Metamorphosis – Bugs just wanna have fun – Review

Gare – Monday, August 31, 2020 3:41 PM
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Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”, a tale about a man turning into a hideous insect in his own bedroom, is probably one of the most iconic and important literary works of the early 20th century – as such, it comes as no surprise to me that a video game would attempt to use it for inspiration. Nearly identical in terms of its title, developer Ovid Works’ adventure game Metamorphosis also stars the ill-fated Gregor Samsa, who one day finds that he’s transformed into a creepy-crawly bug of sorts. And although Gregor’s journey begins in a way very much similar to that of his literary counterpart, the storyline later takes an entirely different route and is not particularly interested in shackling itself to Kafka’s novella too tightly. Which isn’t necessarily a problem, mind you, and Metamorphosis does manage to – sort of – find its own identity along the way while also paying due respect to its grand forefather.

A bug’s life

The game wastes no time in allowing you to test your insect legs – in a matter of minutes, the opening sequence gradually transforms you into a tiny, multi-legged creature, and tasks you with familiarizing yourself with your new environment. Everyday objects and pieces of furniture like chairs, cabinets and drawers become monumental bastions you need to carefully climb and jump across to reach your objective, and trivial distances that ordinary humans are able to traverse in a matter of seconds suddenly turn into long, obstacle-ridden journeys. There’s a certain novelty to seeing a gigantic fork up-close, using a pencil as a plank to climb higher, or discovering the various ways in which insect society inhabits even the tiniest nooks and corners of our world; during an early segment of the storyline, for example, Gregor will find his way into an old gramophone, which just so happens to function as an elite, members-only club for insects, complete with a stand-up comedian regaling his audience with lovably groan-inducing bug puns. The game further opens up later on, introducing a couple of larger hub-like areas filled with NPCs that allow players to – optionally – explore or chat up their many-legged brethren, resulting in many an amusing conversation. Ultimately, with the delightfully surrealistic nature of its almost dream-like level design, Metamorphosis builds a unique and captivating atmosphere that’s further amplified by its mesmerizing – and thoroughly impressive – soundtrack.

Papers, please

The storyline, though not particularly complex, deals with consistent themes of helplessness and the corruption of bureaucracy, and is often presented with sprinkles of humor – Gregor must get to a place called the Tower in order to somehow regain his human form, but his quest is not without seemingly unnecessary hurdles. Oh, you need to get here? Only if you have a certificate. Where to get a certificate? Uh, ask this guy who may know this other guy who may know where to find one. What does the certificate do? Does it even matter? And so on. Some of the turns taken by Gregor’s journey reflect the frustrations of those who must deal with rules and regulations and protocols on a daily basis, and it’s hard not to see the symbolic implications of a group of mindless bugs working tirelessly toward a distant, exasperatingly unclear goal in an almost mechanical way. In attempting to portray the struggles of the modern man, and the often dehumanizing, lifeless nature of modern bureaucracy, the game does successfully manage to adopt a decidedly Kafka-esque tone here and there.

Creepin’ and crawlin’

Gameplay-wise, Metamorphosis keeps things relatively straightforward. During the rather short, few-hours-long campaign, you’ll spend most of your time skipping and hopping from platform to platform, or solving simplistic puzzles that largely consist of pressing buttons or turning handles; it’s clearly aimed at a more casual crowd, but it keeps you occupied and helps prevent the game from being too monotonous. In certain areas, you’ll also come across tiny puddles of sticky liquids – a drop of ink, a bit of mayo or butter, you get the idea. By marching straight through these puddles and smearing their contents all over your insect legs, you’ll gain the temporary ability to stick to surfaces, which comes in handy during some of the game’s puzzles and results in some fairly daring – and gravity-defying – climbing segments. I guess if I had to bring up something I wasn’t particularly fond of, it’s the presence of human characters: at several points in the story, you’ll be trying to complete a puzzle or climb up a piece of furniture while the humans – unaware of your presence – continue a seemingly never-ending conversation in the same room. I found this to be rather distracting (not to mention narratively pointless), and I’m not exaggerating when I say that the human characters’ incessant yammering in the background made it a touch more difficult for me to properly enjoy a select few locations of the campaign.

Final thoughts

All in all, Metamorphosis may be fairly simplistic, as well as woefully short, but it’s got a ton of heart. In the end, I found that being a bug in this weird, dream-like world is actually quite fun, and although the game doesn’t do much in terms of interactivity, its charming atmosphere, sense of humor and semi-surrealistic presentation do a decent job of carrying the experience. Go into it with the appropriate expectations and you might come away pleasantly surprised.

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