Do you like Tim Burton’s visual style? Have you ever wondered what it would be like to view the world from a minuscule viewpoint or consider how we may be perceived by insects? Do you enjoy the literary works of Franz Kafka? If you have answered yes to any of these questions; then you should consider reading this review and trying out the new game Metamorphis.
“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.” – Franz Kafka
The new puzzle platforming adventure game developed by Ovid Works and published by All in! Games, titled Metamorphosis, is out now on PC, Xbox, PS4, and Nintendo Switch. The game is inspired by the oeuvre of literary genius Franz Kafka’s and his novella “The Metamorphosis”. In the novella, Gregor Sansa awakens one morning to discover that he has been transformed into a bug and then must live through the implications of what that means. The player plays as this same character, Gregor, although, the events do not exactly match that of the novella. The game may be inspired by Kafka’s imagination but it could also be attributed to Tim Burton’s visual aesthetics and the surreal. For example, just because you play the game as a beetle does not mean that the games is, shall we say, grounded?
“I only fear danger where I want to fear it.” – Franz Kafka
The gameplay in Metamorphosis is quite enjoyable. As a puzzle and platforming game, it is quite a success. The game’s design is very enjoyable. I rarely found myself stuck or lost but rather quite entertained in the complexities of navigating a gigantic world full of obstacles and untidiness. I will admit, I am not the best platformer player. Ovid Works has created a world that is enjoyable to traverse and it is not overly difficult to learn the mechanics of the jumping puzzles. The game does a great job of bringing verticality into the game design. As a bug, you are able to climb across obstacles such as pencils and chairs to reach extremely high places. The player can also walk through sticky substances to climb straight up or along walls and objects for short amounts of time. All of the danger in the game is attributed to the pitfalls of a platformer. Still, the levels in the game are a character in their own right and they come with many hazards.
Voice Acting and Sound
“That gentle voice! Gregor was shocked when he heard his own voice answering, it could hardly be recognized as the voice he had had before. As if from deep inside him, there as a painful and uncontrollable squeaking mixed in with it, the words could be made out at first but then there was a sort of echo which made them unclear, leaving the hearer unsure whether he had heard properly or not.” – Franz Kafka
The voice acting in the game is superb. That is for the human characters. There are several dialects that are dynamic and the acting really brings the characters to life. The high-quality acting really sets the mood for the beginning of the game. Unfortunately, this is not a theme that carries throughout the game. As Gregor continues to transform into a bug, his voice also changes to that of all the other bugs in which you will meet. Then your NPC encounters will become reading written text and inaudible language that really is not all that pleasant after a while. It is also somewhat off-putting after having been exposed to such great talent from the very beginning of the game. I think that Ovid could have taken some artistic liberty here to lean into this strength and given the bug characters a literal voice to create a more immersive experience.
The music in the game is actually quite good for a small title. It is very moving in the climactic scenes. There are some instances when the soundtrack seems slow and it does not really convey a sense of the surreal journey that is taking place. In short, I would say that the music is very climactic and moving at times as slow and overlooked in others.
“The blend of absurd, surreal and mundane which gave rise to the adjective “Kafkaesque“. – Franz Kafka
The game embodies the three attributes that Kafka describes above. However, it does not necessarily follow the source material of the novella. In fact, it blends the story of Gregor with one of Kafka’s works “The Trial”, which is the inspiration for Gregor’s friend Joseph. For the most part, I believe that is a great choice, but let’s come back to this. The player starts the game as Gregor who wakes up as a bug, but he has become a miniature bug who scuttles along unbeknownst to the people around him. This is in contrast to the life-sized insect of Kafka. This not only creates the opportunity for the great platformer that we have, but it also lends some liberty to the story that is told. Ovid Works is able to use the context of a small beetle to explore a once mundane room in a dynamic way by creating jumping puzzles to traverse the space and tell a unique story along the way. The game also leans into the surreal when it leverages long stretching and transforming hallways, floating rocks and glass to navigate, and pictures that slowly turn from humans to insects and follow you with their eyes as you pass them. While Kafka’s work is definitely surreal, it is not quite this bizarre and these elements make the game very intriguing in the initial moments and propel the gamer to continue to discover the story.
“He was a tool of the boss, without brains or backbone.” – Franz Kafka
However, Ovid Works really never leverages some of the deeper motifs of the source material that is claimed to have inspired the game. If one is familiar with his work, then it will help to draw similarities and better understand the themes conveyed. Overall, the story can come across choppy. Essentially, Gregor learns that his friend Joseph is being sued unjustly. Gregor learns of this because of his ability to eavesdrop and go unnoticed but he is unable to do anything about it because he is a bug. If he can live life as a proper bug then perhaps Tower will allow for him to be transformed back into a human, once he has completed his job satisfactorily. Of course, Tower will not let you accomplish this task easily. They want to keep you employed and subservient.
The story of Jacob and Gregor runs parallel to each other, but are interrupted to also tell the story of what it is like to live like a bug. There are times in the world where Jacob is in the same room but figuratively he is a world away and working through his case. Both are fighting against a system that means to victimize them and possibly ensare them in indebtedness and legal matters or possibly even execution. The game leaves you to draw these parallels on your own, and I am afraid that many younger players may never understand the motifs they are “crawling” through. Pun intended.
Part of the reason for this is the game’s brevity. The game is playable in about four to five hours time. The shortness of the game is a strength because there is only so much platforming and problem-solving to be done before it would become monotonous in this world. It is also a weakness in that Ovid Works is limited in how many stories they can tell in this form. There would be no way to incorporate the many motifs and explore them at the level that Kafka does in the short four-chapter novella. I believe that Ovid did an excellent job boiling down some of these themes and incorporating them but I am afraid that some fly through the game and then wonder what they just played if they are not familiar with the source material. While other themes from the novella or “The Trial” never really make themselves apparent in the game.
The game seems to run out of runway towards the end in both the game design and story development departments. The finale with Tower and their top executive is quite anti-climatic and it seems to come out of nowhere. What should be the games’ climax never seems to get off the ground. The jumping puzzle is rather short and straight forwards and it really does not require much effort to get through nor a look back at previous puzzles or strategies featured earlier. Then there is the fact that there is almost no voice acting for the insects. So the dynamics that really drew me in at the beginning of the game are almost entirely absent at the end. It was just underwhelming and the ending is quite predictable.
In conclusion, Metamorphosis is a game that is easily enjoyable and I highly recommend trying it out if you enjoy puzzle-platforming adventure games that are driven by story elements. The game is easily accessible and plays well in short bursts, which would make it great for the Nintendo Switch in an on-the-go setting. The game features a unique aesthetic. If only briefly, it reflects on themes like the surreal, humanity, corporate greed, friendship, and isolation. If you are looking for a day’s worth of content to play through, this is not the game for you. It can be beaten quickly in 4-7 hours, at most. Still, it is fun and it is currently on sale on Steam for 10% off for a total of $22.49, down from $24.99. I believe that is a good price for the content. I could easily double or triple my time with this game by going after the remaining achievements that I missed in my first playthrough. While I do not see any achievement for it, (there are three hidden ones) this game would be excellent for a speed run stream.
If you are a literary student or you just like to read, you might consider reading “The Metamorphosis” or “The Trial”. Both versions linked here are in the public domain and they are rather short. It will give you a greater appreciation for the game and the story elements, but it is not required. Also, it seems that Izmir Games Collective is working on a visual novel title The Metamorphosis that will release this year on Steam, PC, and Apple. This would most likely be a great pairing for the reviewed game.
The transformation is complete! Metamorphosis 🐛 has emerged from its cocoon and is now available for purchase on all platforms 📃— Metamorphosis Game (@metamorphgame) August 12, 2020
Get it between August 12-19 with a 10% discount on Steam, GOG, the Nintendo eShop and Microsoft Store!#gamedev #indiegame #videogames pic.twitter.com/R52TEuTWyF
Final score – 6.5