How would you feel if you were to wake up and find yourself transformed into a bug? To make matters worse, you have to watch helplessly as questionable authorities arrest your best friend for no apparent reason. You have only one hope in saving your friend and returning to your human form. You must embark on a journey to “The Tower”, a mysterious destination that seemingly holds all the answers. This is the plot of Ovid Works’ new game Metamorphosis, an homage to the early 20th-century novelist Franz Kafka.
A Bug’s Life
Combining a multitude of Kafka’s surreal, short stories; Metamorphosis showcases an intriguing world that instantly grabs the player’s attention. The game wastes no time in delivering a bizarre experience. Gregor Samsa, the main character you play as immediately shrinks down in size from man to insect. Your surroundings tower over you at an inconceivable size, which forces you to climb everything. You’ll make your way across books, pencils, desk drawers, and a multitude of other objects.
Metamorphosis unveils its ambitions early on to deliver a dreamlike experience. Gregor curiously reads a note left on his desk during the introductory moments of the game. Within seconds of trying to make sense of what’s going on, Gregor is sucked into the note. Suddenly, you find yourself jumping from letter to letter in an ethereal, endless landscape. As you follow the path to its endpoint, it thrusts you back into a new room. The bedroom of your best friend, Josef.
This is where the gameplay and narration of Metamorphosis truly begin. As you stare at your giant, sleeping friend, an alarming pounding at the door jolts him awake. Josef answers the knocking to find the police, apparently there to arrest Josef for reasons unknown. As the two humans discuss the matters at hand with vague and at times generic conversation, you use simplistic controls and platforming elements to navigate your surroundings. The level design and graphics don’t stand up to most modern indie titles, yet everything I came across was realistic looking and added to the depth of the experience.
With the help of sticky materials, from a leaking bottle to food that’s been conveniently left out, Gregor gains the ability to climb on almost any surface. The freedom gave me a sense of wonder at first as I crawled vertically across walls and objects with ease. Shortly after, I couldn’t help but get slight motion sickness from the constant changing of angles and viewpoints, especially while navigating sharp turns quickly to avoid falling or missing a jump. There are options to adjust the camera speed slightly, but the player might not see much of a difference. This became less of a distraction as I got used to the controls and how to maneuver the world of Metamorphosis.
Keeping It Simple
The ability to move and jump is the extent of the controls you’ll use. There’s no loot, no inventory, no collectibles, and the map system is simply a zoomed out camera that shows your surroundings. I enjoyed the addition of dotted lines on the zoomed out visual, showing you the path that you just made. This was helpful anytime I fell from a high point or became confused as to where I needed to go next.
These systems complement the linear gameplay well, as you won’t be doing much exploring despite the ability to climb across everything. You’ll continue to make your way back and forth between normal, human rooms and strange environments where your fellow bugs dwell. Completing basic tasks to keep the main story moving slowly reveals how everything connects. As weird as the game may get, nothing ever gets too confusing to follow along with.
The Good, The Bad, and The Bug-ly
Despite the simplicity of the overall gameplay experience, I remained interested throughout the 4-5 hours of playtime. Thanks to the psychedelic environments and ideas implemented, Kafka’s surreal stories were always paid tribute. You’ll find everything from intense visual effects to a fellow insect explaining psilocybin mushrooms to you. Metamorphosis isn’t shy about staying true to its mission; pushing the player to think outside the box. A wonderful score of tense music, which left me with multiple emotions as I played, emphasizes this. Silly moments would soon turn scary, puzzling moments would turn hopeful, all being carried by the constant changes in audio.
Much of the visual elements of the game had me intrigued for what was to come next. My excitement however was quickly cut short near the middle of the game. Frame rate slowdowns occurred during moments of heavy NPC movement. This was distracting at first but soon made the game a challenge to play. Even worse, these were moments of the game that appeared to be visually impressive at first and served as a great build-up to the storyline. Eventually, these slowdowns became so detrimental that they even led my Xbox to freeze and restart….not once but twice.
A Short, Strange Trip
As I powered through the crashes, the game returned to its normal play state and I was able to press on. While the initial ideas remained playful and fun, I slowly grew tired of the cheesy voice lines from my fellow insects and repetitive puzzles, which served almost no challenge aside from pressing a button or rotating a switch most of the time. I can’t stress enough that the main thing keeping me glued to the game and wanting to finish it hours after starting, was the originality and ideas put in place by Ovid Works.
All things considered, Metamorphosis is a refreshing game that’s shorter than a book and longer than a movie. It gives you the same feeling of wonder as you watch on. You’ll question how things will end and more importantly, the purpose of it all. I can’t guarantee that you’ll want to play it a second time after finishing it. However, it’s safe to say that it will leave you thinking for quite a while.
You can purchase Metamorphosis on the Xbox One here.
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