Preview: Morphopolis Hands-On

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Look on any casual gaming site and you will find dozens if not hundreds of hidden object adventures to choose from. Hidden object games are fun, but there typically isn’t very much that distinguishes one from another. For the most part they are a bit generic and all sort of blur together with repeating themes and puzzle types. Well forget those hidden object games. Morphopolis is something different. Something special.

OK, so the whole objective in Morphopolis — as it is in any hidden object game — is to examine scenes with a keen eye and spot and click specific items to complete puzzles and progress the adventure. What sets this game apart is its artistic excellence and finessed design.

Morphopolis weaves a purely visual tale about a bug’s transformative, evolutionary journey through life in the insect world. In the early alpha build developer Micro Macro Games hooked me up with, I was able to play through three chapters (1, 3, and 4). In the opening chapter the insectoid protagonist began its journey as what to me looked like a caterpillar which at the end of the level lowered itself by a thread and snuggled up inside a cocoon. In subsequent chapters the bug matured into a cricket/grasshopper and then some weird sort of grubby ant creature with wings.

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Movement throughout each environment is accomplished by using a simple click and drag method of mouse control. You click the left mouse button over the bug and then drag in the direction you want it to go. The bug can only follow predetermined paths set by the developer, but as the environments grow in size the path does branch off in different directions and the scenes scale beyond a single screen to multiple scenes which stretch from the earth’s floor to below ground to higher up in the limbs and leaves of the plant kingdom. Getting the bug to take different forks in the road can be a bit tricky until you become comfortable with the controls; however the developer has added a helpful guide feature which allows you to click on the bug to send out a green, sparkling trail showing currently available paths.

Something else I would like to see added as the game progresses in development is some form of quick travel. The bug inches along quite slowly, and when navigating back and forth across the larger environments the pace can drag a little bit. I think it might be helpful if you could maybe double click on the edge of the screen to instantly jump to the next scene, but only after you have first accessed that portion of the stage on your own. I’m not sure if something like that is feasible considering all of the scene transitions are completely seamless, but it’s an idea.

But wait, this is a hidden object game, right? So where’s all the hidden object stuff? That’s the beauty of Morphopolis. It is a hidden object adventure, but there is a little more to it than just looking at a picture and finding random items given to you in a list. As you move the bug through a scene and encounter obstacles, events will happen organically and you will need to click on plants and bugs that stick out in the environment in order to activate a scavenger hunt.

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For example, when the bug is in its caterpillar form preparing to enter cocoon, an insect of what I assume is a member of the bee family will fly in and begin pollinating plants. The objective then suddenly becomes to find and collect all of the plant growths that appear to give the bug the resources it needs to create its thread. In the middle of this process, the bee creature will run out of pollination power, at which point you will need to search for a certain number of these green and yellow plant bud-looking things. Once all have been found, a puzzle mini-game will begin which involves reorganizing the stamen within a flower bud by matching their color to the appropriate sprout orifice. Only after this has been accomplished will the bee continue spreading its pollen so you can find the remaining particles for the caterpillar to make its string.

This naturally flowing form of hidden object design is beautifully complemented by the use of fine art techniques to create imagery of immaculate detail. Every scene looks more like a painting that should be bound in a fancy coffee table art book or framed and hanging in an art gallery to be sold for hundreds or thousands of dollars. The vivid colors and unique artistic identity transport you to what feels like some strange alien planet ruled by plants and bugs. Environments are largely static, but subtle lighting and particle effects along with triggered events provide enough visual movement to bring life to the world. Blurred, out of focus plants and branches layered within the foreground and background also impart an incredible sense of depth and place that makes you feel like a tiny bug exploring only a small part of a huge world.

The only major design component currently missing is audio. Yep, right now the game is completely mute. The visual design is nothing short of spectacular, but it’s hard to become fully immersed in the Morphopolis world without any music or sound effects. An understated, nuanced score and quiet insect chirps and buzzes are just what this game needs to further build a sense of wonder and otherworldly exploration.

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In its current state, Morphopolis is missing a few key finishing touches but is already showing a level of sophistication and originality far beyond other hidden object adventures. It’s still within the realm of casual play, only at a much more elevated level that just might attract gamers who otherwise might not ever play this style of game. With the final polish that comes from a full production cycle, Morphopolis could very well be an indie game masterpiece when all’s said and done.

Morphopolis is scheduled to release later this year on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Windows Phone 8, Blackberry and Kindle Fire. (I’d like to throw in a wishful plea for a touchscreen Vita version!) If you would like to play the game in its early state while simultaneously supporting the developer and potentially influencing the game’s design, a payment of $19.99 provides access to the same alpha build I played for this preview. If you would rather pay ahead of time but wait for the full game before playing, pre-orders are available for $9.99 (including a Steam key if the game is approved on Greenlight, so go vote).

More information is available at mcro.org/morphopolis.

About the Author

Matt Litten is a 28 year old from-the-womb gamer turned video game reviewer/blogger and current editor/owner/operator of VGBlogger.com. Matt got his first taste of gaming as a youngster on the NES and Atari, and the rest is history from there. In 2004, three years removed from high school and still looking for a career direction in life, Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com, and after a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez Matt turned his attention to VGBlogger, and to this day is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary.