In Mutazione, you play as Kai, a 15-year-old girl who travels to the island of Mutazione in order to care for her ailing grandfather, Nonno. Along with helping nurse Nonno back to a semblance of health, Kai meets the other inhabitants of the island, makes friends, learns how to be one with the plants, and tries to uncover the dark secrets that lay at the heart of the island.
On the surface, Mutazione seems like a happy community. It consists of various mutant creatures, from literal dots to humanoids who may actually be mostly human, and everyone knows everyone. The community has suffered together, loved together, and lost together, and everyone agrees that Kai being around is the breath of fresh air they so sorely needed.
Kai, meanwhile, is given the task of looking after Nonno. Nonno is in poor health and tends to speak mostly in riddles, causing Kai to get frustrated more often than not. Kai is given the option to vent her frustrations to the inhabitants of Mutazione, but occasionally you’ll get the feeling that you should perhaps keep some things to yourself.
One of the best things about Kai is that she’s allowed to be a 15-year-old. Kai is allowed to be belligerent, to not understand, to explode with anger when she feels like adults are being condescending to her. She can crack back with jokes or extreme sarcasm, to inquire into sensitive situations without realising she may be offending, to be brusque and blunt. When burdened with woes that no 15-year-old should have to shoulder, she’s allowed to say that she doesn’t know what to say. It’s refreshing to see a protagonist allowed to be flawed or make mistakes.
Interestingly, unlike every other character in Mutazione, Kai lacks any visible facial expressions. While it can be assumed that she does have an actual face, the blank slate in its place makes it far easier to project your own feelings onto Kai. While she does have some groundwork laid for her personality in that she’s a teenager who enjoys swimming and hates when adults belittle her, it’s ultimately up to you to discover what kind of person she is. Do you push her to open up to people, spilling secrets that might be better left unsaid but meaning you get an insight into Kai’s life? Or do you keep her closed off and guarded, meaning that you might never get to put together Kai’s story for yourself?
A key feature of the game is Kai’s journal, which is used to keep track of what she’s meant to do next, which is especially handy if you forget where you’re at in the plot. Kai’s diary reads exactly like a 15-year-old diary’s would, and her response to events often involves things such as colloquialisms like “OMG!!!” and musings on how good two people would be together if they could work things out. Kai also sometimes fails to see the bigger picture, meaning you may have worked out a plot twist while Kai is still blind to what’s ahead.
Along with Kai’s journal, you also have access to an inventory system where you can store things you pick up along the way, a place to store plant seeds, an apparently unfinished encyclopedia of Mutazione’s plant life entrusted to you by Nonno and his friend Yoké, a map of the island, and the system settings. In the system settings, you can choose to play the game in a variety of languages, including British English, American English, French, Canadian French, Italian, German, Spanish, Dutch, Brazilian Portuguese, and Danish.
Mutazione describes itself as a “mutant soap opera”, which is partially true. There certainly are mutants, but the game doesn’t feel over the top or forced like soap operas do. I’ve always thought of soap operas as contrived; cramming trope after trope into the plot, creating artificial drama that would never happen if people acted like rational human beings, and forcing situations to play out almost as they never would in real life. Nobody is ever held accountable for their own actions.
However, in Mutazione, people are held accountable for their actions. While it’s undeniable that most characters have some sort of idealistic worldview and believe that everything will work out so long as they follow TV-and-movie logic but, when put in a situation that would play out perfectly in a movie, it almost always backfires on them. There are always consequences.
Ironically, it’s this sense of realism in Mutazione that makes the game feel more human than anything. Regardless of how hard you try, there will always be tension, strife, and sadness in the world, but there will also always be happiness, love, and joy. It’s just up to you to learn how to deal with these situations.
Along with being made to deal with the drama that comes with close-knit island populations where everyone has a secret, Kai can also do some things of her own. Nonno teaches her how to plant her gardens and create music that aids plant growth, leading to some interesting mini-games that revolve around harvesting seeds and cultivating beautiful gardens. It’s a peaceful and beautiful escape from the simmering tensions in the village and, as the game progresses, Kai learns even more melodies, allowing for more flowers to flourish.
Mutazione not only feels beautiful, but also looks beautiful. The game’s art appears similar to layered 2D paper craft, with a varied but natural colour palette. The in-game dialogue system is also extremely aesthetically pleasing, with each character having their own defined font colour and with each speech bubble hanging in the air like a text message conversation. The game’s soundtrack is also charming, perfectly complementing the mood of the game.
Overall, Mutazione manages to perfectly capture what it’s like to be human, despite not featuring many humans at all. The characters, regardless of how flawed they can be, are realistic and genuinely likeable, the story is intriguing and compelling, and the art and soundtrack are resplendent. I heartily recommend that you pick up Mutazione and throw yourself headfirst into a world of mutants, flowers, and every day drama.