Mutazione: Review (PC)
While I was at PAX West I had the chance to go hands-on with Mutazione and chat with co-owner of Die Gute Fabrik, Douglas Wilson. During our interview, Doug mentioned the basic idea behind the game is really to play through a “mutant soap opera.” After playing through the roughly eight hour story, I can safely classify this as one of the best soap operas I’ve ever experienced. With every task I completed and every conversation I had, it became obvious that Mutazione uses the vibrant cast of mutant characters as a vehicle to tell meaningful, relatable, and, most of all, human stories.
You are put in control of Kai who is on her way to the town of Mutazione as the game begins. Kai is reading a letter her mother, Gaia, had given her explaining why exactly she needs to go to the town that was once devastated by a meteor, which led to the mutant inhabitants we come to know. At first, Kai’s journey seems very surface level: she needs to reconnect with her ailing grandfather. However, with each passing day, as Kai completes more tasks for the town’s inhabitants and converses with each one on a daily basis, the true meaning of her visit reveals itself. At the heart of the story is a theme of connection. Every being, plant, and animal must work together to restore the beauty that Mutazione seems to have lost. Kai is the bridge that connects the frayed pieces back together, and, as the player, you feel every emotion Kai feels throughout her trying week.
Kai’s journey is dictated by the conversations she has with the wonderfully written cast. From the bartender, Spike, to the master chef Mori, and, of course, her grandfather Nonno, each member of the community beams with personality while also feeling grounded in reality. What’s so refreshing is that each character feels unique and free of the typical stereotypes we’ve come to expect in entertainment. The heart and soul of Mutazione is the connections formed through communicating with each and every member of the town. You’ll learn about their hopes, their fears, the mistakes they’ve made, and their triumphs, all while you assist them in any way you can. Hannah Nicklin and the rest of the narrative team deserve a ton of credit for the beautifully told story they’ve created.
Kai’s story is told over the course of eight in-game days. As each day starts, you will check her journal to see which tasks she needs to complete. These tasks appear after having conversations with the other characters and once each one is completed, Kai will write her thoughts on what she just did. After a long day, one of the best things you can do is take a look back at all the tasks you’ve completed to read how Kai reacted to each. It’s one of the ways we get to know Kai on a deeper level, leading to a strong connection with our protagonist.
Most of these tasks revolve around acquiring seeds, learning rhythmic songs based on certain moods, and planting gardens to restore Mutazione to the beautiful state it once was in. Each garden that you plant will have its own mood associated with it. Once Kai has planted the seeds, she’ll play the corresponding song which will grow the plants at a faster pace. Every plant has its own tune which will plays as they grow, leading to some serene moments. These gardens represent the theme of connection that is present from start to finish. With each new garden, the mood shifts and you learn more about the history of the town and its residents. As life is brought back to Mutazione, the town residents and Kai all experience growth as they confront the past and aim to move towards a brighter future.
The design of Mutazione from the colorful characters and scenery, to the absolutely incredible score, is top of the line. If you have the means, play this game entirely while wearing headphones. Since there is no spoken dialogue, the mood of the game is shown through the music. As I mentioned, each garden will have its own specific mood, but when you’re not planting seeds the music is still present. When you learn of someone’s relationship issues the tone is serious and somber, and when the whole town has reason to celebrate, you can feel that in the upbeat tunes. Getting lost in the music while you explore all the town has to offer is a cathartic experience that any fan of narrative-driven games should witness.
In terms of functionality, the player movement is fluid, and the side-scrolling style mixed with a bit of 3D for added depth gives you extra incentive to explore every inch. The story will take you to all parts of Mutazione, but in-between tasks it’s hard not to walk around and see who’s out and about to have a little chat. My one very minor gripe is that there are times when some characters are in a frantic state because of a situation they are in. When this happens, the text boxes move up the screen at a rapid pace to simulate their hurried speech. While I appreciate the attempt to convey their current mood, it made reading some of the comments difficult and there was no way to scroll up to read what I missed. This only happened a couple of times that I recall, so like I said, it’s a very minor complaint.
There are a handful of games that I can recall that made me feel a wide array of emotions. What Remains of Edith Finch and Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice are two off the top of my head. Mutazione has found its way to the top of that list. I wanted to learn all there was to know about Kai and every other character she came into contact with. Their stories spoke to me on a personal level because they all felt so human. The message of connection, especially in today’s climate, spoke volumes to how important simply talking to people can be.
Mutazione is out now on PC and PS4. If you are looking to kick back in your most comfortable chair, toss on some headphones, and experience a beautiful story about connection and growth, then Mutazione should be a must-play for you.