The very first interview I had planned for Rezzed was with Untame Games about Mushroom 11, an amazing puzzle platformer where you control an amorphous green blob in a post-apocalyptic world. Nature is weird and mutated and there are only remnants of human civilisation, but we as a species are gone from this dangerous yet tranquil world.
I sat down to play it after watching someone give it a go, and it helped me realise the biggest challenge the game presents its players: you’re not pushing the blob. When you first see the cursor and your ‘protagonist’ your first instinct is to use it to push the thing along, but that’s not what the cursor does. It’s an eraser and it removes cells from the blob, making them grow on its opposite end. So if you remove a chunk of it from the right side, it’ll grow out of the left. It’s an interesting concept but it takes players ages to wrap their heads around it.
With controlled erases and gravity you create momentum and if you’re hugging a wall or a vertical shaft, it helps in climbing. You can even split it into multiple blobs. When that happens deleting a bit of one makes the other grow and that is something I often had to do for some of the puzzles, as I needed to have one bit of it push down a button while the rest crossed a gate. It’s trickier than it sounds, but also extremely fun and quite addictive. The Untame team have come up with so many challenges for you to navigate through, from buildings sinking into lava, forcing you to rush up a shaft with splitting pathways, to filling up a derelict elevator and weight it down to use as a platform and so much more. Every scenario requires careful erasing but also sometimes quick judgement. The good thing is that there are plenty of checkpoints around and even if you die you’ll just pop back up in one of those and you can try again.
I interviewed Julia and Itay Keren, one of the two couples working on the game. I asked Julia about the name of the game, thinking it might tie into the creature’s origin, maybe that was its code name, but that wasn’t the case. The name came from the Game Jam where they first worked on the concept, and Mushroom 11 was just one name they threw out and it became the final title. The theme of the Jam was Ouroboros, a snake eating its tail. Their take on it was this fungus creating itself from the bits you erase. It certainly fits the theme and it’s also one of the most ingenious and creative mechanics I’ve played with in all my years of gaming. Even with just a few minutes into it, it was extremely satisfying to finally make it up a ridge by carefully erasing cells from my blob.
Something I realised while playing and later Julia and Itay confirmed was that while there is a story, there is no exposition at all. You can see the story all around you in graffitis and murals. This is a post-apocalyptic world without humans, they’re all gone and you can see at least one possible way they went out with a crude drawing on the wall at your starting location. It’s very subtle and everyone will look for something different in the game. Some will focus on the puzzling experience while others will look through every nook to find the next bit of lore. I fall somewhere between the two to be honest and I was already coming up with my own theories in the short time I had to play the game.
When I asked Julia about the world without humans she said it was because they were all tired of how all post apocalypse stories revolve around humans still surviving, so they wanted to explore a world without them, one where only nature remains. As someone who’s never been a fan of the traditional post-apocalypse survival stories, this is right up my alley!
Speaking of nature, your blob can eat up any organic matter it finds. At first, Itay mentioned, they tried to make it grow as it ate up creatures but that soon got out of hands so they decided on the blob having a fixed size and kept the eating itself to enhance exploration. Every time you clear a chapter, a score will pop up, telling you how many poor creatures you devoured. I thought I’d gone through the entire first chapter area but by the end, I discovered I had only one-quarter of the organic matter, which meant there was still so much more to explore! The score itself might be meaningless but it’ll drive the exploration and that is always a good thing. When I finally get my hands on the full version, I’m definitely taking my time to finding every creature out here!
The demo consisted on two chapters but I only cleared the first one, which even included a boss fight of sorts. It was another puzzle, one where you had to put everything you learned on movement and climbing into action while dealing with a plant-like creature spewing fire and flailing around madly. It took a few tries but eventually I ate its fruit and it died, falling into a pool of magma. After following it and escaping through a narrow path on the left, I left the area and completed the chapter. I had to leave the booth but I saw how much the second chapter raised the difficulty. You start at the edge of chasm with a massive magma pool with only a small vertical shaft a few feet away. I gave it a try but could never make it into the passage without falling into the deadly pool. As an adventure gamer and avid puzzler, a part of me wanted to stay and finish it, but I just couldn’t at the time. Made me sad really because as soon as you wrap your head around the erasing, the game is so much fun.
One of the biggest hooks in their press release was the fact that Future Sound of London was doing the soundtrack and I had to ask Itay about that. As a lifelong fan of FSOL, he wanted to have them work on this and knowing the worst case was being ignored he made the call and they’ve been collaborating ever since. As someone who didn’t know much about FSOL, I could only judge the music by itself, and it really fits. It might be techno but not the full on blasting rave-like we all imagine when he hear that word, but much subtler melodies to enhance the mystery and the urge to discover everything this barren landscape has to offer.
Mushroom 11 is coming this year on Steam, and I will most definitely get and review it when it comes out. The game info page is already up on Valve’s service if you want to take a look for yourself!