Nuclear weaponry is a constant source of tension between countries in the modern world. After all, the destruction caused by these weapons is massive, and whatever they don’t kill upon impact ends up decaying slowly through radiation poisoning over time. Given the fact that the world (thankfully) has not suffered a nuclear war, one can only speculate what the effects of such radiation might be on the earth and its lifeforms.
Mushroom 11, from developer Untame, plays with the idea of a post-nuclear war with a unique take on the puzzle genre. As a mutated amoeba created by radiation, players guide themselves through seven levels of nuclear wreckage, manipulating their body in order to progress and to ultimately fight a boss at the end of each level. While the concept seems odd at first, Mushroom 11 manages to provide a fresh and challenging new puzzle game for those who like to test themselves, despite having an initially steep learning curve.
At first glance, Mushroom 11 seems deceptively simple. The game does not have a story in the traditional sense, and instead relies on its backdrop of nuclear destruction to establish its mood and tone. Gameplay takes the form of a 2D platformer with only seven core levels, during which players move from right to left (bucking the trend of franchises like Mario) in a linear fashion as fast as possible. The only buttons that are involved are the left and right mouse keys. Surely, the game must be a cakewalk?
Mushroom 11 eliminates this assumption right off of the bat, through refusing to hold the player’s hand and by implementing a surprisingly complex set of controls. By erasing cells from the amoeba, the player forces them to regrow somewhere else on the blob’s body. Since these cells always grow back to their original quantity, players can then push the amoeba to the left by erasing the cells on its right side. Additionally, by erasing the cells in the center of the amoeba, players are able to split the blob apart and create two separate bodies, which becomes handy for manoeuvring throughout areas that require the amoeba to be in multiple positions at once.
However, the depth of this erasing mechanism does not end there. Mushroom 11 gives players numerous challenging puzzles to overcome, which are all based around manipulating these cells. By getting a sense of which cells must be erased from the amoeba, players are able to do everything from climbing up walls and cliffs, unlocking doors, and crossing dangerous pools of fire by latching onto platforms and pegs within the environment.
Aside from a simple guide that explains how to erase cells, there are no tutorials to speak of. Everything else must be learned through the tried and true formula of trial-and-error. As one might expect, the lack of hand-holding can be both invigorating and frustrating. Since the levels of Mushroom 11 are filled with such dangerous obstacles, from chasms of fire and poisonous traps to bottomless gaps, any misclick could spell death.
When everything clicks, and players are finally able to build up enough momentum to fly over dangerous pits, Mushroom 11 offers an immense sense of satisfaction. However, due to the randomness of the amoeba cell’s regrowth, as well as the game’s complex physics engine, it can often be difficult to nail a puzzle first try, leading to many mistimed jumps and irritating failures.
Adding insult to injury, levels often take upwards of 25-30 minutes of playtime to complete, which may leave players fatigued and wishing for a fresh environment. Thankfully, numerous checkpoints ensure that death never sets you back far, and the addictive nature of dividing and multiplying will keep gamers determined to keep on playing.
Players that stick with one of Mushroom’s 11 lengthy levels are aptly rewarded for their efforts with one of seven exciting boss battles. Each boss builds on the techniques developed during the level, and are a fun, albeit brief, way to bring each stage to a thrilling conclusion. These enemies, which range from deranged plants to hulking machines, vary greatly in their attacks and weaknesses, and end up being excellent puzzles in and of themselves. One, for example, is a large spiky wheel that can easily squish the player, leading to a violent death if they are not careful. Another is a fire-breathing cactus-like creature whose arms must be climbed in order to launch a successful attack. While they may be short, these encounters are an interesting way to add some combat to what is essentially a pure platformer.
Graphically, Mushroom 11 won’t blow anyone’s socks off. Given the nuclear disaster that has taken place, the environments of Mushroom 11 defer to shades of brown, grey and green the majority of the time. In addition to its subdued colour palate, the game also suffers from a lack of detail in its backgrounds. There simply isn’t much to look at while playing which, far from a being deal-breaker, is a missed opportunity nonetheless.
Despite the lacklustre visuals, Mushroom 11 is a brief but enjoyable take on the platforming and puzzles genres. The game might test your patience with its lack of tutorial and trial-and-error gameplay, but its originality and fun bosses make the trip to a nuclear wasteland one worth taking.
Short, Frustrating but Ultimately Sweet
Despite its brief run-time and steep learning-curve, Mushroom 11's unique levels keep the experience fun and addicting.