Mutants are often metaphors when it comes to stories. They’re ostracized by an uncaring society, say, because of differences that frequently translate into a secret kind of strength. They’re a means for stepping outside ourselves and looking back. That’s great and all, but in Mutazione, I’m delighted to report that the mutants are people more than they’re metaphors. They live their lives, they bicker and develop obsessions. And they have their own histories which they sometimes struggle to make sense of, like everyone else.
Years ago a meteor struck a small island and transformed its inhabitants. You play as Kai, an outsider who comes to the island one summer to visit a mutant relative who is dying. Maybe the whole island is dying – there is certainly something up with the biosphere. Anyway, because of the set-up I was prepared, in the first five minutes, for a melancholic affair concerned with the stately ending of things. I was ready to spend my days talking to that relative of mine as they drifted further away, and wandering about a landscape that was itself drying up and preparing to scatter. This is not the game at all.
Mutazione is more full of life than anything I can remember playing for quite a while. There’s something of Life is Strange to it at times, in its love of conversations, its love of downtime, and its assertion that absolutely everyone you meet is worth getting to know. But elsewhere it’s completely its own thing. It’s a talking game, as you prod through tentative conversations that bubble upward with the sprightly pop of WhatsApp chats. (The choices make you genuinely ponder them: Be kind or be funny? Be cruel or say nothing?) It’s an exploration game as you learn to find your way around an island where a now-distant catastrophe has given life to a new culture, where bars and archives and boat yards are pulled together out of leaning chimneys and stoved-in roofs, where weird nature is on the march again. And yes! It’s a gardening game – a gardening game! – as you plant seeds and learn how to grow different types of shrub and lichen and tree and grass, each one reaching up to form the kind of dreamily abstracted, almost childish shapes beloved of Clarice Cliff and her Bizarre Ware.