Before I get to the review, I want to touch briefly on how it promotes and positions its self. It calls itself a mutant soap opera where small time gossip meets the supernatural. The challenge of leading with a tag line associating Mutazione with soap operas is for all the wrong reasons going to put people off it.
You probably already know this. Despite their prime time tv positioning with viewing figures we’d all be quite happy with, for many, a soap opera just isn’t a good thing. People who say to others oh I haven’t watched a soap in years I’d wager do so to differentiate themselves with the intonation soaps are not something we should enjoy.
Many others have said similar things over the years and yes, there is a level of snobbery banded around by people looking down towards those that do. This is I suspect rooted within societal and sexual bias from yester year all be it highly prevalent in society today.
It’s of course quite wrong. Look at any soap and you’ll see complicated characters and storylines designed not just to entertain but to educate and advise. Soaps are superb in their mass appeal to offer viewpoints and guidences on many issues included but not limited to race, acceptance, mental health, domestic and other sorts of violence and of course more. Such snobbery does the genre and the talented actors writers and those behind the camera a grave diss service.
Mutazione is not, well it’s not the sort of game to get acquainted with on the shop floor of a games convention.
One other thing, Mutazione is not, well it’s not the sort of game to get acquainted with on the shop floor of a games convention. That’s where I played it first back at Gamescom a month or so ago. It’s just too subtle an experience to be had amongst the noise and bustle of such conventions and I can appreciate why it wasn’t displayed on the main show floor. It burns like a fine slow candle and the usual convention 5 to 10 min demo just wouldn’t do it justice.
In the game you play as Kai, an fierce and independent mid teen age student called Kai where you begin this adventure with your mother down at the docks before boarding a ferry destined for the island of Mutazione where you’re taking the trip to see what’s said to be your dying grandfather
Mutazione is a smallish community where prior events many decades ago saw the island struck by a meteor. While countless died in the blast and subsequent fall out, those who lived and stayed on the island were transformed over time into animal humanoid mutations. There’s very little of what could be considered sinister with the islanders and their mutations. Like any other small island community and having lived in one for the best part of half of two decades, I empathise with their very human stories as they go about making the best of their situation in spite, and because of their limited connections with the wider World.
Mutazione is viewed on the mainland in terms of by way of suspicion as an outcast bell around the neck type of society. Since the meteor strike and subsequent mutations very few incomers have made it to and stayed on the island. Your grandfather how ever is one of them. A scientist that landed and never left a man grew old amongst the people he found there and is now outwardly close to death.
While linear, the overall story with you and your grandfather and the lives of the others on the island is delicately written.
Having initially helped to nurse him back from the brink, you begin to learn more about your grandfather, the other folks on the island and their individual and collective stories. You also discover your grandfather is more than an age scientist, he’s also the islands healer or more accurately described in terms of being a Shamen looking to pass his skills onwards to you.
All in Mutazione should be considered a narrative adventure game that builds into a fully cohesive experience over the course of a little over an in game week. Naturally given the soap opera connotations, the days are episodic and connect one day to the next with the continuation of the story.
In a utterly magnificent design pacing mechanic, your guided by way of your personal journal, a place where Kai makes notes of the events and comings and goings of here time on the island. This acts a task manager of sorts with you are able to follow where and what you need to do to drive the story forwards. While linear, the overall story with you and your grandfather and the lives of the others on the island is delicately written.
Kai as our lead shines with her personality and advanced emotional maturity. She’s highly articulate and yet vulnerable enough at times to fall back towards more guarded and standoffish defences.
It really does feel you are tapping into a small town community where people have lived together almost exclusively for decades. It puts me in mind of people I know from Guernsey, friends of my parents who have known each other for 60 or so years. I see this here and it comes across in the nature of the dialogue, the banter and little annoyances between characters that bubble to the surface.
Kai as our lead shines with her personality and advanced emotional maturity. She’s highly articulate and yet vulnerable enough at times to fall back towards more guarded and standoffish defences. On a few other characters you’ll meet, well I really enjoyed my time with Jell – A a type of sentient spore and Spike the owner of the village bar with a liking of morning swims and belly flops. Then we have the sausages with their part Del Boy and Gordon Gecko business plans with being so at odds with nearly everyone else on the island.
This all could have been really mishandled although Hannah Nicklin with her writing and narrative design has created something that feels close to the bone authentic while maintaining a subtle charm throughout.
It’s everywhere you might care to look. It’s in how the island and its map sections are layered from the lighthouse at the tip of the island, to the harbour docks to the main square in land and then further out into the country side and barren wilderness beyond. The music and other effects are also exquisitely done and to be honest, much of how fond I’ve become of Mutazione is in how the music shifts and shapes in accordance to the on screen action. It seems to almost perfectly mirror the events as the story unfolds with variations on a theme although I cant recall thinking I’d heard certain loops and musical phrases before.
To delve too deeply into Kai and her relationship with her grandfather and other islanders would be too open for spoilers so other than mentioning we have aspects as promised in the titles tag line of the otherworldly and supernatural, this is all once more deftly handled with poise and grace.
One of if not the defining story lines here is centred on the overall process and associated steps we take during grief and loss which to labour the point is handled with more nuance, subtly and subject mastery than I can ever recall seeing outside of an academic environment. This became abundantly clear in the section of this storyline where you use your skills to regrow the character’s long abandoned garden to help her find solace and to an extent and element of closure.
You grow a number of these gardens during your time on the island. Each come with and project their certain emotion with you playing the growing plants and trees different songs you learn from the islanders to help them grow. The planting aspects are in themselves a rewarding experience. The act of choosing which ones from the seeds you find or are given by others is down to you and while there are guidelines on which seeds work best in which soils.
Mutazione is special. The closest thing I’m able to compare it with is the recent Night in the Woods and yet it surpasses this tale at almost every opportunity.
You’re free to have a play to see what works and what doesn’t. The soundtrack of these sections and the overall sedate nature of these scenes is so very calming and peaceful. Once grown you can simply sit back and listen to the plants as they play their own tunes – its all perfectly mesmerising and again, so cleverly and deftly put together.
As could be expected, I have a few criticisms here and there. The loading screens between the inter connected sections of the map come the end felt a little to long and happen a touch too frequently. In one instance I couldn’t find a seed I needed to progress the story and while your journal has a seed section with beautifully detailed growing instructions and lore, I just couldn’t see what I was needing to find. In the end a chance encounter with one of the characters fishing by the harbour had him giving me what I needed from his personal stash.
This was a disjointed section of the overall experience although in truth, it might just have been my poor searching skills. The end game too is not without fault. Once you’ve completed the story for now at least you’re not able to go back and replay the days in any order other than going back to the very first scene. I’d liked to have been able to pick and choose which days to revisit to go over again key story developments and twists.
As for the soap opera story, there’s only one twist that had me pause for quick groan although once again, when it does happen it’s perfectly in keeping with the soap opera tradition at play and what can and does happen within small town and island communities.
So in closing. Mutazione is special. The closest thing I’m able to compare it with is the recent Night in the Woods and yet it surpasses this tale all the way through in it’s story, how it looks and sounds and also with the underlying narrative and characterisations. It’s the quintessential single player story driven adventure game that you can play today and it’s so very brilliant.
Mutazione was played here by way of the PS4 version. The copy was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Mutazione is out on home computers and playstation 4 on September 2019. For info on our review policy, please see here.