Based on a story written by Franz Kafka, Metamorphosis shares a similar backdrop. A man named Gregor awakens one day and has been turned into an insect. Just like the novella, there is no actual explanation. It just happens without any known reason. The result for both pieces of work is the protagonist is still concerned with human life affairs. Both stories are different as well as the transformation. In the short story, Gregor is a giant bug, about the size of a dog. He adjusts to life with his family. In the game, Gregor instead is actually the size of an insect and attempts to help a friend who is being arrested on charges which aren’t quite revealed. He must get around the newly-resized world and attempt to play insect detective to figure out and help his dear friend. It’s set in first-person and is somewhat of a parkour-based platformer. It also has towns, lots of characters, and fetch quests, similar to those you’d see in massive first-person RPG games. Areas are divided into chapters. Some will be you crawling around a giant feeling world and in others your size is matched by the environment and feels normal, because of bug towns. While being in his own (and worse) predicament, Gregor is still very concerned about his friend and it’s his top priority to unselfishly try to help out.
Here’s what I liked:
Lawyer Up — Interestingly enough, the story doesn’t really revolve around Gregor and his new insect body. While there are some elements focused on figuring out what’s going on, the actual issue is his friend Joseph, who is being arrested for an unknown reason. That part of the story also engulfs the player’s interest too. Your own mind will shift to wanting to figure out why Joseph is in trouble with the police, even over the curiosity of Gregor being an insect. There’s a natural human connection we have where we can see ourselves in the other situation more realistically. This is the brilliance I see in the story, both the book and the game. Our need to know why our protagonist is an insect takes a back seat to the human problems that in reality are far less of a concern. This stays true with Gregor, as his greatest interest is to help out his friend, even while being stuck inside the body of an insect. Psychology can be difficult to tackle but somehow the game has successfully mimicked the book in terms of shifting the light to problems to which we can relate.
Newfound Legs — I’m not sure there has ever been a time that the word “scurry” was an accurate description of movement in a game. This is exactly what you do in Metamorphosis. You scurry around the world, being able to go at fairly high speeds and jump very far. There are various liquids you can walk through to make your legs sticky. This allows you to walk up walls with ease. The only restriction is being able to walk upside-down. The camera angles change and are very impressive. They’re fluid and you adapt to your new position. Everyday objects are now platforms to travel on and across. I found it almost relaxing to figure out where to go, not worrying about something attacking me or needing to look for items. There’s a lot of sightseeing, and you’re equipped to go just about anywhere.
Short but Immersive — Completing the full story took me only one sitting. However, it felt like I played for much longer. Besides the platforming sequences, there are several areas you can walk around casually. You can talk to other insects in town settings. The largest of these sections was a town that even had a mayor in it. You must talk to several characters to complete your quest. This allows you to really wander around and explore. You get to appreciate the little things. Literally. Imagine simple tasks being so much more complicated. Needing to get a fan to turn off becomes an adventure. I found myself replaying chapters because there are alternate routes to do a few of the quests. Short and sweet, we are treated to the experience of a much larger game. This is exactly how it is with short stories compared to novels. It may be a much shorter read, but you can still immerse yourself in the world and feel like it was complete.
Here’s what I didn’t like:
The Library — There is one chapter where you’re in a library. Well, I guess it’s not a library but because you’re so small it feels like one. The problem I had was it felt off compared to other sections. The realism was thrown out the window and now you can jump around on floating books. Not that being a talking insect is real, but there’s a certain line you can cross that even in that situation makes you think “wait, how is that possible”. I don’t want to jump on magical floating books. I can deal with being an insect but an inconsistent random level where even your character doesn’t comment on the situation feels like a completely different game. Also, the level is extremely dark and I had to brighten things up but still had a hard time seeing. No one wants that.
I Heard That Already — Humans, now giants, are present during the adventure. They have conversations that are quite fascinating to listen to. That is until you’ve heard them repeat the same sentences five times or more. There isn’t enough dialogue for the sections they talk in. I can understand they do sometimes say things that are relevant to what you need to do next, but that can be solved with a journal. I’d almost rather they have a few long stretches of awkward silence. More dialogue could be added. The sections were just too long to hear things once or twice. Going into that many repeats of speech became a bit too much.
A big game in a small package. You become immersed and enjoy an interesting cast of characters with time to explore and have some fun running around as a bug. Reading the short story it’s based around is not important, but I do suggest giving it a quick read to get the summary to and a little history to understand some of the psychology. If you can comprehend the reason why it’s important literature, especially at that time period, you might better appreciate the game. Morality plays a significant theme, having the reader or player ponder what’s wrong or right based on a situation that is beyond reasonable explanation. There are a few things that could be polished to make it an even greater experience, but also a few that I think need changing completely, even though I enjoyed it quite a bit. If you’re after a story that ends with deep thought and self-reflection, while maintaining fun game mechanics that seem inspired by many genres, then shrink down and enjoy the ride.
Score: Highly Recommended
Metamorphosis was published by All in! Games and developed by Ovid Works on Xbox One. It was released on August 12, 2020, for $24.99.