Home Away From Home
HIGH Fantastic art. Nails the feeling of a small community.
LOW It often cuts away from a scene when a pause would be nice.
WTF Spelling it ‘woah’.
Mutazione is a 2D hand-drawn narrative-driven game from developers Die Gute Fabrik that tells the story of Kai, a girl who receives a phone call saying that her grandfather is about to die. She has almost no relationship with him and hasn’t seen him in years, but she cancels her plans for summer vacation and takes the first ferry to the isolated island where he lives.
This premise sets the stage for what could have easily been a navel-gazey point-and-click walking simulator, but instead the developers take it in several different, brilliant directions and deliver a wonderful gift of an experience.
The first twist is something that will be immediately apparent from the visuals – almost none of the characters are human. In Kai’s world, a meteor crashed into the Earth many years before the story begins and caused pockets of mutations to crop up. It’s treated entirely matter-of-factly and isn’t the focus of the story at all, it’s simply a thing that happened and then life moved on. The mutants aren’t enemies or monsters, they’re just people who look different and they’re trying to get by, just like anyone else.
The developers take this small gathering of mutants and use it to illustrate and examine what it’s like to live in a small community anywhere. I’ve spent time in places where everyone knew everyone, and the way it’s portrayed in Mutazione rang absolutely true.
As Kai traverses the island and talks to its residents, simply learning their histories and their personalities is a pleasure. She’ll have the opportunity to converse with anyone who’s around, but what’s soon revealed is that they’re all exceedingly well-written and entirely human underneath their varied appearances. Their dreams, their scars, their struggles – every bit of it is poignant and relatable.
There’s also a particular sort of relationship that occurs between people when they absolutely know they’ll see each other again, and that they must continue to interact even after someone’s wronged another, or caused them pain. At times it seems as though everyone Kai meets is stuffing something down in an effort to maintain their connection with the others, but the flipside is that there’s also a level of concern and support that’s hard to replicate in a wider setting where people are free to walk away whenever they please. Capturing all of this, in a videogame of all places, is a magnificent achievement.
The narrative is dead-on, but Mutazione also gets things right in a more technical sense. The bulk of playtime will be navigating discussions with the residents, but the devs indicate which convos will advance the story and which are there simply for the player’s enrichment by coding them with different symbols. Those who want to crit-path can do so, but those who want to take their time can elect to listen to more dialogue. Letting the player pace their own progression in this genre is smart.
Narrative titles can struggle if they lack supporting material to help flesh out the experience, but soon after arriving Kai will be asked to take part in some gardening. I won’t share details here since getting in touch with her green thumb is a key aspect of the story, but giving the player something to do between stretches of exposition is a great idea. The gardening is light and easy, but it provides a welcome break from routine and I always looked forward to doing it.
Otherwise, Mutazione includes great quality-of-life features like a comprehensive diary which clearly guides players towards the next plot point, an encyclopedia that contains a ridiculous amount of information about the island’s fictional fauna, and near-constant autosaving that ensures no progress is ever lost. Spending time with Kai and the residents is a frictionless experience that lets the player focus on what really counts – the relationships and the story – and the return on this investment is significant.
I don’t have any criticisms of Mutazione worth mentioning. Die Gute Fabrik has done a masterful job in crafting Kai’s tale, and it held my attention from start to finish. It was so good, in fact, that I have reached the end of this review without celebrating the absolutely marvelous art style which is what brought the game to my attention in the first place. This tale of a girl reconnecting with her grandfather while learning about the connections he made is not to be missed.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Die Gute Fabrik. It is currently available on PC, PS4 and iOS. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 10 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated T and contains Crude Humor, Fantasy Violence and Partial Nudity. I’m hard-pressed to think of what the violence could be. There’s no combat, but at one point a character punches a wall…? The crude humor possibly refers to the game’s single fart joke and the partial nudity must be when Kai changes clothes, there’s a quarter-second flash of a fraction of her upper buttocks. The T is appropriate given the narrative content, but as for the rest? Feels like the ESRB is really reaching here.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue comes via subtitles that can’t be resized. There are no audio cues needed for gameplay even though some of the game focuses on music. Luckily, these sections have plenty of visual cues, so audio is not necessary to finish them. Overall, it’s fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. Movement is on the left stick. The Options (or Triangle) button brings up a menu. The face buttons are used to confirm/cancel menu options. The D-pad scrolls through pages of documents, when applicable.
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