The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes is a drastic departure from series tradition, and at times, it shows real potential, with clever design rivaling the best of the series’ past. But those moments are few and far between. The rest is just filler in a shallow game that tries a slew of new things, but accomplishes only a few.Tri Force Heroes is Nintendo’s second original Zelda title on 3DS after 2013’s stellar A Link Between Worlds. This new incarnation, however, is structured as a multiplayer title with a loot system, gear crafting, and cooperative dungeons with short run times.The story opens on Hytopia, a realm wherein a witch has cursed Princess Styla with a brown, form-fitting body suit. The princess feels ugly in her new garb, and the Hytopian king puts out a call for adventurers to break the curse with a grand ballroom dress. From there, you wade through a series of puzzles and combat arenas in search of materials to break the curse.Nintendo has told farfetched Zelda tales before, but Tri Force Heroes pushes that sentiment even farther. It tells a story of fashion gurus and designer dresses, complete with eccentric personalities and fashion tips. At first, the whimsical plot was so weird, it captivated me. But as it progressed, it deteriorated, with such poorly written characters and such inexplicable plot points, I dreaded every cutscene’s approach. This game’s final boss embraces the fashion angle so literally, it feels as if Nintendo talked itself into a corner, only to justify the grievous plot at the last second.Despite a few great bosses, most demand similar cooperative maneuvers to bring down.During your travels, you’ll collect materials to fashion your own new outfits. This loot system provides a rewarding feedback loop at first: complete dungeons, gather materials, fashion outfits, and gain new abilities. The Kokiri Clothes let you fire three arrows at a time. The Goron costume grants the ability to swim in lava. Some outfits change the way you approach dungeons entirely, making this new approach to character perks one of the entertaining ideas present in Tri Force Heroes.But earning these bonuses becomes a chore. Tri Force Heroes doesn’t present the traditional Zelda open-world structure–instead it implements what feels just like a series of challenges. A warp room in the castle brings you to the Drablands, where you solve puzzles and slay monsters in expected Zelda fashion. Yet these dungeons are repetitive. Each begins with item acquisition, and proceeds through two more rooms before the boss or wave-based skirmish rear their heads.And these dungeons are short–I finished most in under 15 minutes. This is an effort to facilitate the loot system that demands repeat playthroughs, but it has a negative effect. The puzzles–except for a few–seem too simple. You learn how to use each item. You learn their applications. And just when it seems Nintendo might delve deeper into the branching possibilities of the challenges at hand, the dungeon ends.More often than not, there's a boss at the end of each area. My favorite is a giant Stalfos skeleton that only crumbles after all three heroes use their unique items to bring it down. But this is one of a small number of clever bosses, in a game with a slew of repetitive others. The vast majority of them ask the same question: how many heroes do you need to stack on top of one another, and when should you do so?In Tri Force Heroes, puzzles center around Totems. This gameplay conceit allows players to carry one or both of their partners, and sometimes throw them in the hopes of reaching distant ledges, or attacking taller varieties of monsters. It leads to rare great moments when teams solve a puzzle not as individuals, but as a collective council with three essential members.Heroes can throw each other across gaps, only to retrieve the one left behind with a subsequent boomerang throw. Others require stacking to hit otherwise untouchable switches. And I adore the fire temple, complete with all of its disappearing platforms and hazardous machinery. It encourages teamwork more than any other area. It’s one of those shining places where Tri Force Heroes capitalizes on its conceptual potential, comprising puzzles that encourage teamwork, vertical thinking, and careful motor skills.There's a taxing dichotomy between the solo and cooperative modes, and the overall experience feels fractured.But a day later, I replayed the same puzzles. Only this time, I tried them in single player. And when it comes to this mode, Tri Force Heroes stumbles. In place of fellow humans, Nintendo provides you with doppels–heroes that, when not being used, become lifeless statues. You can switch between them with the handheld’s touch screen, but moving each hero to the exit means carrying the others for much of the time.By choosing to play by yourself, you invite a level of micromanagement that transforms otherwise clever dungeons into heavy slogs. The solutions to the puzzles are the same, but some bosses, and some dungeons, are exponentially harder on your own.Because there's no online voice chat, emotes are essential to communication.One example: a certain early boss focuses on one hero at a time, leaving its vulnerable tail open to other human players’ swords. But in single-player, switching between doppels, throwing the lifeless shells onto ledges for hearts, all while avoiding nearby lava pools, is an ordeal. There’s a taxing dichotomy between the solo and cooperative modes here, and despite the few puzzles that balance the two well, the overall experience feels fractured.This rings true when returning to puzzles as well. Once you’ve beaten a dungeon’s boss, Nintendo offers challenges that alter your approach. One removes your swords, arming you only with bombs. Another hangs monsters from the ceiling, forcing your team to keep moving at a hurried pace. Another adds balloons to each room, asking you to pop them before moving to the next, all the while focusing on enemies, as well as the puzzle at hand.These twists can make multiplayer more fun, as your group adapts to the changes imposed on them. However, some of them are near impossible on your own. It widens the gap between multiplayer and single player even more.There are several barriers preventing Tri Force Heroes from being great. But through it all, one of the series' greatest traits remains strong even here: the exceptional music. Lilting flutes, snappy strings, and tense battle drums pervade every area. The music reminds me how compelling this franchise can be, and how great it often is. Nintendo has deviated from the norm with the series before–but this time, many of its changes don't work.Consider this: in single player, Nintendo grants you the option to skip entire sections of each dungeon, so long as you're fine with the prospect of less loot. I avoided this route, but considered it often. There are hints of a great game here, and when three players are cooperating in frantic battles, or working through dynamic puzzles, it shows.But like its story of fashion and surface appeal, there’s not much depth here, and the facade fades with time. Tri Force Heroes offers us the means to work together, but not enough reason to do so.
After completing my second ghost hunt with Charles Dickens, I decided it was about time to shut down the last factory forcing children into labor. As I made my way across Westminster, zipping between rooftops with my rope launcher, a notice popped up indicating I was approaching a bounty hunt. The objective was simple–kill an important member of my rival gang–and I decided the children could wait a bit longer. I was in and out of the mission in under a minute after dropping hanging barrels on gang members, throwing down a smoke bomb and taking out the leader with a gun to the head. I ziplined out, stopping only once more to change my outfit to one that held more throwing knives, before dropping by a black market stall for a refill and dashing towards the factory. The children of London needed me.This is Assassin's Creed Syndicate's playground. One moment you're free-running through a borough towards the next story mission, the next you're sneaking through a dilapidated building picking off criminals as you find yourself irresistibly drawn to the promise of experience points and in-game cash–not to mention notoriety among the London underground. The organic way in which missions and side projects pop up is bolstered by their placement in a gorgeous rendition of 1868 London, complete with massive factories spewing smoke into the sky and intricately detailed copies of every major landmark you can think of–all climbable, of course. Overlaying all of this is one of the best stories the Assassin's Creed franchise has told in recent years, featuring dual protagonists that are relatable and lovable. Occasionally during climbing it can feel like your freedom of movement is limited, and controls will sometimes sabotage you with some unwieldiness and counterintuitive button placement. More of the environment has been made available for you to climb on, and the rope launcher can attach to nearly all ledges, so these small occurrences of flying off the rails are inconvenient at worst. But overall combat and movement feel great, and Assassin's Creed Syndicate's story is charming, while countless amusements will keep you lost in London for hours.Syndicate's story is an intimate, personal tale like that of last year's Assassin's Creed Unity mixed with older Assassin's Creeds' tendencies to pack in the historical figures. The modern day elements are more toned down than they were in previous Assassin games, so much so that they're barely present. You spend all your time as Jacob and Evie Frye, assassin twins who come to London in 1868. Under the leadership of Crawford Starrick, the Templars have a stranglehold on the city, and a sinister gang called the Blighters run things to their liking.Gang fights are wild, unpredictable, and tons of fun.The absence of any fiddling around in a present-day timeline is a boon to Syndicate's story, allowing laser-focus on the 1868 London plot. The story centers around the politics and policies of Industrial Revolution London, with Jacob and Evie fighting not only to dismantle the Templar conspiracy but also to bring justice and refuge to the city's downtrodden. Jacob and Evie also frequently fight each other, with disagreements about what it means to be an Assassin forming a tense undercurrent. Along the way, the two come into contact with a smattering of historical characters–ranging from Alexander Graham Bell (who gives the game's best items) to Charles Dickens and Karl Marx–making the Fryes tangential and sometimes integral to the great successes these individuals achieved. These interactions fit neatly into Syndicate's overall flow, and while it does seem like these figures are packed in a little too tight, the game gives breathing room to each individual story.London feels alive. Towers breathe smoke into the sky, stations bustle with passengers and passing trains, the homeless burn fires in trash cans in alleys, and stray cats pause to look at you while you lie in wait for your target. Bystander AI can be overdramatic at times, cowering in fear indefinitely after witnessing you murder someone in front of them, but those visceral reactions are what make starting fights in public such a delight. You throw a punch in a marketplace and crowds immediately vacate the area, fleeing from your wrath. Little boys and women run and scream as you sink your blade in someone's throat. NPCs also yell at you when you loot bodies, bid you good-day as you walk by, and make whispered comments to companions about your looks. And piled on top of it all is a brilliant soundtrack, a seamless sea of tunes that capture the sadness of the poor and the determination of the Fryes. In one instance, as you climb a spire to a viewpoint, a soft soprano-and-string number kicks in, painting a picture of melancholy for the past and hope for the future. Sights and sounds combine to create an irresistible portrait of London, and make exploring for every side quest and collectible an enjoyable experience.This doesn't look good at all.Moving and fighting in London is also a satisfying experience, at least when controls cooperate. Combat is fluid and simple and relies mostly on the D-pad, on which directions are mapped to attack, counter, stun and shoot. If you're quick, you can punch in combos that knock enemies over and trigger some final execution moves that are brutal and beautiful. It's undeniably satisfying to chain hits and kills until you're bopping around between enemies in a gang war, flying along a circle of combatants and systematically bringing them to their knees in one fell swoop.Free-running follows this same simplicity; hold down R2 while running and press one button to go up and another to go down. You can climb pretty much everything in London with relative ease, with the city's gorgeous details offering compelling arguments to eschew fast travel. But these controls take some time getting used to and feel counterintuitive, especially while climbing. Sometimes you'll kick off a wall when you meant to climb up or go up when you try to go down; this imprecision has characterized the series controls from the start. But in Syndicate this imprecision is infrequent, and while the controls aren't perfect they do feel much better and more fluid.Gone are the days of snapping to cover and blending into crowds. In Syndicate, a white "Threat Ring" appears around your assassin when enemies are near. Markings on the ring show you where enemies are relative to your position, which is helpful when you're crouching in an area and can't see much. This tool makes stealth much easier and allowed me to gauge who to take out first based on how close they were and whether they'd noticed me. Then you can determine which tools to whip out of your belt, be it electric bombs or throwing knives. Do I smoke bomb this group and take out the leader under cover? Or do I just escape to a rooftop and pick them off one by one with throwing knives? Or better, make them turn on each other with hallucinogenic darts? The tools at your disposal and how you combine them is entirely up to you, and Syndicate's mission design offers ample breathing room to complete each mission in your own way.The only thing that matters here is that corgi in a purse.I can recall only using Syndicate's fast travel points three times during my entire playthrough, because with the rope launcher in your toolbox, why would you take any other route through London? The setting is so lovely, and zipping across the city like a Victorian Spider-Man makes you truly feel like the city's protector, dropping to the streets every so often to air assassinate someone. In addition to setting up aerial kills, using the rope launcher instead of fast travel allows you to organically stumble upon one of London's many sidequests and make a pit stop for extra cash. Many times, on my way to a story mission, I would zipline over a side mission and think, "Why the hell not, I'm here!" One tool helps you traverse, discover, escape, and assassinate. The rope launcher is the thing this franchise so desperately needed, and now that it's here I don't ever want to be without it.I always feel bad for the horses in these situations.Another new mechanic is the ability to drive carriages. I found Syndicate's vehicles relatively easy to handle. You can also do any number of things with these carriages, including hijacking them for your own purposes and hiding bodies in them. One string of side missions involved collecting wanted criminals for a policeman; I would knock them out, steal a carriage from an unwitting bystander, put the body in the car, and then drive away. In some instances the rival gang has carts on the road as well, which can devolve into some hilariously fun Grand Theft Auto-style chases. You can ram carriages as they ride up next to yours or climb up onto your own carriage’s roof to engage in fisticuffs with enemies. Hijacking moving carts is thrilling, and destruction is encouraged. There's an experience perk you can earn for destroying street lamps and other public property, so don't be shy about running people over.Combat, grand theft carriage, and bounties all play into the game's main story, and you'll be tasked with doing all of these things over the course of Jacob and Evie's adventures. While you can switch between the twins on the fly when playing side missions, you'll be locked into playing as a certain twin for specific story tasks. Each chapter has dedicated objectives for both Jacob and Evie. Jacob's tasks cause more mayhem and utilize his talent for close-quarters combat as he seeks to bring justice to London's underdogs, often resulting in explosions and other destruction. Evie's missions mostly require sneaking around without being detected. Her objectives feel closer to the traditional Assassin's Creed story, and you'll spend time with her doing the order proud while Jacob makes a mess of everything and invests in creating his own gang, the Rooks."Yes, he's like this all the time."In addition to differing personalities–with Evie constantly reprimanding Jacob while he rather humorously bumbles around achieving his squad goals–the twins have different unique skills that tie into their interpretation of what it means to be an assassin. Evie's special skills are stealth-based, with one incredibly useful ability allowing her to disappear completely while she's standing still in sneak mode. She can also hold twice as many throwing knives as Jacob and her stealth stats far exceed her brother's. She'll be the one you take with you on bounty hunting and liberation missions. Jacob is more suited for gang wars, a brawler who takes less damage and, with all skills unlocked, can bring enemies to near-death states quicker. Their differences are noticeable in gameplay, and rather than have one character you can customize either way, it's a brilliant touch to have two characters ready and available for different kinds of missions at any given time.I cannot stress enough how deeply likeable and relatable Jacob and Evie can be. Evie is serious but sweet, tough in battle but willing to pick up the scattered papers of a stranger she bumps into on the street. She acts more like an older sister than a twin, bossing her brother around and openly deriding his more destructive decisions. Jacob is goofy, flippant, cheeky, and is more concerned about his gang and toys while his sister fulfills her oath. He makes fun of Evie's belief in ghosts and her willingness to help everyone they meet, but under all that snark it's clear he loves his sister. Their banter is sweet and at times funny, and while they are two separate entities when it comes to combat, they truly feel like two parts of the same whole. Their story is a powerful one, about duty and family, and the ease with which they communicate and the believability of their relationship showcases the draw of Syndicate's narrative. Add to this a supporting cast filled with diverse, equally believable characters, and Syndicate feels a little bit like being at a party with all of your friends.The first rule of fight club is Evie Frye always wins fight club.In addition to leveling up Jacob and Evie, you can level up their green-clad gang, the Rooks. I became obsessed with tricking out my gang, because having strong fighters on the streets mean you'll always have backup in a fight. Using in-game currency, you can unlock perks for your gang, such as sturdier carriages and cheap access to hallucinogenic darts. You can even pay off policeman to turn a blind eye to some of your illegal activities and assemble an army of children to bring you crafting items on the streets. Micromanaging your gang is worthwhile because it completely changes your experience in London. Having this extra layer to deal with keeps you engaged in activities outside the main story and is another fun way to leave your mark on the world.Syndicate's story is a riveting tale of compassion and greed, but the mechanics of its climax don't carry enough urgency and drama. A final boss fight usually tests the skills you've learned throughout the game, but Syndicate's is a memorable for the wrong reasons. It's an anticlimactic scramble through moving environmental obstacles to reach the boss and trigger a quick time event. This sequence of events happens several times in order for you to beat the encounter. It's a frustrating setup that tosses all narrative tension out the window.But a disappointing final fight and some control hitches can't diminish the charms of Assassin's Creed Syndicate. The game is a triumphant return to form for the franchise, and presents a beautifully structured tale with heart and soul to spare. Ziplining through London is thrilling, and the game allows you to organically discover missions and leaves you open-ended solutions lets you to create a meaningful, personal experience within its world. Coupled with strong, loveable leads and a seemingly endless procession of ways to leave your (fictional) mark on London's history, Assassin's Creed Syndicate is a shining example of gameplay and storytelling.
The Flare is strong in this one.Despite all of the hype and attention focused on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we actually know very little about what will happen in the next chapter of this landmark franchise. Perhaps the one thing we all know, the one thing that we can all be certain about, is that with lens flare aficionado J.J. Abrams directing, we're sure to see some outstanding and repeated (and repeated) use of this not-at-all overused technique. Join us as we rank the top lens flare moments from all of the Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailers released so far.7: Dark locales plus weapons that emit beams of pure light equals a lens flare paradise. Even this fairly generic shot of stormtroopers running out of a ship offers flares aplenty.6: The Millennium Falcon is, without a trace of hyperbole, the greatest ship (fictional or not) ever designed. The blue flare as it speeds away from the camera only adds to its majesty. Plus, it's speeding towards the wreckage of a downed Star Destroyer, which is, you know, AMAZING.5: The lens flare off the surface of the water here makes this an oddly peaceful, calming shot. It's like watching a flock of peaceful, heavily armed metal geese flying low over a lake, throwing up tons of water in their sublight engine-fuelled wake. Serenity.4: You know what that lens flare shining off Captain Phasma's helmet means? It means you don't f*** with her, that's what. Nothing says badass more than light reflecting off highly-polished armor. After all, you don't see light shining from any old stormtrooper's dusty helmet, do you?3: Sure, the lens flare emanating from Kylo Ren's red lightsaber is impressive on its own, but what really elevates this shot are the two corner flares from those stormtroopers' weapons. Two guiding flares supporting a central flare–that's some some next level lens flare stuff right there.2: They say lens flare adds to the drama of a scene due to heightened sense of "realism" it imparts. All I say is "look at how sweet this awesome tracking shot of the Millennium Falcon is."1: This impressive shot from the latest trailer is a goddamn flare masterpiece, filling the screen with so much red light that it actually obscures everything else in the room. This is the pinnacle of lens flare, created by a lens flare expert at the peak of his flaring powers.
Let The Right One In (2008)Atmospheric and chilling, the story features a lonely boy and a girl who holds a terrifying secret, further proving that kids are just creepy, man. Photo: Magnolia PicturesThe Hunger (1983)Offering immortality, Egyptian vampire queen Miriam (Catherine Deneuve) feeds on the blood on her lovers while exacting a horrifying price. When scientist Sarah Roberts (Susan Sarandon) discovers what is going on, she attempts to help Miriam's current lover (played by David Bowie) but finds herself instead drawn to the vampire queen. Surreal and fantastical, it's the creepiest version of a love triangle ever. Photo: Warner Bros.30 Days of Night (2007)I'm sorry, but Alaska is already creepy, the way it's shrouded in utter darkness for a good part of the year. With that in mind: Add a bunch of ravaging vampires just waiting for all light to fade so they can come and tear your town apart, and you have an epic monsters-in-the-dark movie. Photo: Columbia PicturesByzantium (2012)The two main characters of Byzantium (played by Saoirse Ronan and Gemma Arterton) have been hunted for 200 years, keeping the secret they can survive only on human blood. When they arrive to settle in a small coastal town, their true identities are revealed, with potentially deadly consequences. Photo: IFC FilmsDaybreakers (2009)In this post-apocalyptic scenario, a plague destroys humanity and turns them into vampires. Those not turned are farmed for their blood. The movie showcases plenty of action and adventure. With Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill, it will certainly get your pulse racing. Photo: LionsgateImmortality (1998)He's just a vampire looking to find the right woman–but what he does with that woman is the stuff of nightmares. Starring a young Jude Law using his gorgeous looks to a very menacing effect, the movie centers around a vamp named Steven, who is basically every girl's worst-date-ever times a thousand. Photo: LionsgateI Am Legend (2007)An adaptation of the classic sci-fi horror novel by Richard Matheson, the film stars Will Smith as the last man on Earth. The rest of humanity has succumbed to a plague that turns them into night-hunting, blood-sucking monsters. How does the only human survive against the horde? Will he eventually give in to the loneliness of his days? With a beautifully elegiac beginning, featuring deserted New York City streets, this movie poses questions that will continue to haunt you long after it's over. Photo: Warner Bros.Nosferatu (1922)Based on Bram Stoker's Dracula, this classic silent film broods with horror. With a masterful use of light and shadow and no big special effects, it still manages to stand the test of time. Photo: Kino Lorber filmsVampyr (1932)Allan Gray visits an inn in a secluded hamlet. He soon learns that he's fallen into the clutches of a vampire, and must race to break the evil one's curse before it's too late. Photo: CriterionFright Night (1985)Ok, technically this is a comedy, but wouldn't you be terrified if you discovered your charming neighbor was actually a blood-sucking demon of the night? As well as being a love-letter to the horror genre in general, the movie provides plenty of actual jump-in-your-seat moments. Besides, who says a movie can't be terrifying and funny? Photo: Columbia PicturesThe Lost Boys (1987)As if moving isn't hard enough, imagine how horrifying it is when you start to suspect your new town is chock-full of vampires. With a super-80s cast including Corey Feldman and Kiefer Sutherland, the movie guarantees that you'll laugh, you'll scream, and your eyes will be glued to the screen. Photo: Warner Bros.Blade (1998)He's half-man, half-vampire, and he protects the human race from the undead who roam the night. Granted, there's a lot of 90s schtick, but still, for a fast-paced, action-adventure vampire movie with some pretty high stakes (see what we did there?), it's worth the watch. Plus, Wesley Snipes is a badass. Photo: Warner Bros.Martin (1977)The most terrifying part of Martin is you can't tell if the main character is just delusional or if he really is an actual vampire. After all, isn't the real horror always in your mind? Photo: LionsgateShadow of the Vampire (2000)Talk about meta. This is a film about vampires about making a film about vampires. Willem Dafoe got nominated for an Oscar for his performance of Max Schreck. Dafoe takes the sinister to the max as he explores when the line between fiction and reality blurs. Photo: LionsgateCronos (1993)A mechanism that can give eternal life … for a very bloody price. That's the crux of this Mexican vampire movie, written and directed by Guillermo del Toro. Gorgeous and eerie, the story is as smart as it is scary. Photo: The Criterion CollectionThirst (2009)It's directed by Chan-wook Park (Oldboy), soit's no wonder menace abounds in this film. When a medical experiment goes wrong, priest Sang-hyeon's life is saved by an infusion of vampire blood. You can just guess what happens next. Photo: NBC Universal
Ever since Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, we have been gripped by ideas and visions of what would happen if the nukes ever darkened our skies. It's a judgment day scenario with imponderably gigantic consequences; no more government, mass starvation, lawlessness, severe water scarcity, a miasma of black carbon sucking out our sunlight. These are just a handful of outcomes that artists and storytellers find so irresistible to engage with.Such curiosity has led to a library's-worth of books, comics, films, artwork, and games covering the subject. Mushroom 11 is the latest entrant on the shelves, and almost certainly its most impressive feat is how it manages to distinguish itself from the stacks of doomsday media. Its underpinning gameplay, however, doesn't succeed so emphatically.As its name would suggest, Mushroom 11's vision of Earth is one that has been ravaged by nuclear disaster on nearly a dozen occasions. This is not post-apocalypse, but post-extinction. Post-human, more to the point, with little more than a couple of surviving portraits to suggest that mankind had existed in the first place.Toadstools the height of barn houses are shown towering out of fallow cornfields, seemingly as though they have replaced pylon towers.Only rarely will Mushroom 11 provide clear reference that its world was burnt and baked over our own, and that usually comes from the occasional trope; the corroded crumple of bicycle frames, the devastated roads that have been pulverised into the Earth's crust, the brick and iron skeletons of buildings that dominate the city skylines. Then there are the haunting murals, faded in colour but still bright with anger, reminiscent of the shadowy figures who hang across walls in Pripyat. (Take a look at some of the screenshots below if you're curious).Later, Mushroom 11 begins to explore a more unusual depiction of the world after nuclear disaster. On level three (of seven), toadstools the height of barn houses are shown towering out of fallow cornfields, seemingly as though they have replaced pylon towers. On level five, fungi clusters the size of hills sway under a furious fire-red sky. Venturing later into one derelict underground laboratory (or perhaps it was a hospital) you can find on the wall a curious indentation where a humanoid would have presumably stood, with wires connecting various appendages to wall sockets. Elsewhere you will pass through an abhorrent processing factory, with giant prawn-like creatures suspended in battery farm cages. Much like with those satellite images of Chernobyl's buildings engulfed by trees, it's the extraordinary oddities in Mushroom 11 that give it a wonderful sense of story and chronology.Perhaps most unusual and original of all is the hero in this tale of post-armageddon. You play something that resembles a sort of gelatine circuit board, which I gather is about the size of an adult dog, resplendent with semi-transparent green cells that encase tiny shapes of viscera. It's not Bruce Willis.Mushroom 11's soundtrack was written and composed by The Future Sound of London; Certainly it's a good short-hand reference to the cultural reach of modern indie games, providing you don't find the music a little tiresome. Much of the challenge here, certainly at the outset, is quite similar to what a Mario game demands; clamber from one side of a level to the other. The crucial difference is that your hero is not an implausibly acrobatic plumber, but a blob of gunk that doesn't freely move by itself. Of course it's only courteous to grant a hero a super-power, and in this case, Mushroom 11's starring lead has the ability to regenerate its body-mass if parts are cut off.If, for example, a strip of goo is sheared from the blob's right-hand side, about a second later it will be replenished elsewhere (usually, but not quite exactly, on its opposite side). Imagine trimming down one side of a garden hedge, only to find the leaves have since extended on the other side, and you're close.Equipped with nothing other than mouse-controlled eraser, your task is to evaluate how to transport this oobleck gloop through progressively demanding levels; up and over fire pits, across flimsy rope bridges, through dark tunnels, and beyond caves guarded by poisonous spiders.Shrewd pacing ensures that the gameplay arithmetic is easy to grasp each step of the way. Continue to cut at the blob's right-hand side, and it'll keep growing out the left. Keep going at a steady rhythm and, eureka, your blob is walking leftwards. Mushroom 11 builds everything around this underpinning mechanism of spreading outward by cutting inward. Hack away faster and your hero will run. Force it against a wall and it will spread upwards.While the left-mouse button activates a large eraser (which in diameter is about a fifth the height of the screen), the right-mouse button can summon a smaller version. The bigger eraser can purge at speed, which is essential for running, while the other can chop our hero into chunks, and even delicately sculpt the blob into rudimentary shapes. Those latter techniques become increasingly important during the first two hours, and outright essential for the remainder. As time passes you begin to encounter more complex platformer conventions; mazes of conveyor-belts, tiny stepping-stones suspended above pits of spikes, giant metallic balance balls rolling across lava, enemy-patrolled underground tunnels, wide chasms filled with corrosive acid. Both erasers small and big will be necessary for overcoming these obstacles.Click on the thumbnails below to view in full-screenWhile in theory this sounds like an appealing puzzle-platformer concept, how enjoyable you find Mushroom 11's mechanics really depends on how comfortable you are with the trial-and-error of inexact platforming. I found it wearisome, at times maddening, and nearly always unrewarding. It's chess with boxing gloves. Charades in a nightclub. It's awkward and taxing for the wrong reasons.Solutions to platform challenges are usually not solved but stumbled upon. Too often the task is not about mentally unlocking answers, but instead forcing and tricking your hero into performing the solution. Safely transporting the blob over three small platforms attached by string, for example, is achievable if you keep smooshing it and moving it along, praying it won't slip through the cracks. Keep trying and eventually you can overcome every obstacle thrown at you, but not to the extent that you can explain why you succeeded while at other times you didn't. When you overcome most challenges, there's little confidence you could perform the same feat on command. You're not learning and growing as much as the game wants; you're just improvising, retrying, hitting checkpoints.By the time Mushroom 11's challenge matures and it introduces more perplexing obstacles, the kind that this game was built for, it's arguably too late.Admirably, and equally tragically, the development team at Untame has crafted a harmonious learning curve around its flawed concept. Smart design decisions are obvious throughout; clearly the result of scrupulous failure-analysis that Mushroom 11 underwent during its four years in development. Always you'll find checkpoints just before the game teaches something new, and it re-educates at a flawless pace.Just the right amount of risk is added at just the right amount of time. On several occasions in the first level, for example, you'll be taught how to snake though a series of tunnels, just before having to perform the same feat in a sinking building. The glorious end-level bosses, meanwhile, will challenge the player to be creative with the new ideas they have picked up on the way.Such a well balanced and considered implementation of a poor concept means Mushroom 11 is constantly battling with itself over how challenging it should be, with many of the obstacles ranging from unentertaining to utterly infuriating, yet all smoothed over with wonderful pacing and generous checkpoints. It's five-star service at a Hotel built on sewage.By the time Mushroom 11's challenge matures and it introduces more perplexing obstacles, the kind that this game was built for, it's arguably too late. The Honeymoon period has passed. For those who manage to stick around, level four is probably the best on offer, demanding you constantly erase and trim at speed. You will desperately hang onto slippery crane arms and moving platforms, squeezing the gloop into moving cylinders, constantly moulding it so it has the perfect aerodynamics to fly off a ramp at the ideal velocity.Level six throws up conundrums that demand inventive thinking and pondering the smartest outcome. You will mould your blob into a makeshift spanner, and an impromptu trebuchet, and a temporary battering ram, when the game demands. It's creative and rewarding.But on too many occasions, Mushroom 11 presents a challenge akin to opening an old door lock; the kind that demands you twist the key in a very particular way, without offering much insight on how. Often you'll have little choice other than artlessly attempt various solutions until one of them unlocks your pathway to the next challenge.Comparing such an inventive and distinct game to a bothersome door, of all things, absolutely does a disservice to its wonderfully talented artists and storytellers. This gracefully hand-drawn dystopia deserves to be explored and pondered over. The developers at Untame should be proud and confident that they can build thorough and robust gameplay structures around their ideas. But the concept at the centre of Mushroom 11, I would implore, is not something they should return to.