Developer: Die Gute Fabrik
I'm really enjoying staying more current by reviewing recent releases as best I can, but I definitely don't want to ignore my backlog either, so I look for little breaks in between them to catch up. I've had my eye on Mutazione ever since it came out, and it's been sitting in my Epic Games library for too long. Now that I've managed to get games from that library to run more easily on my Steam Deck, I'm reaching into a large part of my backlog I've ignored for a while. Mutazione is a mutant soap opera where you play as Kai, visitor to the mystical small town in hopes of helping her dying grandfather. Mutazione is a riveting drama that wins you over with its characters and their community, despite the simplicity and limits of the gameplay.
Kai is 15 years old, saying goodbye to her mom as she hops aboard a small boat on a journey to Mutazione. Despite wanting to spend her summer vacation elsewhere, Kai is going to this new mysterious place to meet and help her dying grandfather, Nonno. Mutazione is a former vacation resort that was struck by a meteor years ago, killing most of the population, with those surviving becoming mutants. When she finally arrives, the kind townspeople welcome her with open arms, but the situation with her Nonno's health looks bleak, at first. He slowly begins to recover and assigns her tasks without much direction or explanation - however, Kai agrees to help out however she can. She begins to grow gardens that seem magical in the way that they grow unnaturally fast with the right music, using Nonno's drum. In the meantime, Kai gets to know all of the villagers as well as their sometimes complicated relationships with one another. Gossip spreads quick on Mutazione, and Kai gets to hear to hear it all. Despite Nonno giving her little background, she starts to realize that this town has been through some very difficult times and many of the inhabitants are still healing from tragedies. As Kai grows more gardens, she is able to connect with the community members and help them heal.
I can describe the feeling that the art style of Mutazione gives as off as "alive". The environments are so busy, so full of animals, plants, and other details. Even after you've explored all parts of the town several times, you notice new details, things change a little bit from last time, or there's new little critters running around. I really enjoyed taking in the views and trying to craft beautiful gardens that felt like they belonged in these environments. The soundtrack really impressed me from the very beginning, with its opening song really setting up the feeling of the journey. Most of the time, it has a laid-back chill and acoustic feel to it. However, I think my favorite are the dream-like moments where the music has an eerie, supernatural vocal sound that makes you both anxious and excited. It reminds me of a cosmic horror film, and I really like the vibe.
Listen, it's probably fault for not reading the full description of the game back in 2019, but if someone had told me "this game is about a bunch of juicy small-town gossip", I would have played this game a long time ago. The way that time progresses in the game, you get to see what people are doing at every different point of the day. You may see them fighting with someone in the afternoon, then in the evening they're at home, wrestling with their emotions after the fact. It actually reminds me of the way that you can follow peoples' day and see their interactions with each other in Majora's Mask, except in this game there's no time constraint so long as you don't advance the story. I was motivated to always try to find every character at every interval of the day, otherwise I could miss interesting little tidbits about their daily life. This made me connect deeply with these characters, I felt I knew them personally and even understood how they related to one another. It's a little funny how characters will have deeply personal conversations even with Kai standing a few feet away from them, but hey, I'm glad they don't mind.
Nonno teaches you early on how to cultivate a garden and how specific "moods" of music will help certain plants grow. It's a creative process and you can somewhat choose what plants you want to grow and in what arrangement, but for the most part, the process is the same for every garden. By the time you're working on your third garden, it starts to feel a little repetitive and simplistic. There's no additional challenge in the new gardens, and finding seeds to plant in each garden is fairly straightforward as well. I wish there had been unique twists to different gardens, so that they didn't all just blend together, gameplay-wise. Mutazione has post-game content that allows you to continue working on gardens and even share seeds with friends, which I think is a really cute touch but personally doesn't do enough to motivate me to keep playing.
Mutazione is has an incredibly captivating story full of drama, tragedy, healing, and humor. Underneath it all, its a story about a community and their ability to take care of one another as well as the world around them. Supportive communities aren't perfect - the gossip and interference in each others' lives are part of what makes them feel like family. Kai is made to feel welcome, like a member of this family, and by extension it makes the player feel that too. Despite the lack of interesting gameplay, the characters and beautiful gardens make up for it. I recommend this game to anyone who likes novelas or soap operas, as there's not too much you need to do besides follow the stories.
Mutazione is available on PC, Apple Arcade, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, and Switch
Played on: PC (Steam Deck)
Playtime: 9 hrs