In the period leading up to Morphite’s release, I read several articles likening it to Hello Games’ spacefaring survival crafting game No Man’s Sky; and on a surface level, those comparison seem apt. Both are games feature a neat visual aesthetic, trippy music, space dinosaurs, planetary exploration, some element of mystery, and lots and lots of scanning. But a few hours into Morphite I soon realised that the game has much less in common with No Man’s Sky than it does with Metroid Prime. There’s a fair amount of platforming and puzzles as well as a lot of combat and some boss fights that play out using a lock on mechanic that may as well be lifted straight out of Metroid Prime.
What sets Morphite apart from its inspirations, however, is its story.
The game follows Myrah, an orphaned teenager and her robot feline sidekick Kitcat on the search for the eponymous Morphite, a rare element that has a something or the other to do with life in the universe and also the mysterious disappearance of Myrah’s parents. If it sounds like a vague, directionless story it’s because I’m trying to be as vague as possible. It’s a really good tale and your primary reason for playing this game. You really shouldn’t have it spoiled for you.
The problems arise, however, in the manner in which you uncover that tale. The core gameplay loop of Morphite is kind of dull. Much like No Man’s Sky, you pick which planet to explore and then go explore it. Except instead of massive planet-sized planets you get small, hand-crafted levels with maze-like caves, some puzzles and treasures, and maybe a miniboss or two. It’s pretty good and the core exploration and combat really does take one back to the old Metroid Prime days. You explore the planets in first person, engage in platforming sections an some puzzles that can be anywhere from basic block sliding to absolutely mind-boggling. You also meet the occasional NPC who gives you a side-quest; and since you only have a handful of planets and NPCs in the game, they’re pretty easy to keep track of throughout your time with Morphite.
Combat is fairly basic, you lock onto your enemies and you shoot at them. You start off with a puny pistol that keeps going pew pew but soon end up with some weapons that actually pack a punch, including plasma grenades that can blow up certain walls to reveal even more secrets. In addition to that, the most ubiquitous activity in Morphite is scanning. You scan plants and animals on every planet you visit, selling them to vendors at space station for more money.
The other reason the scanning mechanic exists here seems to be the trophies, if you’re into that sort of thing.
Killing bosses and mining minerals is essential to succeeding in Morphite as it goes into upgrading your suit and your ship. Upgrading your suit is important as you absolutely need some upgrades to be able to explore plants that have extreme heat or cold. Upgrading your ship just takes the form of improving the hull, weapons, or fuel capacity that lets you warp to farther reaches of space. The primary currency of the game is Chunks, which you need to buy fuel, repair ships, and trade with the random merchant that you sometimes meet on your travels. While you travel to planets automatically, you’re sometimes interrupted by bandit ships where you get the option to negotiate, flee, or fight. Should you fail at the first two, space combat takes the form of an on-rails shooting segment where your only options are to dodge and fire.
It’s very basic, not particularly difficult, and only there to sell the fantasy of this spacefaring adventure.
Visually, Morphite holds up quite well. Given that this is a port of a mobile game, it isn’t really a graphical powerhouse, but the low-poly art style and pastel colour palette create a unique look that you can’t mistake for anything else. Planets look sufficiently mysterious and alien, if a bit barren, and the creatures and bosses you encounter all look excellent. The game also has some really good music which, while not particularly memorable, is super catchy and always suits the mood. Much like the entirety of Morphite, the audiovisual presentation is only there to sell the mood of the story.
The main question I’ve been asking myself while trying to decide whether or not I should recommend Morphite is who this game is really for. It’s certainly not for No Man’s Sky fans because they already have that game. Maybe it’s for Metroid Prime fans because lord knows we’ve been hurting for another one of those and Metroid Prime 4 is still a long way out. At the end of the game Morphite is just an excellent, moody adventure game with a really good story. It won’t blow your mind but it’s definitely not a waste of time either. If that sounds like your jam, you should definitely check it out.[Update: The original review said there was no reason for the scanning mechanic to exist in Morphite. I learned later – a bit too late – that you have to manually sell your scans to vendors to get money from them. The review has been changed to reflect that]
Morphite was reviewed on PS4 using a code provided by Crescent Moon Games and is out now on PS4, Xbox One, PC, and iOS.