Matter can be neither created nor destroyed. That scientific statement is key to the gameplay behind Mushroom 11, an independent platformer/puzzle hybrid that is being developed by Untame. I was lucky enough to get some hands-on time with a demo for the game, and it’s proving to be an original and challenging title.
The goal in Mushroom 11 is to move a shape-shifting blob through a series of obstacles in a post-apocalyptic 2D setting. The catch is that the blob cannot walk, jump, or move in any way on its own. The only way to move it is to destroy it. The mouse cursor acts as an eraser that allows you to destroy small or large parts of the blob whenever you want. When part of the blob is removed, the mass appears elsewhere on the creature. So if you destroy the back of it, more blob will appear at the front, and you will have effectively moved forward.
Those are the basics, but things quickly get more complicated for you and your blob. Players will have to stretch out the green mass in order to cross gaps, and even split it in pieces so that one part can weigh down a switch while the other part moves through a door. Once moving horizontally becomes a cinch, there are walls to climb and curious physics puzzles to solve. At one point, players will have to stretch out their blob to reach “footholds” and continue moving upwards. Using the blob’s weight is necessary to solve other obstacles such as see-saws and catapults.
Because the blob is constantly regenerating itself, the player doesn’t need to completely avoid danger like he or she would while playing a more traditional platformer. Dangerous plants spew fire at the blob towards the end of the first level, but you can get past them as long as you keep erasing in the right places. Similarly, lava pits can be conquered just by getting a piece of the blob onto the other side. If the rest of it falls into the lava, it will just reappear on the part that hasn’t been destroyed.
That doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to die in Mushroom 11. If you drop your entire blob into a fire pit at once, it will burn up faster than it can regenerate. In the second level of the demo, I encountered a sinister purple substance that started eating away at my blob upon contact. If I didn’t erase the “infected” part of the blob quickly enough, it was game over.
Fortunately, there are checkpoints placed generously throughout the game to ensure that the player isn’t punished too harshly for dying. Well, at least that was the case in the early going. I kind of liked it because I felt encouraged to take risks and find creative solutions to the game’s many puzzles. Also, I died a lot.
With each puzzle bracketed on either side by a checkpoint, Mushroom 11 at times feels a lot more like a puzzle game than a platformer. However, there are still intense boss battles to tackle. The end of the first level is guarded by a scary flower monster that the player must maneuver around in order to collect its seeds and destroy it.
By the time I figured out how to get past the giant spider at the end of the second level, I felt like I had accomplished a lot, but I was really only scratching the surface of what Mushroom 11 will offer when it is released in full in the spring of 2015. With the obvious effort that Untame put into level design and gameplay mechanics, it wouldn’t be shocking to learn a six months from now that they have a cult hit on their hands.