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Mushroom 11 Hands-On: The Future Sound Of Fungus

Erasure

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Mushroom 11 is a sort of physics puzzle-platformer about a mutant organism that will always grow back to its original mass, regardless of how much of it you prune away. By doing this, you traverse a ravaged landscape filled with hazards and foes. I played a section of it at EGX last week.

Erasure is not movement. But erasure creates movement. Scrub away one ‘side’ of a mutant fungal lifeform, and in seconds the removed material will re-appear on the other ‘side’ of the irradiated lump. The creature – if it can be called that – has now moved further along, but it did without moving.

It’s a tricky concept to get one’s head around, and in practice I was also struggling with having to unlearn what so many other games have taught me. It is muscle memory to push a cursor forwards to make a character move forwards, or to drag something towards a goal by its front end, but in Mushroom 11 I have to, er, work the back end. It’s a scrubbing motion, taking away matter from one part of the growth in order to make it re-grow elsewhere, or a cutting motion, removing an entire section of thing, thus adjusting its centre of mass so that it topples in a particular direction. Do it fast to seem to dart rapidly across treacherous drops, or do it slowly to create more measured and precise ‘movement’, such as rotation, but no matter how the matter is removed it will always, always grow back moments later. Life will always find a way. This particular way is as a terrifying as it is impressive.

Dropping straight into the middle of a demo build at EGX, as someone else had wandered off mid-session, meant I kept hitting brick walls. I was trying to whisk the creature forwards across lava pits, or nudge it into a controlled fall over a cliff and onto the next platform. The developer, with the understandable faint exasperation of someone who’d had to do similar hundreds of times previously, had to step in and request that I restarted the demo from the beginning, as the initial, lighter puzzles would wordlessly explain the core concept to me.

Slowly, slowly, my brain adapted to delete-to-move, and when I returned to the challenges that had bested me first time around, I now knew almost instinctively what to do. Erase to grow. Erase to move. Erase to fall, or slow a fall, or to not fall. Erase to ‘fight’ bosses too, in sequences that escalate Mushroom 11’s central challenge beyond mere traversal.

It’s very much one of those game concepts that, after having played it, it seems impossible that it didn’t already exist. There’s a great deal of commonality with World of Goo (which the dev happily cites as an inspiration, and indeed investor – Mushroom 11 has been nurtured into being with the help of the 2D Boy-founded Indie Fund), in terms of growth-as-movement and not falling victim to gravity as central tension, but also both games groundbreak by doing something that seems somehow totally obvious.

Let’s not forget Mushroom 11’s style while enthusing about its substance. Post-apocalyptic backdrops but blessed with colour and touches of something alien – it expertly fills a screen with pretty decay. The titular lifeform is mesmeric to watch, too – bio-matter glowing eerily, and with hints of circuitry criss-crossing its asymmetric bulk.

I’m also excited that Mushroom 11 has been soundtracked by The Future Sound Of London too, although the clamour of a show floor sadly meant this only had a fraction of its intended effect.

It’s how the organism grows that most captures the eye though – huge parts of it can be wiped away, even down to the point that just a tiny orb of green matter is left. A split-second passes, then the thing expands outwards without apparent exertion. It spreads, indefatigably. If it wasn’t ‘me’, I’d probably be terrified of it. It’s not remotely human. It seems almost unstoppable, although of course I inadvertently stopped it many times by letting it drop into lava or acid or whatever those pools of strange liquid really are. My suspicion is that it’s still down there somewhere, a minuscule green speck, feeling no pain, feeling no anguish, just existing. Forever.

Fascinating, eerily beautiful, strange and yet, after a few minutes, entirely natural. This is one to watch very closely indeed.

Mushroom 11 will be out sometime next year.

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Alec Meer

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Co-founder of RPS. Dungeon Keeper & X-COM 4 Life.

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