When I first heard that I'd be reviewing a game called Metamorphosis, I made some joke in my head about this game being based on the classic Franz Kafka story. The joke was on me, because that's exactly what this game from developer Ovid Works is based on. While the Kafka story is filled with lessons about the greater meaning of life, I'll admit that I hadn't thought about it since I studied it in college a decade ago. After all, I was juggling school and a GameFly internship that would eventually lead to becoming Senior Editor at Shacknews. But I remembered enough that the game's concept had me intrigued. And there's definitely something here, assuming you can get past some of the bugs. (No pun intended, I swear.)
A game of cricket
For anybody who ever read the Kafka story, the plot for Metamorphosis might sound familiar. You're playing as Gregor Samsa, who is going through his morning routine and just trying to get to work. However, something fantastical happens as he's getting ready. He becomes a bug and it happens so gradually that he doesn't even notice until he's trotting around his house on tiny legs.
Where the game's plot diverges somewhat from the source material is that there seems to be a crime scene unfolding in the house, as well. Gregor's close friend Josef is being arrested by police, so Gregor must try and get back to his human body in order to find out what's happening. The end goal appears to be a mysterious tower that the world's insects reference frequently. There's plenty of time for Gregor to run through the world as he witnesses the awkward dialogue between Josef and the police. (An officer at one point just tells Josef, "You... are arrested." Oof!) But if there's an issue I noticed throughout the first half of the game, it's that characters will frequently talk over each other. While it may reflect reality that a conversation between Gregor and another bug and Josef and the police would be happening simultaneously, it's brutal to follow the multiple dialogue strings at the same time.
After becoming an insect, Metamorphosis becomes a puzzle-platformer and starts to feel more like Lewis Carroll than Franz Kafka. Players will explore a world that seems to go back and forth between reality and a strange twisted universe within the house's walls. More often than not, you'll be solving puzzles within the house doing favors for some of its insect denizens. This will often involve fetch quests that require navigating mundane objects that are suddenly much bigger than you while mastering some of Gregor's bug-like abilities. The key ability involves using sticky substances to latch on to walls and ceilings. Some of the puzzles are charming, like an early game one that has Gregor attempt to get Josef's attention by operating a nearby music box.
I wouldn't call Metamorphosis a precision platformer by any means. You don't need to be a skilled player to make some of the game's jumps or avoid the many obstacles hidden within Gregor's house. That doesn't make Metamorphosis' performance issues any easier to swallow.
Yes, I encountered frame rate hitches and performance lag throughout my time with the game. Some came during my conversations with some of the world's characters. Others came at much more irritating times, like when I was trying to make a long jump. It wouldn't say it ruined my experience with Metamorphosis, but it certainly made it a lot more aggravating.
The Kafka experience
I'll say this much, if you try and play Metamorphosis as a substitute for a book report, you'll probably fail your English class. But as a game that's inspired by Kafka's classic tale, this is not bad at all. The platforming is competent, the puzzles can get creative, and the characters are often interesting. The downside is that the performance lag can't be ignored and sucks a lot of the fun out of this game. The other thing worth noting is that this is a very brief adventure. Even novices should have little trouble getting through the full story in anything more than four to five hours.
I don't know if I'll see more games inspired by classic existential literature. Is a gaming adaptation of Camus' The Stranger on the way? Who knows? But for what it is, Metamorphosis is a pretty fun way to experience an all-time classic story.
This review is based on a Nintendo Switch code provided by the publisher. Metamorphosis is available now on Steam, the PlayStation Store, the Microsoft Store, and Nintendo eShop for $24.99. The game is rated T.
- Interesting premise
- Competent platforming
- Some fun puzzles
- Performance hitches hurt badly
- Characters sometimes talk over each other
- Bad English translations can be distracting