One of my favorite genres growing up was adventure games, and over the decades, I’ve played a lot of them. Most adventure games are somewhat strange, and many employ surreal imagery to go with the unusual, sometimes humorous, storytelling. Metamorphosis is all about the surreal, and while it isn’t the most surreal adventure I’ve played—that distinction goes to Oikospiel Book I—Metamorphosis definitely revels in its surrealism, and strangeness.
Metamorphosis is a first person adventure game with puzzle and platforming elements where you play as a bug. You skitter on all, uh, sixes, as you explore your environments, trying to reach tall, high up places, and solve puzzles.“Hey,” you might say, “it’s called Metamorphosis AND you play as a bug, that sounds like something Bohemian novelist Franz Kafka wrote.” Well, you’re right.
I never thought I would play a video game inspired by Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, wherein a salesman turns into a giant bug, but Metamorphosis is exactly that. While it isn’t a retelling of The Metamorphosis, the video game’s story is perhaps a sort of reimagining of that tale. You play as Gregor Samsa, who wakes up one day to find that many of his paintings are starting to show people who are turning into bugs. That is because, he is turning into a bug—which he does, in real time. Stuck with an incredibly small stature, you soon learn that even traversing a desk could be a huge trek—if you can even find a way to scale such a massive structure.
To make being a bug even worse, Gregor’s friend Josef is in trouble, arrested without cause, and stuck in a bureaucratic nightmare. His only hope is you, who is stuck as a tiny bug. But it turns out that his and your fates are intertwined, and it becomes a question of whether to restore yourself to human form and doom your friend, or work outside of the system and save your friend—but doom yourself to be an insect for the remainder of your days.
As a bug, you think you could skitter up walls—and you can to an extent. But to get fully vertical, you need to find something sticky, like some glue or ink. These sticky substances allow you to go vertical for a short amount of time, but you can’t stick completely upside-down unfortunately. In this way, Metamorphosis is a lot like a platformer—and my favorite moments in Metamorphosis was when I was platforming. Whether trying to find the way up a chair, or navigating the insides of a phonograph, Metamorphosis shines during those few platforming sections. The rest of the time, it’s strange character interactions and ho-hum puzzles.
The puzzles in Metamorphosis usually involve finding the right area to be in, and the right object to manipulate. Only once or twice does Metamorphosis offer a puzzle with a clever solution, but the majority are as simple as finding out which way to move a gauge, or which button to press.
Most of the game Gregor, in bug form, is in pursuit of The Tower—the center of bug bureaucracy and this game’s McGuffin. While there are interesting characters and situations throughout, Metamorphosis doesn’t really make you feel like you’re in control. That’s a bit of a function of the story—hopelessness under bureaucracy, stuck in a new form and now struggling through a new society of bugs—but there’s really no chance to deviate from the linear path. That would be fine if Metamorphosis felt like it culminates in something profound, but it really doesn’t.
I didn’t hate Metamorphosis, in fact, I liked most of the time I spent with it. I just wish it was more meaningful, and it had more and varied puzzles. Metamorphosis is at its best during platforming sections—of which there are plenty—but everything else, including the story and character interactions, end up feeling a little underwhelming, even under a veneer of surrealism.
Metamorphosis is available tomorrow on Steam, Xbox and GOG.
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