Kafka’s Double-Flavored Fortune Cookie
HIGH The incredible feeling of transitioning into a bug.
LOW The uninspired plot devices.
WTF Developed by “Ovid Works”. Of course.
I often think about how many games absolutely suck at storytelling – whether it’s plot devices existing only to necessitate the slaughter of monsters, or writing that pursues cheap drama rather than depth. There is a severe lack of sophistication going on here, and I wonder how many developers ever read literature for inspiration.
One of the main draws of Metamorphosis, initially, was its connection to a piece of classic literature and its narrative of a human being transformed into an unspecified bug. It’s directly inspired by and even named after Franz Kafka’s novella The Metamorphosis. However, after playing it became clear that Kafka’s work was used in name only.
The plot is about Gregor, a man who stays at his friend Joseph’s place before mysteriously turning into a bug. As he maneuvers his way through a surrealist insect-inhabited world, he learns of several legal procedures that are necessary before his return to human form can be processed. However, Gregor can’t get his hands on the required documents until he pleases corrupt politicians, corporate lawyers and charlatans in bug society by performing mundane tasks which take the shape of a first-person puzzle platformer.
Gregor must traverse Joseph’s house in order to get to the areas the bugs demand that he enter, and a desk and bookshelf are featured heavily. Acting as (quite literally) a fly on the wall, Gregor sees his struggle metaphorically mimicked by Joseph’s own legal issues, as he is arrested for no given reason and fights with agents, lawyers and prosecutors. Joseph’s case appears almost copy-pasted from Kafka’s The Trial, although the devs prefer ‘inspired by’.
Metamorphosis is full of dialogue, but a majority is thin and the few notes it offers on society’s failure lack intriguing substance. When crawling on top of Joseph’s bookshelves as a bug, the player can see all kinds of classic works, ranging from Goethe to Joyce. Considering how weak the actual writing is, I found these inclusions to be somewhat eyebrow-raising.
While it’s obvious by now that I was seriously underwhelmed by Metamorphosis’ narrative and un-earned connection to Kafka, the gameplay only makes things worse.
Metamorphosis begins on a high note. The first 30 minutes in which the player experiences Gregor’s transformation are quite spectacular. As my surroundings grew in size, I could feel the fragility of my form increasing. Even better, I was subtly given an unconventional skillset that defamiliarized me with the human body and pushed me towards understanding the body of an insect.
Unfortunately, once I got used to my new bug body, the excitement of play was completely lost as the rest of the game from that point consists of mild platforming and mundane puzzles.
The platforming is little more than correctly timing the same long jumps over and over again, requiring no strategy, nor offering any progressive challenge. The puzzles generally demand nothing more than interacting with handles and switches.
This became tiring quickly, especially since the dialogue between play sections was so poor. Most conversations with bugs only serve as plot devices that announce the next objective, which makes the obvious references to Kafka in loading screen quotes and through the use of his characters’ names particularly grating.
Metamorphosis is underwhelming not only in writing and gameplay, but in visuals, audio and performance. Its areas are fairly generic apart from being rendered ‘huge’ to reflect the player’s size as a bug, and the characters lack quality animation or design. Once I’d seen one bug, I’d practically seen them all. The music is either absent or annoying, and the voice acting is no great shakes. To top it all off, the Switch version (on which this review is based) struggles to maintain a consistent framerate and crashed multiple times.
It is massively disappointing that a title with literary aspirations falls so flat when it comes to delivering an engaging experience in all regards. I appreciate that the developers must be huge fans of Kafka, but they’ve seemed to miss that the art in literature is found not only in the quality of each individual page, but also in how they create the accompanying theme.
Disclosures: This game is developed by Ovid Works and published by All in! Games. It is currently available on PC, PS4, XBO and Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on Switch. Approximately 4 hours were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.
Parents: According to the ESRB, Metamorphosis has a T rating for Drug Reference, Use of Alcohol and Tobacco. I would like to add that there are some mature themes as well, including an area that looks like a VIP 18+ lounge and at least one bug with seductive dialogue. There’s nothing too explicit, however, and I think T is a reasonable rating.
Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: All dialogue is fully subtitled and all cues are visualized. This title can be played to completion without sound. It is therefore fully accessible. (See examples above.)
Remappable Controls: Yes, this game offers fully remappable controls.
David has had a passion for writing since childhood, but rather than writing stories, he started reading them and figured that the only way a Harry Potter universe would truly come to life would be in a videogame. His favorite genre in literature, dystopian fiction, seemed to have especially unlimited potential in this new medium. Despite appreciating and regularly engaging with many different art forms, David's dedicated himself mostly to the playable one.
Born and raised a Dutchman, David can tell you everything about 'stroopwafels' and what it's like to live in the liberal capital of the world. That is, if he isn't holed up in his room and enjoying the American entertainment industry.