Morphopolis hands-on preview

Jose Cardoso August 22, 2013 - 11:00 am

Morphopolis is a vivid point-and-click adventure game starring a cast of bugs, caterpillars, grasshoppers and bumblebees. Jose Cardoso grabbed his mouse and headed straight to the bottom of the garden in hunt of hidden objects.

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The world of Morphopolis is an extremely decorative and vibrant explosion of colour, complete with detail-rich and illustrative scenes. The passage glows brightly, and while similar to Where’s Waldo books in its attempts to bombard the eye, it’s surprisingly free of congestion, which is a skill worth isolating on its own.

Morphopolis begins with the player taking control of small insects to explore a world filled with potential allies, unfriendly hazards, and fallen comrades not far from the family tree. The games’ interactions are similar to quests found in point-and-click adventures, where players are asked to fetch items and solve trivial problems to gain access to information or inaccessible areas.

Morphopolis’ methodology of doing so, however, is much quieter – silent might be the more appropriate word choice – and instinctive, while still mildly alerting in its presentation of what can be inspected.

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The PC build I played made use of a click-and-drag system for character movement, with special actions and temporary path markers activated by a single click. I must admit that when it came to forks and intersections, the behaviour of the system was rather clunky, so that’s something I hope gets ironed out in the future.

A snail’s pace

As the game is slower-paced, the critters you control (which, as far as this build was concerned, take the form of a bee, caterpillar, and a grasshopper) essentially operate with speed restrictions, crawling along paths and into spaces. But I think this is done, if not only for a sense of realism, to prevent players from tiring of the hidden object scenes as easily and to encourage ongoing awareness of surroundings.

For example, one stage has you taking note of large pea pods featuring coloured balls, and bulbs with petals that explode on contact to reveal retrievable seeds. The third stage demo ensures that you fix this process clear in mind by having this as your debut action, but in other cases, you’re not really aware of these elements in an immediate sense – that is, that they’re not simply environmental aesthetics but instead often house collectibles needed to progress. And herein lies a key takeaway in relation to the game’s puzzles: though it takes time for this to be realised, everything is interconnected and subtly systematic.

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Again with reference to the third demo, you’ll quickly find yourself face to face with a giant earwig, and in order for it to be bypassed, you’ll need to collect parts of an ant scattered across three screens to make a mock costume – a Trojan Horse, if you will. The thing is, you don’t realise that the most important part rests in an area you don’t have instant access to.

And so, I found myself scrambling for this remaining element, only to discover that a secondary puzzle needed to be active in order to complete the first.After interacting with a giant walking stick, you’re then asked to retrieve several sticks that blend in well with the environment. Once delivered, the walking stick will act as a bridge for you to access a new area and – aha! There be the last piece of the puzzle!

Morphopolis establishes in all three demos that a hidden object puzzle often needs to be completed in tandem with another in order to advance, and that relationship is one that I find intriguing – in part because it doesn’t reserve itself to a dedicated checklist of items, instead elevating exploration and gradual discovery.

Mini-games are also integrated into the experience, appearing when a full supply of retrieved items are then applied to the environment or given to another insect. One of the early ones was a simply memory puzzle, though it did throw me off at first to realise it wasn’t coloured bugs that were being paired, but rather the dots on them. In another, I had to work out how to re-arrange coloured pins in mismatched positions; the correct pattern was not given straightaway, but rather had to be discerned through clues.

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One mystery relating to Morphopolis’ progression is that two of the three demos ended with the controlled insect rummaging through a giant carcass. What am I not being told? Was their family ingested? A grander story is teased, but as for what that is, the demo doesn’t say. Also missing is the role of context-appropriate audio, which left me curious as to whether or not the game will forge a bond between it and the immersive atmosphere.

I get the feeling elements will continue to be well-hidden as the adventure continues, but it is clear to see that Morphopolis carries great potential in how it aspires to transform the genre with a subtle vitality.

Morphopolis, by Micro Macro Games, is due some stage in 2013, for PC, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS

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