‘Metamorphosis’ review: short but imaginative, miniaturised odyssey

A surreal, Kafka-inspired journey into the infinite structures of bureaucracy

Nothing seizes the imagination like miniatures. From museum dioramas to model villages, doll houses to toy soldiers, there’s just something wondrous about small worlds. First-person indie game Metamorphosis captures that same magic, but also intensifies it by shrinking your perspective from the get-go.

You play as a tiny bug, scuttling across mountainous furniture while being pulled deeper into the secret recesses which lie just beyond the human dimension. Like a flea circus, Metamorphosis offers a bizarre glimpse of insect life, while also being tightly wrapped up in the archaic atmosphere of the early 20th century.

Metamorphosis review
Metamorphosis. Credit: Ewan Wilson

Metamorphosis is influenced by the work of Franz Kafka. Most obviously, there’s his verminous novella of the same name, where protagonist “Gregor” wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into an insect (a plot which the game parallels).

There are also hints of some of Kafka’s other stories – The Trial and The Castle – with their mysterious governing authorities and endlessly obscure procedures. While Metamorphosis channels some of that same surrealism and many of the absurd situations Kafka dreamt up, it’s also more whimsical in attitude and atmosphere. Think of Terry Gilliam’s 1985 film Brazil and its quirky bureaucratic satire.

Metamorphosis review
Metamorphosis. Credit: Ewan Wilson

Half of Metamorphosis has you exploring the human world, such as the corner of a bedroom or a lawyer’s desk, for example. There’s a fantastic sense of scale that comes with these levels. Human characters stomp around in the background like giants, conversing with one another and fleshing out the story, while you attempt to navigate a mundane chest of drawers or hop from one piece of furniture to the next.

Like a bug trapped in a cabinet of curiosities, you’ll clamber up books and stationary, and jump from one beautifully modelled object to the next. The platforming isn’t particularly complex. The only real ability in the game involves spilt pots of ink, or other sticky substances, which you can dip your hairy legs into in order to temporarily climb up steep surfaces.

Metamorphosis review
Metamorphosis. Credit: Ewan Wilson

Metamorphosis gets more interesting as you burrow deeper, into the nooks and crannies, and away from the prying eyes of humans. The insect world is fascinating: There’s a bug-club nestled inside a working gramophone, and a whole insect town that’s built up around an old film projector and an eccentric but visionary director. Often these bug-spaces are set in a surreal kind of alternate universe. Like Doctor Who’s police box, the interiors all seem larger and more wondrous than they should be.

A lighter, more playful side comes through the conversations you have with the other bugs, each of them either wrapped up in their own bizarre little world, or, like you, attempting to travel to “The Tower” and reverse their transformation. Metamorphosis’ story also involves Gregor’s friend, Josef K. It’s his bedroom that you initially explore, and his mysterious trial around which the game’s absurdist plot spirals. As in Kafka’s novel, there’s no reason given for K’s arrest, or details on the crimes he’s supposedly committed.

The game also explores the near-infinite structures of bureaucracy that work (quite irrationally) behind the scenes. In one of the game’s most memorable levels, you have to make your way around a giant, cavernous room where all of the lawyer’s forms are gathered, stamped and transferred. Everything moves via a twisting network of pneumatic tubes. These imaginative environments are easily the game’s biggest draw. I constantly wanted to explore more of this strange, bureaucratic society.

Metamorphosis review
Metamorphosis. Credit: Ewan Wilson

Metamorphosis is as short as it is small. The game can be completed in a single 2-3 hour sitting. It recreates all the miniaturised excitement and energy you find in children’s fantasies like The Borrowers, Alice In Wonderland or even one of Terry Pratchett’s many novels on little people. And while its puzzles are straightforward and the platforming limited, its world is so vivid and creatively put together, it’s an easy recommend.

‘Metamorphosis’ is now available on PC (via Steam and GOG), Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

Our Verdict

Metamorphosis is a creative little insect-odyssey, that features imaginative environments that are rich and vivid, and produce a great sense of scale. With an intriguing story inspired by the work of Franz Kafka, it explores the absurd, often surreal structures of bureaucracy with a spirited, childlike energy.

Pros

  • Imaginative miniaturised environments that are great fun to hop around and explore
  • Great sense of scale that really makes the world feel huge and wondrous
  • A surreal and intriguing story inspired by the works of Franz Kafka
  • Colourful and occasionally funny

Cons

  • Puzzles and platforming are simple, and sometimes only require you to move back and forth between two different areas
  • I would’ve liked to explore its world more, and for longer!

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