How do you create a story about societal inequality and uncaring, soul-crushing, monolithic bureaucracies without being overly depressing? As far as Metamorphosis is concerned, the answer is: turn your main character into a bug and embrace the absurd.
It’s certainly an interesting answer, and this Kafkaesque approach results in a bizarre, atmospheric, charming, delightful, and occasionally disappointing first-person puzzler.
- What is Metamorphosis? It’s a surreal first-person puzzle-platformer with heavy influences from the writings of Franz Kafka. Take on the role of Gregor Samsa, a salesman who’s been transformed into a bug, and accompany him on an absurd journey as he tries to get a job and maybe, just maybe restore his humanity.
- Reviewed On: PC
- Developer: Ovid Works
- Publisher: All in! Games
- Release Date: August 12, 2020
- Website: www.metamorphosisgame.com
A Bug’s Life
The most impressive qualities of Metamorphosis quickly take the stage, as both the visuals and soundtrack are strikingly atmospheric. So many environments make lovely use of color and scale, folding humorous sights in with worldbuilding and solid level design. Meanwhile, the music sets the perfect tone for a game with big ideas and a very peculiar way of conveying them.
The voice actors give their human characters a certain stilted, strange quality, but this fits into the surreal feeling that permeates the experience. Meanwhile, the bugs are funny and charming, with simple little quirks that give the world a lot of personality. The audiovisuals at play here are superbly constructed, and they help create a world that is downright delightful to traverse and explore.
The story itself is relatively successful, with some caveats. The pacing of the introduction is solid — almost the very instant a sequence started to drag, the game proceeded apace with the titular metamorphosis. From there, the game maintains a peculiar, tongue-in-cheek tone throughout. The characters and their dialogue are at turns silly and satirical, eccentric and endearing.
As for the themes of Metamorphosis, there’s an obvious metaphor baked into the game’s premise; after all, what does it feel like to be dehumanized and degraded by a seemingly faceless, gargantuan corporate structure whose power far outstrips one’s own? Well, it’s almost like getting turned into an insect, naturally. But as alluded to above, the obviousness of this metaphor is alleviated by the silly, strange tone of the game. The themes at work ring true with absurdism in a way that they wouldn’t in a more earnest context.
The conclusion of the story of Metamorphosis, however, leaves something to be desired. While most of the game is kept compelling with a steadily-shifting set of odd, intriguing environments, the leadup to the finale seems to build to an emotionally resonant climax, one way or another. Sadly, this is where the game seems to run out of steam, and each ending feels somewhat abrupt and underwhelming. Once the plot concludes, rather than wrapping up the story in a natural way and tying up any loose ends, the game ends immediately. Overall, the story has an exciting throughline of intellectual absurdity, but it’s undeniably disappointing that Metamorphosis ends with such a whimper.
In terms of gameplay, Metamorphosis is straightforward and well-executed. Many puzzles are intuitive, engaging, and satisfying to solve. The game also makes fun use of your status as a bug, forcing you to observe and interact with the world in a way that’s profoundly different from how you would as a biped. Furthermore, the level design has a nice flow to it, with clear, readable paths forward. Progress comes steadily, and once you’ve finished a setpiece puzzle, your reward is often the ability to move forward into the next crazy environment the game has on offer.
The most disappointing aspects of the gameplay have to do, funnily enough, with bugs. In one instance, I managed to navigate out of the bounds of a level, plummeting endlessly and forcing a restart. In another, I was standing in just the wrong place during a cutscene, and a painting fell on top of me, trapping me and forcing another restart. Minor issues accompany moments like these — the most prevalent being typos and localization errors — and these seem to crop up increasingly near the end of the game.
While I initially had some gripes about missing a jump and having to laboriously reascend a structure, closer inspection revealed some clever design in that regard. In multi-part puzzles asking the player to access high places, activating a particular mechanism will often allow a faster ascent on the retry. This sort of attention to detail is laudable, and it makes the game a smoother, more enjoyable experience.
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Zoom Out: Verdict
Audiovisuals - 9/10
Puzzle Design - 8/10
Tone and Atmosphere - 8/10
Plot and Storytelling - 7/10
Metamorphosis is funny, intriguing, and engaging to play. The game’s introduction and middle section soar, with some visuals and musical cues that are truly impressive. It’s a shame that its seemingly rushed, underwhelming conclusion leaves it just shy of greatness. But this is undoubtedly a worthwhile diversion for those in a surreal sort of mood.
- Fun puzzles
- Wonderful graphics and soundtrack
- Delightfully strange tone and atmosphere
- Disappointing ending
- Typos and localization issues
- Bugs (in the code, not the insects)