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Research rover on a mission, December 25, 2022
You play as Rovie, a rover on a research vessel called the Curious Kitty. Daphne, the onboard AI, activates you to explain that the ship has crashed landed on the mission’s destination, planet Zephyria. Your task is to explore the landscape and gather research while Daphne repairs the ship.
Plasmorphosis allows the player to roam the planet freely like a parser game. It even maps the area with compass directions. This pairs well with the game’s theme of exploration. Between the Curious Kitty and the planet’s surface, there’s about a dozen rooms. Your goal: Study the planet.
You make progress by collecting research points with your scanner. The scanner can be used on lifeforms or alien objects/artifacts, such as carvings. To complete the game, you must accumulate at least 100 points. However, the planet does not have enough material to meet this quota. The player is required to get creative with the local ecosystem.
The planet is crawling with simple organisms called Zephyrian Protoplasm. Blobs… with shapeshifting properties. These critters transform when you touch them with different objects. For example, if you toss a (Spoiler - click to show) chunk of heat shielding at a Protoplasm, it turns into an *Oven-Safe Slime. Transformations come with unique properties that help you overcome obstacles. (Spoiler - click to show) The Oven-Safe Slime allows you to walk across the river of lava. Experimenting with different objects and properties is the main mechanic in Plasmorphosis. (*I kept expecting this to be Oven-Safe Slime™)
Gameplay relies on an inventory system. At the bottom of the screen is a drop-down (well, technically it is “drop-up”) menu of your inventory items. When an item is selected, it is applied to anything you examine. I wish the game would let you examine items in your inventory, but it’s not essential. There is also a database that keeps track of your research points and log entries for scanned items.
You can complete your mission and end the game after making 100 research points, but the game eagerly encourages you to continue investigating the planet for science. My final score was (Spoiler - click to show) 160/100 with 23 database entries. I believe that is the max. It was fun, finding ways to (Spoiler - click to show) enter inhospitable areas using random objects on Protoplasm.
Not all of it is seamless. There was a bug that kept me from starting over with reset progress even after I wiped my save files/autosave file. I had to do some backtracking to fully restart (author has now fixed this issue). Occasionally, character scenes were repeated. But nothing that really dulls the experience.
This is not a story intensive game. The only backstory is that the mission is backed by Star Research Co. There is a feeling of the Company breathing down your neck about meeting your research quotas. Either that or Daphne is being overly dramatic. It’s hard to tell. I suppose there are some undertones about resource exploitation. For each entry the database lists ways the subject can be used for industry, including pharmaceuticals, robotics, textiles- I’m reading too much into this.
The mission is also about understanding the sentient life that once lived on the planet: Zephyrians (not to be confused with Zephyrian Protoplasm). Zephyrians were (Spoiler - click to show) insectoid creatures that once inhabited the city ruins. They were skilled in the arts and sciences, and different parts of their history can be observed throughout the game. You can figure out what happened to them by checking it out. There is no major story or plot twist, but it is quite interesting.
This game really makes you feel like an anthropologist. Or is the proper word xenoanthropologist?
There are only two characters (unless you count the Protoplasm) in this game: Rovie (you) and Daphne. The character quirk of the protagonist is that they do not speak in English, leaving it up to Daphne to translate everything for the player. This led to some charming exchanges.
“Great, you found it!” cheers Daphne.
“Beep?” you ask suspiciously.
“Oh, I'm just accessing your optical sensors,” the AI explains gleefully.
Characters certainly have their own personalities. I thought it was (Spoiler - click to show) humorous how the game briefly tricks the player into thinking that Daphne left the planet without them returning to the ship. It was a nice diversion in the gameplay.
I would describe the visuals as a simple user-friendly design with a splash of colour. I especially liked the font and text colours for the title screen. Generally, the screen is black with white text. Room titles shown in orange. Links are conveniently colour-coded. Blue for exits, green for objects/scenery. Pop-up boxes are used to explain outcomes of an action, or dialog. Basic enough.
The author has made multiple high-quality Twine games, and Plasmorphosis is no exception. It’s fun and upbeat with well-implemented puzzles that provide a challenge. It kept me busy for at least an hour.
I would not consider this to be a “kid’s game,” but its lighthearted content (dinosaur gummies, friendly AI- well, anyone can love this) can appeal to younger audiences who are familiarized with more technical Twine puzzles. I mean, there’s a ship called the Curious Kitty. That can leave an impression about the target audience. So, sure. Call it a kid’s game if you want. But if you enjoy Twine science fiction, give it a try.