Mutazione is All About Hot Goss and Chill Beats

When I first played Mutazione at PAX West earlier this year, I was struck by its unusual visual design. The game’s papercraft aesthetic, which also references Rotoscoped titles like Out of This World, immediately makes it stand out. And now that I’ve had some more time with it, I can say that the unique look isn’t just a new coat of paint on the narrative adventure genre — the textured world of Mutazione feels like more like a real place than many of the hyperrealistic settings of modern video games.

Island Time

Mutazione opens with a human named Kai heading to the titular island to visit her dying grandfather, whom she hasn’t seen in years. You play as Kai, though more in the sense of an actor playing a role than as a blank slate through which you experience the world. Actually, the entire game is set up as a kind of soap opera — interpersonal mysteries abound, including a “who’s the real father” plot line.

Most of the game is spent exploring the island at your own pace, advancing the in-game time by completing certain objectives in your journal. And Mutazione is worth exploring. Decades ago, the island was struck by a meteor, and as a result the flora and fauna of the island has mutated into strange new forms. You’ll meet a range of characters and encounter dozens of fictional plants you can look up in your encyclopedia.

These plants form the other main gameplay loop of Mutazione. You can collect seeds from wild flora to plant back in town, where they’ll grow into a kind of musical garden. Plants are tied to different instruments, themes, and keys, and you can combine them to create all kinds of music. It’s a neat layer of play atop the straightforward exploration and dialogue of the rest of the game.

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Sportsfriends and Lovers

Mutazione developed Die Gute Fabrik is probably best known for Johann Sebastian Joust, a minigame included in their 2014 Sportsfriends collection that in itself justified the existence of the Playstation Move controller. It was a kind of musical game of tag, which saw players trying to keep their own controllers upright while simultaneously trying to rattle others’. JS Joust was a darling of the festival circuit — enjoyable by non-gamers and admired by designers for its elegance and simplicity.

While a single-player narrative-focused game might seem to be the polar opposite of a multiplayer party experience, in many ways Mutazione is a continuation of the studio’s design philosophy. It’s an accessible distillation of the genre that also brings an interesting world and mechanics for experienced players to enjoy.

Most importantly for me, Mutazione feels alive in a way that few games do. It’s a vivid, breathing world achieved not through “immersion” in the usual sense of deep interaction and glossy visuals but through the creation of a unique setting populated by lovable characters. And as the end of year wave of action-heavy big releases crashes over us, it’s a world I bet I’ll find myself visiting again when I just want to hang out, grow some plants, and hear some hot island goss.