Monthly Archives: October 2015

Tripping on Mushroom 11

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.

main screen

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.

MovingThis 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.

Collectibles

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.

Ramp

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.

pretty

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.

N8

R8

7/8

mushy3

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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ON N8S PL8

I picked up the Humble Indie Bundle (Number 15) for two particular side-dishes:

The first: Q.U.B.E.

QUBE is what I’d imagine 2001: a Space Odyssey would look like if Kubrick made video games and if those games were for stupid people. The puzzles in this game are SERIOUSLY easy and the narrative is so stale I can still feel the rock-hard bits of story in my teeth. Over an intercom, a lady-representative from mission control talks to you about literally nothing useful or important or even vaguely interesting. Occasionally, her orbit takes her conveniently out of signal range (Save a little cash on voice acting fees!) leaving you to solve clunky puzzles that are only difficult when the broken physics get in the way of the one possible solution. Each time she comes back around, she blathers on about amnesia and your former life and saving the planet and a whole bunch of junk you are quite incapable of caring about due to the convoluted logic and well-worn trajectory the story takes. But the environments are pretty cool looking with those very basic soft white cubes and primary colors, not that it takes much effort to get a nice looking environment using the most rudimentary shapes and colors, but hey. I have to find something positive about this trip.

Qube1


The second: Sir You Are Being Hunted

Sir You Are Being Hunted is like kinda like a first person Don’t Starve with a lot less detail and polish. What I can say about this game is that the tracks have been laid for an authentic, thrilling, and engrossing survival experience. Considering multiplayer has just come out and the fact that this experience is actually pretty solid despite being an indie title, this game’s future chock-full of promise. What you’ve got right now, though, is a pretty boring world in which you collect rocks and food and get nice and spooked by all those creepy robots. I found my heart racing more than once as I was tracked down, but I didn’t feel compelled to survive just so I could say “I win!”, so the experience had a bit of a dull edge. The best aspect of this game is the feeling that you have to move around, even though it makes you extremely vulnerable. Your instincts tell you to stay put, but you know you need to move around for food, weapons, and to feed that overpowering hunger for exploration. I really hope this game grows beyond this point, especially visually, because I have not been so scared of robots since those stupid animatronic bears and rabbits.

hunted


Some others:

Undertale

I spent several hours of my gaming time the last few weeks finishing this game. You can read my review for it heeere.


The Beginner’s Guide

I finished The Beginner’s Guide just the other day and I have not been able to stop thinking about it. In my mind, this is a perfect example of “games as art.” Davey Wreden does a wonderful job of providing his personal commentary on the enigmatic games of “Coda,” and when I say that I mean it exactly as that. This game is highly personal. Wreden does a wonderful job of framing these little abstract games inside his narration, which is deeply intertwined with the experience as a whole. There are some serious flaws with his opinions and his reliability as a narrator is highly suspect, but to suggest Wreden was not aware of these problems ignores some of the brightest parts of the game. I will be writing more about this game.

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Bodily Functions, Synchronized

We’ve been meeting like this every day for some time now. Always after that first cup of coffee. Maybe a doughnut or a piece of fruit if I’m trying to be good.

Sometimes, I’ll be sitting here for a few minutes, playing a level of Angry Birds or Candy Crush, waiting for that familiar pair of dusty, well-worn loafers to swish into my neighboring stall. Other times, I’ll enter quietly and take my seat, only to notice you’re already there. Waiting for me.

I’ve been keeping it all in too long… These moments between us – wonderful moments where I know you know we’re feeling the same thing. The way we skirt around our bliss, afraid to get too close. There is something powerful brewing here. Something real and beautifully human, separated from the anxieties outside. A release.

And it’s not just how our cycles are so in sync. It’s how you only go for the paper after I’ve flushed. The shy way you wait until I’ve washed my hands and left the room to finish up yourself. The too-quick way you murmur “bless you” when I sneeze. Those soft, gruff words. A hushed baritone that makes me quiver.

But the truth is I need to let go. I sit here now, writing this. My body is pure tension. Everything is clenched, backed up. You’re so close and so unreachable. You mutter subdued grunts, scratch the stubble on your neck. I wonder… Do you have a mustache? More scratching noises echo from your stall. Flakes of dandruff fall to the floor between us. They dissolve in a tiny puddle of unknown moisture.

I place my hand on that beige divider and I imagine you doing the same. The fantasy fills me with warmth, and I am able to push again. The dispassionate would cry “unsanitary!” but my lips crave this contact. I place them gently on our wall and whisper forbidden words of encouragement with gentle flicks of my tongue. I am emptied of all reservation.


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The Hilariously, Wonderfully Weird RPG: Undertale

Despite all the hype and good vibes going around about Undertale, it took me a few weeks to actually buy in and give it a shot. I had just finished Lisa: The Painful RPG a few weeks prior and then Ossuary a few weeks before that and the whole realm of dreary, pixelated bizzaro-worlds was getting a bit stale. I was pretty burned out on the random-encounters, the cutesy pixelated characters, and all that goddam dialogue. I really didn’t expect much from this game… The stills I had seen were a bit underwhelming and to be honest, I think the trailer could do with a makeover, too. But in this instance, I am really glad I didn’t just shrug it off and go with some flashy, fast-paced, triple-A fun-fest. Fifteen minutes into Undertale, and that feeling came over me. That amazing feeling you get when you are expecting nothing but get EXACTLY what you didn’t even know you were craving.

Whimsy

For me, this is one of those games that you can not appreciate from afar. You have to pull the curtains aside, throw the window wide-open, and really stick your head into it. The screenshots fail miserably at conveying the delightful atmosphere and the reviews (like this one) can do even less to exhibit what this game has to offer. The first thing that truly clicked with me was the humorous tone that persists even through the most serious moments of the game. In the beginning, you’re introduced to the mechanics through a typical hand-holder character, Toriel, who instantly had me smiling if not cracking up at all the heavy-handed guidance she has to offer. The jokes are completely self-aware, extremely clever, and so well-paced that at times it seems like the game was designed from Day One with the comedy set in stone. I could compare the humor in the game to the humor of Lisa, but unlike Lisa, Undertale’s humor comes in the form of gentle, subtle, happy jokes. In my mind, Lisa’s humor is far more abrasive – based on weird, demented characters in a violent, gruesome world. In Lisa, you had flammable orphans. In Undertale, you’ve got a sim-date with a skeleton.

Skeleton date

Another welcome difference between Undertale and other run-of-the-mill random encounter-based RPGs is that Undetale doesn’t base it’s ‘combat’ on statistics involving ATK, DEF, M. ATK, and M. DEF. Instead, what you get each time you’re faced with a monster is a choice. You choose between fighting, which prompts a time based skill-check, or an action like ‘talk,’ ‘compliment,’ or ‘hug.’ If you choose to go the friendly route, your objective is to figure out which action to use in order to get the monster on your side. Once the monster is properly tamed, you can choose to ‘spare’ it, allowing you to win battles without killing a fly. The other difference is that each time a monster attacks, a short Wario Ware-esque/shoot-em-up experience begins. You use your soul (a little heart shaped icon) to dodge incoming attacks, as you might in bullet dodgers like Ikaruga or Geometry Wars. Bosses provide derivations on this, keeping the battles fresh, exciting and extremely challenging as you push on. Each encounter plays like a new and fulfilling experience, rather than the bland battle you have to win in order to grind on.

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Like I said earlier, when I picked up Undertale I was very close to being totally burned out on the genre. And I am absolutely sure that if this game went in the same status-effecty, attacky/defendy, item usingy direction as LISA, Earthbound, Pokemon, and literally every Final Fantasy game I can think of, I would have quit after an hour and let it sit in my pile of unplayed Steam games. But one little on-point change to the whole system made me realize that there is so much more to be had in a game like this than I was previously getting. When your enemies attack you and you get those little bursts of shoot-em-up gameplay, you don’t feel like your playing the same old thing. You get the refreshing genre-crossing benefits that only come when a game developer is willing to take a few chances. I’d love to see this genre-sharing strategy utilized in games of the future.

wiggle

While the shmup-style crossover gives the player a sense of newness in terms of mechanics, the ‘friendly’ route offers a sense of newness in terms of narrative. The simple ability to spare your opponents rather than annihilating them in classic gaming style grants you a new perspective, one from which you may look critically at the violence-happy whole of video games. Playing Undertale, you may notice this weird thing called ‘guilt’ creeping over you after simply dispatching an annoying dog or stupid frog. This is a weird and novel emotion, considering the fact that ripping off limbs, torturing middle-aged men, and murdering dozens of innocent civilians are all considered “objectives” in the majority of gaming. Each character has a little story behind it. Each has its own desires and urges. Each just wants the chance to live on and live happily ever after. The challenge is that sometimes an enemy is persistent in its attacks. Sometimes, it seems like the only way out is to kill.

Kill everyoneBut it is possible to finish the game without killing; though, and this is one of the few serious criticisms I have with the game, it really feels like Undertale is wayyy too hokey along the pacifist route. When I finished the game, I tried to do as little lasting damage as possible. In return, I got cutesy, funny, happy cut-scenes, with a bit of seriousness at the end in the form of an incredible, final battle and some back-story told by all the monsters I had spared. However, when I watched the “evil” play-through on Youtube, I realized just how amazingly serious the game could be. When you play the game in ‘genocide’ mode (killing everything you possibly can) you get some amazing, 4th-wall breaking exchanges that the game is completely devoid of on a more peaceful play-through. I have to admit… I felt a bit gypped.

mushroom danceAll-in-all, Undertale is a beautifully novel experience. The mechanics offer a form of genre-bending that I have only ever seen a few other games take a chance on. The environment suits the tone of the game perfectly, and the amount of detail is astounding for a one-man dev team. The humor is consistently on-point and is guaranteed to have you smiling. The story is full of whimsy, wit, and wonder with intermittent moments of moral gravity and thoughtfulness. The one problem I had with the end of my peaceful playthrough was the “happily ever after” vibe I got instead of anything legitimately thought-provoking. It seems a shame that you actually HAVE to go through with the same acts of depravity you are trying to protest in order to see Undetale’s more serious side… But perhaps that’s the point.


 

N8

R8

8/8

burger guy

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