The Strange Growth of Mushroom 11

One of the stranger games hidden on the PAX East floor was a puzzle-platformer about an amorphous mass working its way through a side-scrolling wasteland. The green blob could be herded by destroying part of it, causing new growths to quickly sprout from an undamaged side. While the blob was basically stationary and immobile when left alone, erasing one side caused the other to grow, resulting in it seeming to ooze across the land. No matter how quickly you erased the blob it would always have at least one cell left from which the entire mass would regrow in a matter of seconds, but a dip in lava or carelessly brushing against acid would kill it dead. It was a bleak little game, set in a destroyed wasteland of ruined buildings deteriorating against orange skies, but watching the blob flow through pipes and over toxic sludge was morbidly fascinating. The excellent puzzle design that kept pushing the blob’s abilities was a big plus, too.

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You destroy part of the rigid green mass (“blob” implies a squishiness that it doesn’t actually have but I’ll still be wearing that word out by article’s end), it grows back to its original size, and that’s the extent of its abilities, but there’s a world of control to be found in there. For example, dividing the blob in half to weigh down one side of a beam sticking out over a pit so it doesn’t drop down when you cross, then erasing the left behind blob-half when done. Or carefully destroying the bits that don’t point in the direction you need them to go so that the bits you want grow into recessions in the wall, causing the blob to slowly creep up what would have been an insurmountably-tall obstacle. Or growing a “tail” off the end so that, when the main mass has grown around a circular strut that ‘s the only thing between it and an acidic pool, the tail catches on a piece of scenery and prevents the entire mass from spinning uselessly as you try to extend it to the next strut over.

It can take some very careful trimming of the blob to make it grow where you want, and while you can be fairly precise about what you erase the section that grows is out of your hands. The trickier areas will see you carefully editing things into shape, but fortunately (ate least in the levels I played) the more finicky areas don’t have any time constraints. The bit where you had to shepherd the blob across a series of buildings sinking into a pool of lava, sometimes erasing parts in mid-air so that the new growths would land on the next platform over, required speed and focus but not the ultra-fine control that the more passive (but equally deadly) challenges later on wanted.

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I managed to complete the first two levels in full, minus a secret or two. Each level had a variety of challenges as well as hidden goodies in tricky areas, and exploring the alien wasteland built on humanity’s ruins made puzzling out the solution as much fun to think about as look at. It probably sounds nice too, thanks to The Future Sound of London working on the audio, but hearing much of anything on the show floor wasn’t really a possibility. The limited time I had, however, showed a highly polished game that knew its strengths, with a unique gameplay mechanic that the puzzles constantly pushed in new and clever directions. Mushroom 11 is a weird little multicellular beast growing off the corpse of the ruined world, but puzzle-platforming like this helps take the sting out of civilization’s destruction.