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Preview: Mushroom 11 (PC)

Mushroom 11 captures the gameplay intrigue and artistic flair expected of indies these days, but its story is a mystery.

Even with only two demo chapters available, developer Untame's Mushroom 11 is already loaded with sprawling atmosphere. The production gives players an almost accidental level of indirect control over a shimmering green life form. It molds and shapes and contorts to the needs of its world in a game easily classified as a physics heavy puzzle adventure. But, that classification may be too simplistic for what Untame has planned.

Where this being exists in unclear. Cities are splashed with dusty grays into deepened backgrounds. Buildings are crumbling. Lava flows rest where streets sank. Mushroom 11 is an abstraction of the apocalypse, the type of setting which is inherently mournful and thus bravely independent by default – few corporately-bound video games are this aesthetically dreary.

This creature, pushed forward in the PC version by clicking and dragging (future mobile editions will be touch-based), squishes into tight corridors cracked open by whatever cataclysm wrought this realm. Creaky elevators, leftover switches, and bosses become an ounce of tradition in Mushroom 11's proudly self-supported design.

Blob, if Mushroom 11's leading oddity requires a name, can be sliced, amputated, and whipped around without harm. Most of those functions are essential and parts can act as individuals once separated. Dangerous as the word can be in the sphere of entertainment, Mushroom 11 appears to be aiming for education – a sort of critical thinking home schooling session with vague instructions, sans arrows or icons. The manual is gameplay itself, seemingly created for mounds of experimentation and guesswork. Forward motion without thought is not only precarious here, it will be deadly.

Untame is pairing with Future Sound of London for the soundtrack, an often hypnotic combination of indistinct aural acoustics and droning instrumentals. Through the miniscule music, there is a viable emphasis of sadness, the perfect aesthetic match for Mushroom 11's evocative tone.

However, this is not all bleak. Even in the short demo provided, Mushroom 11 engages in some frantic action. A once proud city center began collapsing as Blob rolled over what remained of their roofs, creating an immediate sense of urgency mere minutes after the basics were understood. So much of what Untame has completed as of now is foreign yet oddly commonplace. Video games are synonymous with lava pits, collectibles, and “boss” battles. So Mushroom 11 goes, bonding to a retro appeal while fitting into the respectable world of contemporary design work.

Some of Mushroom 11's detachment from traditional narrative has the unfortunate potential to not hold up long term. The only definitive story pieces during the preview demo were pop-up images which were as indecisive in terms of grounding the fiction as gameplay. Based on what was played, Mushroom 11 feels scared to give answers, being ambiguous because such decisions are often trendy in this sector of the industry.

Still, those are guesses. Untame is potentially holding out on ideas as a clever marketing move. No doubt the prelude effect is enticing. While Mushroom 11 could fit into standard genre placement, it almost feels wrong to give it such a label. Like countless other indies, this game looks to bend the customs we're used to in order to create a fresh style of play.

It may be a lowly Blob, but Mushroom 11's homegrown superstar has spunk.

Published Nov. 17th 2014

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