Mutazione Review – Life on a Mutant Island

    Title: Mutazione
    Developer: Die Gute Fabrik
    Release Date: September 19, 2019
    Reviewed On: PC
    Publisher: Akupara Games
    Genre: Adventure

When I was younger, I was invited to meet my father for the first time in my life. The experience had me interacting with a lot of people that remembered me fondly regardless of them feeling like strangers. I had to navigate between my misguided notions of social cues and my sense of belonging. Because of that, it was exciting to sense those same beats while playing the point and click adventure Mutazione. While my time in an unfamiliar place didn’t involve a meteor-struck island, singing gardens and friendly mutants, developer Die Gute Fabrik did a fantastic job invoking the feeling of being young and out of place. 

The story of Mutazione centers around a girl named Kia. She received a letter from a family friend that reveals her grandfather is ill and wanted to see her. The request brings her to Mutazione, an island that has become the home to a tightly knit community of mutants. There, Kia visits her ailing grandfather, Nonno. The grandfather teaches Kia about the island and his abilities to tend beautiful and magical gardens for various purposes. Along the way, Kia meets the residents of Mutazione and their walks of life.

While Kia ventures the entire setting of Mutazione, she has the opportunity to fulfill tasks and interact with the village folk as they go about their day. As each day is sectioned into chapters and chapters into the time of day, villagers move around the island and will always have something to say. Whether it is small talk or a favor, each character has their own quirks and dreams that they are happy to share. When drama strikes, though, that is when Kia can navigate between dialogue options and fellow villagers to truly reveal what each character is like deep down inside — on a more interpersonal level.

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A good example of these emotional dialogue options is when early in the game, I met a local worker from Mutazione named Tung. For one reason or another, we started off on the wrong foot, so I opted to offer him a clean slate and restart out friendship. After having a back and forth conversation about having a rough childhood, I won some good faith with Tung, and he opened up about his father. Throughout the rest of my playthrough, Tung and the other villagers familiar to his life story began to give me more context to how and why he was raised in Mutazione. Those contexts helped understanding Tung’s motivations for his aspirations in fixing his boat.

All these interactions take place during or around the “main objective” Kia has during the time of day. Completing these main objectives advances the day from say, midday to afternoon. Additionally, characters that have a request could mention that they want you to return later in the day or the following day, giving the player a reason to return to their favorite characters.

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I like the types of conversations that Kia, as the main character gets into with the other islanders. Much of the dialogue isn’t meant to be overwhelming or consequential. They are more in tune to what is heard in coming-of-age indie movies. As others express themselves in seemingly effortless ways, Kia sits back and approaches the words introspectively, carving through her timid demeanor with humor, inquisition or straight forward matter-of-fact. It puts a clear distinction between each character and the type of people they are. The dialogue options also give the feeling of taking a different approach to the conversation that the player is having with the islanders. This is different from the strong reactionary actions that are expected from other games like those from the Telltale or Dontnod, making this game purely about getting to know people.

Another way for Kia to get to know her growing family is the chance to heal the emotional wounds that may come up through her ability to grow gardens with special properties, thanks to her grandfather. When tending a garden, Kia can plant different seeds in their proper soils and biomes. Then when all the conditions are met, Kia can use her drum to play melodies that hasten the plant’s maturity and can be harvested for herbs, fruits, and flowers to help others in need.

While the garden starts off confusing in its execution and relevance to the gameplay, I ended up enjoying putting together a garden that would grow healthy and unusual plants. Early on, the plants didn’t serve an immediate point other than to learn the basics. After a while, certain chapters called for a specific plant or herb to help the other villagers, meaning that what I grew did not matter as long as I grew one particular item. It is not until later that the game asks the player for more diverse and challenging plants and herbs. Regardless, I was having more fun creating a garden within the structures of the soil each garden had — much like the fun players can have matching blocks to the same shaped holes.

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Speaking of building blocks, the visuals of Mutazione resembles that of construction paper cut into rudimentary shapes of rocks, trees, and buildings. Yet regardless of the textured solid colors, the island still has enough attention to detail to make out a living world. Background environments have animals, bugs, and foliage bouncing around as Kai walks past them. Coming across other villagers as they chat and walk around the island brings delight knowing that the town is alive with busy people. Even when you feel that the game makes you travel through the same areas over and over again, someone from the island asks you to travel through a new area, and Mutazione feels alive and abundant still. I didn’t even mind it when walking around in areas with no clear paths because walking back and forth at least looked pretty.

Still, I feel that Mutazione has an even bigger strength when it comes to its use of ambient sound. Opening scenes had the sounds of wind breeze and ocean waves crashing as the boat makes its way to the island. Upon moving through the village, there were bushes rustling, bugs chirping, tree branching snapping, and building squeaking. But even more impressive are the sounds not made by nature but in other settings. For instance, in the only bar on the island of Mutazione, a weekly town get together happened that had radiating chatter and music, which could be heard from a few scene transitions. These details are what made Mutazione one of those games best played with headphones.

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Any issues that Mutazione had can be overlooked when players enter past the title screen know that this game is mostly about getting to know other people. After that, no amount of unclear pathways or confusing gardening system can make players put the controller down. I feel that Die Gute Fabrik has really honed in on a point and click game that you can just relax with, and reflect on similar issues that any person could relate to. To sum it all up, Mutazione is a must-play for narrative-driven adventure fans.

Score:
8/10
A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Victor Aparicio

Senior Staff Writer - Has bought eight versions of Final Fantasy VII, chat with him on Twitter about how bad he is with money. Currently Playing: The Last of Us Part II, Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, and the original Final Fantasy VII.