The N8R8 award for innovation in 2D physics-based puzzle-platformer design has found a reason to be called into existence! And while technically the only contender for this newly established yet prestigious prize, Mushroom 11 is a prime example of what games would be if developers stopped rehashing the same junk and just tried a little harder to open their minds to something new, interesting, and a teensy bit experimental. There is no jumping, no walking, none of that sticky platformer goop that immediately makes us think of that red-suited, Goomba-bopping plumber we all know oh too well. A truly welcome variation on the genre is what you get for 14.99 on Steam (10% OFF NOW!) N8s got the deets, N8s got the gifs, N8s got the stupid 8 gimmick thing goin’ on – all the shit you need to get a good, firm feel for this mycological treat of an indie platformer.
One of the first things you’ll notice after doing yourself the favor of buying Mushroom 11 is that there are no real characters in the game. There is no dialogue, no narrator, no signposts telling you how to play, not even the slightest suggestion that you have a goal or a mission or an end-point. It’s all organic. The only direction you get is through the classic effect of side-scrolling. You move your green, radioactive-looking blob of an avatar toward the edge of the screen and the screen moves along with you. Interestingly, side-scrolling occurs from right to left in this game, possibly for the sake of comfort as your means of progress comes from heavy use of quick up-and-down mouse flicks. Even more interesting is the primary source of challenge in the game – movement. All of the platforming done in Mushroom 11 is done with the abilities of an amorphous amoeba. You push yourself to the left by destroying yourself on the right. You rapidly erase your blob with the click of the mouse and it rapidly rebuilds itself in the opposite direction. This is easily visible in the trailer or in any one of these fancy-pants gifs I’s gots.
This fundamental change in the way the player is required to think about movement lends itself to a vast new array of level design options. The player can climb up walls, squeeze through the narrowest of cracks, cling to tiny or oddly shaped platforms by becoming the perfect shape to suit the scenario. The destructive method of movement and shaping is quickly shown to be a double-edged sword, of course, as it is easy to chop away too much too quickly and wind up with a tiny hopeless speck of green plummeting into a pit of acid or bottomlessness. With time, you become more skilled at trimming the ol’ globule so it’s moved and shaped in just the way you intend. The devs have taken full advantage of the perks of blobiness by crafting some truly unique and challenging levels, all littered with extraneous collectibles and hidden tasks for the perfectionists out there. And while the basic progressive task of moving to the end of each level is a formidable undertaking for just about anyone, the real test is in collecting all that hidden blue flora and fauna.
Puzzles in Mushroom 11 are a little less Braid and a little more Portal. They are not the toughest brain-benders in the sense that the solution probably comes to the player pretty quickly. The hardest part is actually putting your idea into practice and molding your blob into the optimal shape for the solution you’ve got in mind – and doing it quickly, too. This is not frustrating and annoying a la QUBE, but rather stimulating and encouraging as you get closer and closer to the right move after each attempt. That’s not to say the game is never frustrating. It gets increasingly difficult and I often found myself getting pissed off at the spacing between certain check points. Most of the time these were well-placed without being too easy to reach, but occasionally there’d be one next to a death trap I had persistent trouble with. Fortunately, these checkpoints are rage proof and bring you right back where you left off when you spaz out and alt-F4.
Spread in increments throughout the levels are also Intense, cinematic experiences in which the player sets in motion a chain-reaction and gets the pleasure of following the event to its conclusion. In these moments, the player must continue interaction with their blob while it rides a mine cart, gets shot through the air from a catapult, or bounces along on pistons above lava. The conclusion of each level is also marked with my favorite bits in Mushroom 11. The boss-battles are a classic but ever-welcome method of ending the levels with a bang. To prevail, each boss requires the player to utilize specific skills taken from the level in a new way. Unlike other similarly-styled platformers, however, you never gain new abilities or upgrades. While these cliches would be nothing but awkward and unnecessary if added in haphazardly, some type of variety from level-to-level would have been welcome, as they do sometimes get a bit repetitive, though no where near enough to want to stop playing.
To pile more meat on the positivity pl8, the background and foreground art in Mushroom 11 is a charming display of mutated landmasses, dilapidated factoryscapes, and post-apocalyptic cities. Brief stories of the once-great human civilization are told via buried skeletons, barbed wire, and graffitied signs, leading the player to a vague understanding of how the world came to be succeeded by squishy green blobs, mutant spiders, and mechanized slugs. The background music is an atmospheric mixture of synthetic wind instruments, percussion, and chimes layered with the sounds of each specific level, like mechanical clangs and hums for the factory setting and the chirps of unknown bird species for the forest level. In my mind, all of this rich atmosphere would have fit perfectly over top of some direct story elements, though doing too much with the story would detract from the cohesiveness of the game overall.
The one undeniable downside of a game like this is that it reminds us that the rest of the world is full to the brim of copy-cut 2D platformers. Even though this classic genre is far from dead, it feels like a miracle when you finally uncover that beautiful shimmer of life in unique titles like Mushroom 11. With level-design that meshes consistently well with the mechanics and an atmosphere that fills the game world with color, sound, and excitement, it’s hard not to imagine what the gaming world would look like if more games were created with this amount of care and precision. Though Mushroom 11 occasionally felt a tiddly bit monotonous, the game is too solid and fun to speak of in a negative tone. If you’re looking for the freshest of paltforming produce, Mushroom 11 is as local-grown, organic, non-GMO, cruelty/cage/ISIS-free, and hella-tight as you can find on the deep web. Check it.
Side note: Mushroom 11 is eventually coming to mobile, which I can imagine being a great experience assuming the devs get the controls down solid. It was difficult enough with a mouse.
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