A key part of a puzzle platformer’s appeal is the main character; usually the games are fronted by an endearingly charming mascot who has to run and jump their way to victory through colourful worlds. Such is not the case for Mushroom 11, the new title developed by Untame.
Mushroom 11 doesn’t provide the player with any kind of backstory; it instead decides to instantly throw you into its dystopian nightmare and discover it for yourself. The protagonist is a green, amorphous blob tasked with traversing a landscape of death and destruction for no other reason than that it looks really cool. What this unusual premise leads to is a unique, darkly imaginative, and at times very hard physics platformer.
First of all, the game looks absolutely beautiful. Not only is the animation of the central blob mesmerizing to watch, but the backgrounds are gloriously realized in full nightmarish detail as well. One glance at the skyline shows a depressingly desolate world, awash with burnt out buildings and stripped trees. The game’s colour palette largely consists of desaturated oranges and dark greys, which give the locations a rusted, industrial feel.
Machinery is quite often the enemy in the game, suggesting that maybe humanity’s downfall had something to do with the overuse and pollution of such gigantic instruments. You will often have to overcome some menacing mechanical devices that are every bit as threatening as the mutant insects lurking around. Even though it is never made clear what exactly happened to the planet for it to end up in this state, judging by the visuals, it was something unfathomably horrific.
Continuing the environment’s aesthetic are some truly grotesque boss designs. These giant mutant creatures are enough to strike fear even into the heart of an emotionless substance. From hideous arachnids to enormous fire-breathing maggots, the end of chapter fights always promise to amaze the player with their creatively twisted appearance.
The central mechanic of the game is, of course, controlling the ever-changing, glowing goo. The main idea is that you have to destroy its cells so that others will regrow elsewhere, allowing its shape, weight, and balance to be manipulated in order to persevere through the different challenges the hazardous environment throws at you. Suppressing one side of the organism will cause the other side to expand.This means that to achieve forward momentum, you need to continuously destroy the back end of it so it grows forward.
Like most great games of the genre, the control scheme is kept incredibly simple. You only need two buttons to control the organism, left mouse click and right mouse click, for a standard eraser and a fine eraser respectively. You can get by just using the standard eraser for the first couple of levels, but the fine eraser becomes vital later in the game as you are required to meticulously shape the blob into specific shapes to solve the puzzles.
If you were to go straight to the game’s chapter screen, it would seem as though it is disappointingly short; there are only seven chapters. Seven stages in any other platformer would seem ridiculously short, but Mushroom 11 is not like any other platformer. If you are worried that you may not be getting your money’s worth with such a small amount of content, then fear no more; Mushroom 11 offers up more than its fair share of challenging gameplay.
The first few stages can each be completed in about 10-20 minutes, but the game’s difficulty soars as soon as you arrive at chapter five. Suddenly, you may find yourself spending more time trying to overcome a single obstacle than you did on completing the entirety of the first four chapters. The designers constantly craft new ways to put both your mind and reactions to the test, including having to balance upon mine carts and rockets, before you can reach your goal.
Oddly enough, it was never such contraptions that gave me the most trouble. Instead, the puzzles that caused me the most grief and frustration were the ones that initially appeared to be the most unassuming. I hardly had any problems at all with having to jump from one moving mine cart to another, but I failed upwards of about fifty times having to manoeuvre across a set of large wheels or simply having to get up an awkwardly angled ledge. The spike in difficulty does feel harshly abrupt, but it’s completely understandable given the slight number of levels.
While it’s true that the rise in challenge can mostly be fairly attributed to intelligent, complex level design, there were places where I felt the problems were with the controls and not in my ability. The eraser tool can take quite a while to get used to and never really feels instinctive, partly due to the fact that you don’t have any control over what part of the organism will pop up next. You may have a rough idea, as it will generally reform itself on the opposite side you have removed, but during the later stages having a rough idea is not good enough.
With puzzles that require the delicate forming of some very specific shapes, the lack of control will become incredibly annoying. The unpredictability of the shape it would take meant that sometimes I relied on complete luck to progress. There was one instance where, after becoming infuriated with not being able to get up on a ledge, I started arbitrarily waving the cursor around the screen without giving much attention to what I was doing – and ended up succeeding. There were a number of other times where I eventually achieved the solution, after numerous failures, without fully understanding what exactly I did differently. I can definitely see the game testing the patience of many players, who may find the controls too vague for the level design that requires such precision.
Thankfully, the game helps to put you at ease with ubiquitous checkpoints. There is a save point after every single obstacle, which go from seeming unnecessarily forgiving to being more than welcome as the game progresses. The frequent placement of the checkpoints relieves a lot of the pressure; you feel free to fail and experiment, without ever having to worry about doing two challenges in a row. The game also allows you to quit midway through a stage and return to the same point, so you don’t have to complete a stage in one go. Be warned, however, that doing so will make your chapter completion time invalid.
Completing Mushroom 11’s seven apocalyptic chapters can take anywhere from seven hours to thirteen hours depending on skill level. After your initial run, the game encourages multiple play-throughs in the form of optional collectables scattered about the levels as well as timed runs. Of course, there are also achievements for completing each chapter without dying. All I can say is that if you beat chapters five, six or seven without dying, then my hat goes off to you.
To conclude, apart from some minor irritation over the fiddly controls, there is still no denying that Mushroom 11 left me very impressed. Untame deserve a lot of praise for attempting such an original concept and (mostly) pulling it off. It may not quite nab a place in the platformer hall of fame, but it should be enough to satisfy fans of the genre who are looking for something outside the box that is packed full of dark atmosphere and intricate puzzles.
This review is based on the PC version, which was provided to us.
Mushroom 11 is overflowing with an effectively grim atmosphere and some brilliantly original ideas. Although I do have some gripes with the tricky controls, the game ultimately offers a challenging physics-based experience that is enough to satisfy any fan of puzzle platformers.