This is the story of a teen girl, Kai, making her way to the titular island enclave to meet her ailing grandfather for the first time. There’s mystery, confusion, even some obfuscation from the beginning, but this isn’t an exercise in melodrama or high fantasy. It’s simply a case of a girl who didn’t meet her granddad because her own mother fell out with him.
That’s the first time you encounter what ends up being Mutazione’s great strength: its grounded, realistic writing. Because you see, the place where the story occurs, as you may have guessed from its name and the screens on these pages, is one full of mutants.
It was once a resort town some 100 or so years ago before being struck by a wayward meteor. Few survived the devastation, and those who did suffered mutations – and not just the people. It’s your job to go in there and eliminate that threat using powerful guns and harsh langua… wait, no, not that.
No, it’s your job to go in there and nurse your ill grandparent while also getting to know him and the rest of the island’s few inhabitants.
There’s your grandpa, Nonno, and Graubert – or Graub – the ship’s captain who brings you to the island and is awaiting the birth of his first child with Ailin, his partner and operator of the local bath house. Tung is the doubt-riddled teen who has just about outgrown his tendency to Hulk-level tantrums (and has a fondness for Italian soap operas), while his grandma Mori is as keen to feed everyone in the village as she is to gorge on gossip.
There are, of course, more – and they’re all deep, fleshed-out characters with histories and stories and motivations and hopes and dreams and, often, a true, heartfelt sadness about them. Mutazione describes itself as a ‘mutant soap opera’; what could well be a daft tagline to draw some eyes towards it is actually the perfect descriptor. After playing it, there’s no other way I would want to describe it.
I haven’t mentioned much of what you actually do here, because really there isn’t much point. It’s running around the island, mainly in the village, chatting to people and seeing their interactions with each other.
At certain – key – points you do start to tend musical gardens, a wonderfully Zen experience that you can put a fair bit of time into if you want, but one that is largely just a tool to trundle the story along. Oh, as well as a key plot point, but I won’t ruin that with detail.
You’re thrown into this world with little clue as to what’s going on, but it’s that human element that quickly makes you comfortable. Tung’s dad left the family when he was a young boy, and this abandonment resonates through the massive teen to this day.
Miu is sometimes harsh towards her adoptive father, Spike, though you soon figure this might be because of something she’s keeping under the surface. Oh, she’s also a cat-like mutant, but that’s not particularly important.
The problems, the issues, the lives these people have might have been forged in intergalactic fire and take place in a part of the world almost alien to our own, but their experiences are the great leveller. What could have been a circus sideshow of ‘Hey, look at the freaks’ actually ends up being one of the warmest, purely human stories I’ve ever experienced in gaming.
Ripe with quality humour and genuine gut punches of sadness, Mutazione is just one of those things where you have to rely on some back-of-the-box descriptions of what it entails in a review like this.
To tell you more would be to ruin the fun of experiencing it all, and you definitely should be going out and picking this one up if you have space in your life for a genuinely touching tale of love, life, loss, and finding your place (in a mutant outpost set aside from the world of ‘regular’ humans).
I do so hope we see more of Kai and her friends, because I really do want to live in Mutazione.
The tippity-tap, clickety-clack, typety-type each of Mutazione’s characters vocalises their speech with is equal parts cute, brilliant, and oddly calming. Unique? Not in the slightest. Crafted with obvious care and attention? Why yes, just like everything else in the game. Utterly lovely.
Engaging, warm, funny, melancholy; Mutazione is an absolute treat.
Genre: Narrative adventure
Format: PS4 (tested) / PC / Apple Arcade
Developer: Die Gute Fabrik
Publisher: Akupara Games
Release: Out now