Metamorphosis Review: It's a Bug's Life
I (The Nano Biologist) heard about this small indie game, Metamorphosis, one day and it struck a curious chord within me. A little about myself, I am an avid reader and remember reading a book long ago by the same name. If you are unfamiliar with Franz Kafka, he wrote a book back in 1915, with the same title. In that book, the main character, Gregor Samsa, wakes up to find himself a bug while also having his life fall all around him. This game takes the classic novella and tries to expand on it into a short-ish 4 hour puzzle adventure game. If you think the premise is odd, trust me when I say that the game gets even weirder.
Metamorphosis, developed by Ovid Works, starts you off as a Gregor as he is trying to leave his room. That is where the weirdness begins. You slowly shrink and eventually turn into a bug, many legs and all. As you start to explore the world, you find your friend in trouble with the law in relation to your own disappearance as well as encounter other bugs who look very similar to
you and tell you that some of them were also humans. As you progress through the game, you learn of a secret society called the “Tower” who played a major part in your friend's trial and who may have the key to turn you back into a human. For a game about a human turning into a bug, this game gets even more fantastical with its storytelling than you’d expect. You will encounter floating towers, mystical sorting machines (no, really), and bug towns hidden between walls. As for how the story plays out, there aren’t too many cutscenes, but this is also where my biggest issue with this game lies.
As a bug, no other bug you encounter speaks in a normal language. They all speak in a chattering that you’d imagine bugs to speak in when they communicate. Most of the minutia of the story is told by you speaking to many of the bugs you encounter. Now for a game that is told mainly through text, as well as based off of a book, there are several spelling and grammatical errors that I encountered. When you spot one, it'll stand out like a sore thumb (screenshot below for reference). This game felt like it needed one more round of QA to ensure that the remaining spelling and grammatical issues were caught. I say this because a game based on a book to have these errors does a disservice not only to the game but to the original work. Ovid is based in Poland, thus it shouldn't be expected that English is their first language. I also understand that they are a small team, but the voice acting is good. Metamorphosis just needed that final check to make sure that it’s main vessel for story telling made it go more smoothly.
As mentioned above, you are a bug for 99% of this game and with it come interesting mechanics. Now, there is no combat. To advance, you need to solve contextual puzzles given to you by simple objective markers. This is where the game shines, especially if you like puzzle games. To climb walls, you need to find adhesives (like glue, jelly, ink), when you run you see your bug legs, and jumping sends you far. Now, when I say that the puzzles are contextual, I mean it. The one that stands out most to me was one in a record player. You had to slow down a record player to reach
a desk. Inside the record player is a bug lounge and bar where you had to get a special audience with the bar owner. To solve the puzzle, you need to talk to certain bugs to find out how to get to the owner who will reveal to you how you can get an “audience” with a human nearby. Then, you must find a way to slow down the record player so you have a safe way to climb it. What follows is a very detailed exploration of a busy lawyers desk as you listen to two humans talking to find out what you need to do next. This mix of puzzle exploration and indirect storytelling create a fleshed out world in these areas that you are around humans.
This changes though when you’re deep in the bug world. As mentioned above, communication with bugs is done only through text. All voice lines when speaking with fellow bugs sound like an odd mix of hissing and scratching. Imagine how bugs sound when they communicate with each other and that’s how they sound here. During my playthrough, these moments where you had to solve puzzles with the help of other bugs really slowed things down. Particularly, one significant portion of the game where you are in a bug city, trying to move on by finding a director so they can show their movie. Now, while this part did slow down, it also did something really fun. This part introduces you to the fact there are several ways to complete a level. Nearly every area up to this point had one path, with some exploration revealing unlock-able achievements or collectibles. Now, if you realized this or not when you got to the city, that’s OK. I only found out because I looked at the achievement list and also started both paths at once but then realized later that one could only be completed. These split paths give you additional information on the world you’re exploring and encouraging a second playthrough so you can learn all that you can.
Overall, I enjoyed my time with Metamorphosis. When I first completed the game, I was confused about my time. It took several weeks of reflection for me to really think back on my time reading the source material as well as the puzzling nature of what happened in the game. I don’t think this roughly four hour experience is for everyone. It really takes a love of puzzle exploration games for one to get through this because there are frustrating and confusing parts; each take willpower to push through so you can get the finesse of certain jumps or actions just right. But, if you are a literature nerd like I am, and love to delve into an already odd and fantastical world, then Metamorphosis is the game for you. My only gripe is there should have been another round of spelling and grammar checks for the game's text dialogues, as they are the main form of storytelling throughout the game. The errors in this regard were overall distracting to the presentation of the game, and are hard to overlook. In the end, Metamorphosis is a fun title that respects its namesake well.