Review: Mush (Xbox Live)
Mush is a wonderful twist on the platform genre, and one that I'm really happy to see getting some attention. Developed in part through the UK's 'Dare to be Digital' computer games design contest for students, Mush was one of three winning games in 2012, picking up a BAFTA 'one to watch' nomination. It's great to see developers Angry Mango reach the commercial world through this Xbox Live title, and to do it with such a unique style of game.
Version Reviewed: 188.8.131.52
At the basic descriptive level, this is a platform-based exploring game. You take control of the titular character Mush as he works through twelve worlds (the levels) collecting the little balls of fluff that are scattered around each world, looking for your companions who are trapped inside a Russian Doll.
Mush has a distinctive style, with a huge amount of pastel shaded colours on show here, rather than solid cartoon-like blocks of colour. It's a very calm look, and while everything is clear, there's a lovely blend of the background and foreground 'pretty' graphics, and the objects that are physically part of each level. It's easy to distinguish as you start playing, while giving you a sense of this being a real place rather than just some connected spaces in a maze.
But the stand-out feature of Mush is how it is controlled. Rather than on screen buttons, or a virtual joystick, you control Mush through a mixture of tilt controls and emotion. Tilt is the easiest to understand - a steering wheel like motion will have Mush float over to the left or right of the screen.
It's the emotional control that will have you falling for Mush. One of the earliest emotions you learn is "happy" - you make Mush happy by drawing a smile on the screen (the shape of a 'u') and Mush's little face starts beaming, and he will be lifted into the sky. Draw a straight line (representing a sort of 'meh' neutral emotion) and, no longer being happy, you'll stop 'flying' and start a slow descent to the ground. Want to fall faster? You need to be sad.
Later on in the game you'll learn how useful it is to get angry, and the benefits of being confused.
All of this takes place in a gaming environment that does not demand lightning fast reactions or pixel perfect movement. That reduces the challenge a notch, but it also makes the game far more accessible to younger players, and it's a far less stressful game to play - and I think that will be a bonus and increase the appeal of Mush as a title.
I look at the level design as having two features. The first is the paths laid out for you to explore and it's not hugely complicated, mostly restricting itself to a single route with branches of very short length to pick up the partially hidden balls of fluff. This goes back to the casual nature of the game and keeping it easy to play - sacrificing complexity for accessibility. I think I'd prefer to have seen Angry Mango taking more of a risk in this part of design.
They've done a wonderful job in the second area, in terms of objects and interactions within the level. I've already talked about the top notch graphical design, pair this up with tree trunks you can fly up and walk through, mushroom switches that need to be triggered by pressure to open doors, rocks that Mush can push around levels to the switches, clouds in the sky, fans to help and hinder you, the occasional pigeon in the sky... it all adds to the tangible nature of the levels, and as you work through them you can see that each world has a distinctive theme so they can stand out next to each other.
The twelve levels are not going to take a huge amount of time to complete, so some hardcore players might feel a bit short changed. I can see where that sentiment would come from, but I don't agree. This is a casual game played at a gentle pace, and is all the better for it. Whether you think two or three hours of game play is enough for the price (£2.29/$2.99) is up to you. I'm more than happy to support a small developer with their first title, especially when it's something new, as opposed to another cookie cutter tile-based puzzle game.
Platforms need unique games to stand out - it's nice to have Angry Birds on whichever phone you pick up, but you need the unique games to attract and reward people who invest in Windows Phone. Mush is exactly that.
It's not a flagship game, but it's one that many people will fall in love with. More of this in Xbox Live, please!
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at