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This weekend I grew a fungus daughter in eerie narrative RPG Mushroom Musume, which has a demo

The morel the merrier

A stats screen for a mushroom girl in Mushroom Musume, represented in green pixelart
Image credit: Mortally Moonstruck Games

I don't plan on having kids, but in the event that I change my mind, commissioning a forest Witch to grow one from a mushroom seems a lot easier than the usual human procreative process, though possibly just as abundant in screaming. I've been playing the demo for "cute-creepy" RPG and life sim Mushroom Musume, in which you - an unnamed "Recluse" - cultivate and play as a series of mushroom daughters. My current mushroom daughter is called Alia. She's a Common Turquoise Truffle. She's got a small pig acquaintance, who so far hasn't tried to devour her, and a cute fuzzy hat, which she stole from outside a church - precise impact on character development still TBC.

I have done my best to raise Alia as a gentle but self-assertive soul, the kind of public-spirited girl who lops off pieces of her own body to distribute as candies in town, and who stands up for herself when she's followed home by rogue chefs. I must confess, though, I've blundered here and there. For example, when she was a pinhead she once saw me cut somebody's throat, and I must admit, I was once sorely tempted to gamble her away during a dice game with a fairy (the fairy took my little finger, instead). It's perhaps thanks to these missteps that Alia is moderately damp, which I understand is a sign of good health for mushrooms in general, but may indicate, here, a certain "murkiness of the soul". Hmm.

You can find Mushroom Musume on Steam and Itch (the WIP Itch version is part of Itch's latest Queer Games Bundle). I think it could be something special. Each round of the game begins with you fetching various ingredients for your filial fungus, at the behest of the aforesaid Witch. A colour, for example, which you might glean from a flower or the bottom of the river, and an heirloom, like the hairpin you gave to your previous lost child.

A description of a threatening, but perhaps enticing woman from mushroom-girl-growing life sim RPG Mushroom Musume, with an image of a creepy house above
A set of cards denoting quest choices in Mushroom Musume
Image credit: Mortally Moonstruck Games

Then you try to do things that shape the form and persona of your budding porcini or juvenile shiitake, for better and worse. I managed to procure solid connections among the fairy folk for Alia, after deciding not to gamble her away, by refraining from murdering a fairy that snuck into her fungarium. I get the sense that each and every one of these decisions will have both nice and nasty outcomes. For example: making your daughter more outgoing and sociable might backfire if the local villagers decide that, on the whole, they'd rather eat mushrooms than talk to them.

After a few turns in the fungarium, your daughter reaches fruition and moves out, whereupon the game becomes a light-touch journalling RPG that reminds me a little of Reigns, made up of short text-based quests whose outcomes are often decided using dice. You've got ability cards, including a self-explanatory "Nope" card and a limited supply of "Soma" (aka, your own lifeforce) to spend on quests. Choices in quests affect your mushroom's personality stats and thus, presumably, the other quests you'll discover, while occasionally rewarding you with an item such as a magic handbell.

The full game will include a "meta-progression" element whereby you raise a whole family of 'shroomans, and try to fill out your Mushroom Almanac with different species, which lends this Grimm fantasy the savour of a Balatro-style hunt for every last permutation. Your mushroom children may encounter each other in the world. For example, Alia has just been asked by the Witch to track down and kill another mycelium maiden who has gone a bit wrong. I swear, I had nothing to do with that one.

I really like Mushroom Musume. It's cuddly yet nasty, whimsical but rotten, eerie but enchanting and perhaps, endearing - a fairytale of the old school, in short. The premise is gloriously unwholesome, the visuals are a pleasing scrapbook of Game Boy photography, and the writing is as slight and flavourful with mounting bitter undertones as any redcap you'd find in the woods. Small flourishes abound: choosing a colour for your mushroom also decides the colour of the HUD, and there's a music player in top-right which you can turn on and off. Go on, try the pre-release build. It's free, but they're accepting donations.

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