Metamorphosis Review

September 3, 2020
Also on: PS4, Xbox One, PC
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Also on:
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Metamorphosis is a more playable, literalist take on the works of Franz Kafka, in which Gregor Samsa wakes up one day as a bug, to the dismay and confusion of his family. The game seems to take more inspiration from The Trial. You play as Samsa, who has morphed into an arachnid, and you are journeying to The Tower, where you are told that you can be transformed back into a human if you arrive there. Along the way, you are trying to help your still human best friend Josef K. — protagonist of The Trial —  who is being hounded by investigators and forced on trial for an unnamed crime. 

How the Mushroom Kingdom was really built. 

It’s a first-person adventure comprised entirely of jumping puzzles. Given your eight-legged body, you can also crawl up and down walls. Much of the game is like Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, where you exist as a tiny being gaining a new perspective on more mundane — but now awe-inspiring — items. The game’s use of normally boring items is clever and there are some bits and solutions that will surely bring a smile to most players’ faces. The areas you crawl around are large enough to feel intimidating at first but the pathways you navigate are linear and straightforward enough so that you never quite get lost. You can also zoom out to a map of the area that highlights all points of interest. The platforming mechanics are quite lenient, and I felt that when I had mis-timed a jump or chose a slightly wrong angle the next platform would still let me grip to it. You can also climb up the sides of items and walls at strange, unexpected angles. I always felt like the game wanted me to continue and rarely punished an experimental jump. The puzzles aren’t very difficult, but do require a little bit of exploration to solve. I would arrive in an area with no clue what to do and figure it out within a minute or two. There are a couple of sequences where the signposting is bad and an item that you feel you should be crawling on doesn’t allow crawling — only a specific nearby item does. Similarly, there are items that I found myself falling right through. Overally, though, this is an adventure that is easy to pick and nicely balanced. 

I’ve heard of distanced learning, but this is ridiculous. 

The game’s environments are impeccably designed. There is a centrepiece town of cinephile bugs that live in structures built around a massive — to their eyes — film projector.  There is a show-stopping bit where you use flying documents to roam around a bureaucratic hellhole. It does become painfully obvious that you’re looking at the same couple of bug NPCs. Edges of items are jagged, and there is egregious pop-in, very muddy textures, and some stuttering. The art design overshadows the game’s technical limitations. On the other end, you respawn almost instantly when you die. I encountered a nasty bug six times where my game froze, and I had to close and restart the application. Luckily, Metamorphosis autosaves quite frequently and I never lost any progress. 

My main problem with the narrative is that the story of Samsa’s bug world and the story of Josef K.’s human world never seemed to fully connect for me. You’re quite literally observing Josef K’s scenes from afar as a bug. It feels at first novel and clever to be a platforming around humans who are too wrapped up in their conversations to see you. Then it’s like watching a second game narrative happen from afar, and I could never really figure out who these two characters —  Gregor and Josef K — were to each other, but perhaps making you feel isolated from Gregor’s human past is by design. The writing itself is sharp and there are some genuinely funny lines of dialogue. For the most part, I was surprised by story turns and intrigued by what would happen next. When you’re roaming around humans as Samsa who are speaking, they will often repeat the same lines of dialogue over and over depending on where you are in relation to them. Metamorphosis is very short, which isn’t an issue in itself, but the final few levels do feel quite rushed and I found the ending — one of two very short possible scenes —  to be grating and unsatisfactory. The final level, in particular, is built up to quite a bit in the preceding scenes and there is a joke in the context of the story that explains why it ends up being a big dud, but it feels like there just wasn’t time to finish it. 

Victrola Vibing. 

Metamorphosis is an often morose and reference-heavy first-person platform adventure that makes it a joy to jump around as a bug. Though it’s graphically iffy on the Switch and can feel unfinished, it is a memorably charmy and rousing adventure very much worth playing. I just wish it had been polished up more and ended in a way that left a better taste in my mouth. It’s unlikely you’ve played anything like this, and certain segments will leave you smiling ear to ear. 

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Metamorphosis spins a bittersweet, intriguing web of mystery and humour that, albeit brief, is often an utter joy to crawl through, if you’re willing to brace a disappointing final stretch, inconsistent graphics, and myriad technical issues.