Morphopolis is an interesting beast. Brought to Steam last year by Hidden Gems Games, it won several awards and received praise from many in the gaming community. It appears innocent enough from first glance, and with its ridiculously low price it was worth checking out.
The gameplay is a point-and-click adventure of sorts on the quest to help an aphid grub reach its beautiful transformation, hence the title of the game. The game is based on Machinarium and The Tiny Bang story – an interesting source of inspiration in both cases. Machinarium featured a beautiful style in the way of an almost Steampunk atmosphere, and a point-and-click puzzle adventure featuring robots. The Tiny Bang Story was much in the same league, with beautiful art and focusing on simple mechanics. All three of these games are more of an artistic experience with emotional and interesting ideas. Even if the gameplay feels mundane or arduous in Morphopolis, the main star is clearly the artwork.
The art style is stunning. Each and every setting, backdrop and creature has been lovingly hand-painted to near Disney-like quality. The colors resonate as prismatic, showing the most beautiful that nature might have to offer while life carries on. Even the animations are hand-drawn, which adds to the overall style and feel of the game. The time and patience that feels like it went into this game perfectly matches the pace; the developers were creating a masterpiece more than anything.
Morphopolis feels like a story book: simple, beautiful, but without words. It elicits a child-like wonder in a serene, calm and gorgeous environment. Honestly, it is something that just must be seen to understand the amount of effort that went into the game, and while there are screenshots in this article, I still cannot recommend playing it for yourself highly enough.
The music design is so soothing that Morphopolis almost feels like going into a trance. Slower paced games are not for everyone, but this game feels more like a journey. Like The Deer God, it brings questions to mind, a very human response and curiosity while players traverse this journey with a simple insect. The game feels like a storybook one might lovingly pass down to their kids someday to show them the journey that awaits them as well. Morphopolis has brought out the sap in me, if you cannot tell.
If there is anything to nitpick, it is the gameplay itself. While Morphopolis makes no illusion about the simplicity of its design, the controls themselves can be a bit frustrating. Moving around your slow little bug friend can take some trial and error. If you make a mistake, the game will not allow you to simply restart the level or try again. The only way to try again is to actually close the game out and then try once more from the beginning of the level – which is, of course, maddening with a slower pace. Any progress can be halted by this mechanic and going back and slogging through it once more could put a lot of players off.
Again, this is a point-and-click adventure / puzzle game, and it is very clearly about the journey rather than the satisfaction of finding hidden things or progressing, though those are enjoyable as well. The only real thing holding back this game is the mechanics and extremely specific controls when it comes to the game detecting where the player is clicking or dragging. It shows you where to click, drag, etc as a tutorial and then you are left to your own devices. Though the no hand-holding policy is appreciated, the game expects you to do things exactly to its aim, and that can prove confusing.
Overall, Morphopolis is beautiful – another experience like Her Story or The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. It’s setup is simple, it’s presentation presents a calm, gorgeous world that lets the player thing and enjoy the ride, but it is held back by the lax gameplay.
If you are a fan of gorgeous art, level design and just a generally lovely interactive experience, give it a chance. It’s insanely low priced, well worth slowly crawling through simply to enjoy the ride. After all, it’s about the journey, not the destination, right?
Well worth your time
A storybook without words come to life.