I don’t know if I’ve ever played a game as baffling as Metamorphosis.
Inspired by Franz Kafka’s novella, The Metamorphosis, this game takes several elements from the story—protagonist Gregor Samsa, his transformation into a bug, and other references—and remixes them into something that will work for a video game.
Here, rather than Gregor turning into a giant, human-sized insect, he shrinks down to bug size and discovers an entire society of other once-human bug friends. The sense of scale is one of the game’s big achievements, as it truly makes you feel like a tiny creature in a massive human world. The last time I remember a game providing this sense of scale was probably Toy Commander on the Dreamcast.
Metamorphosis isn’t content to throw you into real world scenarios though. The weirdness begins almost immediately, with the game seemingly intent on throwing you off-balance. When you first get control of Gregor’s bug form, it’s to jump throughout a room of floating furniture. Not long after that you’re platforming around on twisting glass platforms floating in space. All along, a voice on an intercom tells you about the bug society behind the scenes and a tower you must seek out.
Shortly after this you emerge in your friend’s bedroom as police officers storm in and begin arguing. As you navigate in and around desks and shelves—even going through cracks and discovering bits of bug society in the walls—the giant humans continue to talk. No matter how long you take to finish a puzzle, the humans in the world will argue and argue endlessly.
It’s very off-putting. I initially thought I would miss the story if I didn’t stop and listen to them, but you’re meant to get the gist of it as you explore. They’ll simply drone on and on in circular arguments until you make progress.
Eventually you make your way far enough into the walls to discover bug cities and vast surreal networks of filing cabinets and paper trails. It all flows naturally and makes sense in a very dreamlike way, but I never quite had a sense of what the developers were going for.
I’d read Kafka’s novella in high school or college, and refreshing my memory on it brought me no closer to understanding why so much of this game is the way it is. Either the team behind the game are simply on a completely different wavelength than I am, or this off-put feeling was exactly what they were going for.
Either way, whether you’re crawling across a desk or navigating bug neighborhoods made of discarded trash, the sense of scale and joy of navigation never lets up. Gregor has some stickiness to him that gives the first person platforming some forgiveness, and even outside of that it feels fast and fluid.
The sense of scale in the level design never lets up either. Even in the more surreal areas that don’t have giant real world objects to set a sense of scale, I’d find myself absorbed in the setting and even getting a moment or two of vertigo.
What makes Metamorphosis work is that—assuming you have a stomach for first-person platforming—the gameplay really goes down smooth. I rarely hit a roadblock or got frustrated with it. It was mostly a joy to play from beginning to end.
That said, I came away from the story confused and a bit unsatisfied. There are two endings depending on choices you make during the final chapter, and both are incredibly abrupt. I followed along with the overall story beats, I understood the choice I was making at the end, and yet I still came away feeling like I missed a greater point.
Maybe Metamorphosis is just weird. Maybe I was missing some larger context. Maybe I just wasn’t clever enough to read between the lines. Either way, I still enjoyed my time with the game, and I recommend it with the hopes that other folks will get far more out of the story than I did.