Play as Kai,
an awkward teen with a talent for gardening as she explores a mysterious island filled with exciting flora and family drama. But there’s a catch to this strange place: most of the residents are mutants.
Mutazione is a game available on Apple Arcade, PSN, Steam, Itch.io, Game Jolt, and GOG. Developed by Die Gute Fabrik, it was quietly released September 19th 2019. Digital only, it is available for $20. Our copy was from steam and was played on PC.
Preferably, Mutazione is a game you need to walk into as blind as you can. Its story really stuck with me and surprised me in several ways. The game hooks you with its twist and turns, but it also kept me enraptured in its personal and juicy drama. The game puts you in the shoes of a girl in a completely different environment, who doesn’t know much more than you. You control Kai, a sometimes awkward but still-loveable athletic 15-year old whose shoes are amazing and whose quietness among family gatherings is awfully relatable, on a journey to a mysterious island to meet your grandfather, the setting is incredibly strange and supernatural — at first. As you familiarize yourself with the island and its inhabitants, they begin to feel more ‘human’ than characters in a soap opera.
The developers themselves compare the game to a soap opera, but honestly, I struggle to want to call it that. To me, soap operas are these melodramatic and overdone domestic dramas that struggle to feel like they could ever take place in reality. Mutazione offers a far more realistic sense of character and scene, illustrated through its slower pace and less over-blown plot points.
One of its greatest strengths is how eerily similar it feels to be in the shoes of Kai compared to family reunions I’d often go to. You sit there quietly, listening to these adults tell stories from their interconnected and vibrant worlds of family drama that you have yet to understand, although you crave to. Mutazione could accurately be described as a coming-of-age story as Kai grapples with the family issues of her life. Kai holds a complicated relationship with her mother and often found herself in a parental role with her baby brother, which sticks with her as he travels to the island of Mutazione. Meanwhile, the stage is set to a supernatural land with its own dark mysteries.
While the story is good on its own, the real pillar of the game is the hand-drawn art direction and, most importantly, the fantastic music. Visually, the game is remarkable and fits snuggly within the music and story’s themes. But strikingly, the music puts Mutazione above most other story-driven indie games. To show you the best music in the game would be like spoiling its narrative. It’s indescribable, and best experienced within the game itself. Mutazione’s music is intertwined with the world and is affected by the places you visit and the flora you plant in your garden.
The gardening relies heavily on music and sound as you plant, letting you know when you’re going in the right direction or not. Plants in the garden will create different types of music as you listen in.
The garden is one of its main pillars of gameplay and is really the only meat of the game. While it is a fun and cute aspect of the game that I enjoyed, the single other “game” bits of Mutazione are you exploring the island and talking to your neighbors. For some players, the lack of excitement throughout the game may simply put it in the no pile. For others much like myself, the laser focus on a good story, beautiful environment, and creatively musical gardening system is enough to draw them in.
While “explore the island” might seem dull to some, Mutazione‘s lack of handholding makes it quite interesting. It gives you a map but doesn’t show you your location, and the game expects you to find your way around and get lost doing it. There’s no quest system or waypoints. Instead, you have journal entries that let you know the main points of what to do but ignores any side places you may want to visit. The sense of exploration feels excellent within the game, and alongside the beautiful gardening, it feels genuine.
The only thing that takes away from those genuine feelings is the occasional lack of choice in dialogue or the sometimes clunky movement scheme. For example, Night in the Woods was another solid and story-driven game with fluid movement controls that worked expertly well. Although completable in about 5 to 6 hours by some players accounts, I’ve spent about 8 hours exploring Mutazione. The replayability of the game, while not as strong as other story-driven ones, is definitely present due to the gardening system and all the plants to collect.
Overall, Mutazione is a relaxing and emotional game set on a strange island filled with plenty of mutant-folk to talk to. However, the lack of too many meaningful dialogue choices and the occasionally clunky control scheme holds back the game just a bit. The issues pale in comparison to how amazingly designed the music and score is.
The mysteries of the island and the darkness at its heart will hook you in. The game holds an incredible story. However, the real core of Mutazione is how seamless it interconnects music, the world, and its characters into a solid indie title.
Notes about our ranking system: We want the primary focus to be on the “Recommended” rating, as an arbitrary number on a game does not fit for every type of player. If we say a game is recommended for that element, lovers of that game type are more likely to enjoy the game.
Where’s the design rating come from? We look at the overall price of the game and then ask ourselves a bunch of questions: How well does the game run? How do the gameplay mechanics feel? Does this game do well for its genre? Does the art-style fit the overall themes? How is the music and sound design. If there is a story, how well is it written and acted? What is the replayability of the game? Overall, we want to answer that if this game is recommended for you, if its worth your dollar.
Sooner Esports received a press copy of the game for free, but were not compensated for the review.
EDIT 10/3: Clarified that PC was the platform the reviewer primarily used.