. It is is a game where you attempt to control an amorphous green fungal blob as you squish, squelch, grow and conform to the environment around you in an attempt to traverse the deadly world that surrounds you.
The control you exercise over your fungus cannot really be classified as classic movement that we see in 2D platformers, it’s more akin to influencing your blob to grow in a particular direction and conform to a certain shape. This sense of indirect control feels similar to Lemmings, where you can’t so much as control your lemmings as you influence their movement and direction with objects. The cornerstone of this control rests on your ability to destroy bits and pieces of your fungal mass and having those pieces regrow elsewhere on the fungus, usually in the opposite side of where they were destroyed from. This destruction is accomplished by clicking and holding your left mouse button, which then creates a ring of destruction, where any part of the blob that passes through the ring is instantly destroyed and regrown elsewhere. Movement is influenced by continually destroying one side so that new pieces grow on the opposite end of it.
It’s this movement mechanic that is the core gameplay element of Mushroom 11 and what makes the game so unique. As you progress further and further into the game you’ll reach obstacles, traps and tricky platforming that require you to adeptly control and influence your fungi with absolute control. Mushroom 11 requires a methodical and patient approach to perfectly execute your maneuvers. Trimming and cutting down your blob is akin to the patience required of growing a miniature bonsai tree, if growing a bonsai tree involved an almost endless amount of frustration, rage-inducing mistakes and a sea of broken mice and keyboards. The game at first appears to be quite easy and is an enjoyable walk in the park as you meander and sluice your way through narrow tunnels and collapsing buildings and think your way through the first couple of puzzles. The first couple of chapters are not indicative of the challenges that you will later encounter, as environmental challenges become much more elaborate and difficult to overcome as the game progresses. Untame has managed to incorporate the difficulty and “just one more try” philosophies that are incorporated in maso-core games, such as I Wanna Be The Guy, Flywrench, and Super Meat Boy, with a unique and intuitive control interface to create an addicting and challenging game.
Each chapter in Mushroom 11 introduces a new environmental challenge for you to take control and overcome. While at first, the obstacles that you have to overcome are quite simple and ramp up slowly in difficulty, there will come a time(I’m looking at you chapter 5) where your ability to exercise as much control over your mushroom as possible is put to the test. Some of these challenges include, riding minecarts and getting thrown every which way, being shot out of a cannon, and trying to exert some amount of control over a small missile. The environmental challenges run thick and fast and your ability to conform to these challenges and solve the puzzles will ultimately determine your success.
Luckily, there are checkpoints dotted throughout the landscape, and are conveniently located right before(and after) particularly challenging sections of the game, alleviating some of the frustration and gearing you up to throw yourself at the challenge once again. As I progressed further into the game, it became clear that patience is a virtue, careless deletion of your fungus will ultimately lead you to fall down a bottomless pit. or into a pit of lava. or a lake of acid. or into deadly spikes. There are a multitude of ways for you to destroy your colony of mushrooms and for every single successful maneuver I executed, there were at least 15 terrifying and frustrating deaths. Each one could have been completely avoided, had I not gotten impatient and started destroying parts of my mushroom without thinking. All of these challenges add more and more moves into your arsenal, as you learn how to effectively create bridges, ramps, climb walls, and launch yourself out of the water.
Each level in Mushroom 11 is expertly crafted, and quickly builds upon skills that you’ve grown as you’ve made your way through the game. The environment, obstacles and physics combine into a rewarding gameplay experience, with the pinnacle of the gameplay being boss fights. Yes, there are boss fights in this game and they are as glorious, difficult and challenging as they sound. You’ll “fight” giant fire-breathing worms, enormous spiders and many other creatures as you try to use your environment to your advantage. I won’t spoil the bosses, but each fight is a culmination of what you learned in that chapter and requires you to perfectly execute a series of tricky manipulations in order to come out victorious.
Mushroom 11 isn’t a game without its flaws. While the flaws that bubble up to the surface aren’t entirely game breaking, they do lead to incredibly frustrating moments in the game that detract from the experience as a whole. The biggest flaw in the game, is the difficulty curve. Simple put, the game’s difficulty grows by leaps and bounds after Chapter 4, and it becomes an extreme exercise in patience in order to make it from one checkpoint to the next. The level design and puzzles turn into a different beast altogether, one that may turn off those that get frustrated easily. A smoother difficulty curve would be appreciated, and at the time of this reviews, a patch has been created that makes the learning curve a bit gentler.
The other problem that I had, was much minor but definitely led to some easily avoidable deaths. In Mushroom 11, the screen scrolls automatically for you, while this is an expected design feature, it becomes increasingly frustrating when you spend your time trying to make your blob grow laterally and the screen scrolls ever so slightly to the left, while you’re trimming away. This makes it so that your circle of destruction may automatically be shifted a little bit to the left when you least expect it, cut your blob in half and ruin 5 minutes of work. While this issue is easily avoided by letting go of the mouse button when it scrolls over, it seems like an avoidable design flaw that Untame should have taken into account.
All of this is accompanied by expertly crafted graphics and amazing music from The Future Sound of London. Watching the world crumble and shatter around you has never looked so beautiful. Mushroom 11 breaks the mold when it comes to displaying a post apocalyptic world. Gone are the drab colors, and green or yellow tint that we have come to expect, Mushroom 11 features vibrant landscapes, built upon a post apocalyptic world of crumbling buildings, rusty factories and pools of bright purple poison. Mushroom 11’s world is a wonder to behold, with the environment bursting to life all around you. The art direction is superb and is a welcome break from the usual pixel art that usually graces indie games.
Mushroom 11 is a difficult game, filled with overwhelming obstacles and impossible situations and some of the most satisfying action sequences that I’ve experienced. While there are some minor complaints, the concept was executed with aplomb and lends to one of the best indie games I’ve played this year.