Metamorphosis is a fantastic adaptation of Kafka’s work that tells an absurd but compelling story. Navigating its twisted but beautiful world would’ve felt better with tighter controls.
“One morning, as Gregor Samsa was waking up from anxious dreams, he discovered that in bed he had been changed into a monstrous verminous bug.” – Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis.
In Metamorphosis, a puzzle game by Ovid Works, you play as the “bugified” Gregor, who goes on a surreal journey to regain his humanity.
Gregor has to jump through hoops, figuratively and literally, to make sense of the absurd world he finds himself in. But what else do you expect from the game based on Franz Kafka’s works?
A Kafkaesque Nightmare
Metamorphosis is a game best appreciated by those who love Kafka’s work or are at least familiar with it – specifically with The Metamorphosis and The Trial.
Developer Ovid Works successfully combines the plots of both novels into something I can only describe as “The Trial by way of The Metamorphosis.” While you play as Gregor Samsa, the protagonist of The Metamorphosis, the game actually follows the story of the Trial.
Since I’m not going to review Kafka’s novels (they’re good, you should read them), let’s focus on the game itself. Metamorphosis “gets” Kafka’s work and ideas. You constantly face absurd demands for obscure certificates, and the people (or bugs) around you refuse to see the faults in their logic.
It may sound tiresome, but actually, the writing makes it funny, in a slightly depressing way.
However, the game can be tedious at times, just like the bureaucratic procedures it mocks – mostly due to its labyrinthian level design and wobbly controls.
Crawling up the Walls
Metamorphosis isn’t the first game that casts you as a gross cockroach (check out Bad Mojo if that’s your thing). However, it is one of the few that manages to make you feel like an actual bug.
You play the game in first-person, and as you scuttle through the towering environments, you feel strange, disoriented, and a little overwhelmed. Much like I’d expect transforming into a bug would feel like.
The levels you explore are a combination of the mundane and the surreal. Sometimes you climb a bookcase in someone’s apartment, and other times you traverse the insides of a letter. But no matter where you find yourself, you always feel small and almost helpless. You can get a bird’s eye view of any location with the press of a button, which helps you get your bearings but also makes you feel even smaller.
Because every place is so big, navigating it all can be arduous. Traversal is in the heart of Metamorphosis, and getting from one point to the next always feels like a puzzle. Most of them are straightforward, but some can get tedious, especially if you fall from a ledge and have to climb all the way back up again.
And I fell quite a lot while playing Metamorphosis. Your point of view is very close to the ground, and you have almost no field of vision, so it’s difficult to see where the shelf you’re currently crawling on ends. The controls don’t help either – it can be tricky to navigate narrow ledges or scale walls with precision.
Luckily, the game has a pretty generous checkpoint system, so if you fall, get crashed, drown, and die, you’ll spawn very close to where you were.
Exploring the Surreal
My favorite thing about Metamorphosis is how it looks and sounds. Its imaginative art design and surreal music pull you right into the game’s twisted world.
The sound design is outstanding. Hearing Gregor’s legs scurrying on the different surfaces will have your skin crawl. The bugs all speak in what sounds like a mishmash of growls and distorted English and German; it sounds creepy as heck.
I especially love the music, with its haunting vocals that immediately make every situation a little more bizarre. If only there were more of it.
Metamorphosis is a fantastic adaptation of Kafka’s work. It’s weird, absurd, and beautiful in its own twisted way. It expertly tells a captivating story set in a world that simultaneously makes no sense and all too much of it.
As a game, though, it’s mostly for those who enjoy atmosphere more than challenge. There are one or two puzzles that might stump you, but for the most part, you can breeze through them if you just pay attention to details.
If you’re looking for a puzzle platformer with a distinctive setting, or just have a thing for bugs and against pointless bureaucracy – Metamorphosis is a game you’d want to sink your mandibles into.
Developer: Ovid Works
Publisher: All In! Games
Release date: Aug. 12, 2020
Our Metamorphosis review copy was provided by the publisher.Some of our posts include links to online retail stores. We get a small cut if you buy something through one of our links. Don't worry, it doesn't cost you anything extra.