A video game protagonist wakes up in an on-fire science lab with nothing but an AI and a high-tech gun to escape with. Tale as old as time. And with the unique spin on using enemies as puzzle implements, Transmogrify is a game with a central premise that holds a lot of promise to be something truly special. Sadly, the game does not live up to that potential.
Two hours in I was about ready to stop, and pressed on because that was barely the threshold for Steam refunds, but couldn’t bring myself to get beyond three hours. It’s truly unfortunate. If the game had been bad I wouldn’t be so annoyed by its shortcomings, but it has the audacity to be somewhat decent so the missed steps only disappoint me.
Puzzles and Pitfalls
Transmogrify has a central gimmick that isn’t quite unique in puzzle platformers but it’s definitely a spin on it that I’ve never seen before. Your primary means of interacting with the various enemies in the game is by committing alchemical crimes. Your gun transforms enemies you shoot into basic puzzle implements, like pushable boxes, spring, bombs, etc. I would call the title ‘on the nose’, but I blasted it with my gun and it no longer has a nose now that it’s a stepladder.
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for me to start noticing the cracks in the game’s design. The literal first thing I did when I booted up the game was adjust the resolution and make it fullscreen by going into the options meu, and unfortunately the menus are finnicky at the best of times. I would later discover the level select could be even worse somehow, seeing as I was locked into the current world and unable to replay previous levels.
But why would I want to replay previous levels? Because the game judges you. Did you get all the hidden collectibles? Did you do it fast enough? Did you only fire the gun the necessary number of times? I didn’t realize ammo for the gun with infinite ammo was in short supply but the game sure seems to get prickly about my aiming skills.
The reason this hit me as a concern is because as a puzzle game, taking the time to explore my options should be encouraged. This system incentivizes me to do it normally and then replay it like a speedrunner for no reason. It feels like I’m being mocked. It also seems highly unfair to judge me on time when I stop to listen to the game’s dialogue, and on shots fired when you have enemies in the game that dodge you, or sections where you need to hit a switch through a tight gap while in freefall. Look Transmogrify, if you’re going to make me do trick shots from a trampoline, you don’t get to be picky about how I get it done. Especially when your gun fires slow-moving projectiles.
Honestly the game that Transmogrify reminds me of most is Cursed Quest, another puzzle platformer that frequently forgets half of its own genre.
Both of them even have issues about throwing me into a combat arena for no reason. Yeah the thing I hated most about Portal was that Chell never pulled out a Glock and blasted the turrets apart. World 2 introduced enemies that took more than one shot to transform, presumably because one of the developers accidentally summoned a demon in the breakroom and it refused to leave until they created sufficient suffering in the world.
Speaking of suffering, this game is also a platformer, and sometimes instead of throwing combat at you it decides it wants to be Celeste. Transmogrify does not have the tight controls for a precision platformer.
Did I mention that literally everything kills you in one hit? Unless you have the temporary bonus health from a body armor pick-up, when the game remembers to give it to you. I’m bringing it up right now because of all the times I would fall into pits with it and be stuck there because they were designed with the instant death in mind so even with the bonus health and mercy invincibility, I had to sit there and die anyway.
I also don’t think the developers actually know how high the player can jump, because there are so many places where they randomly left instant death mushrooms on roofs so that when you try to do a jump you instead brush against them and instantly suffer from fatal mushroom allergy.
For reasons I will never truly understand they do this to the elevators with concerning frequency. Though that might not be fair. Approximately 50% of all surfaces are deadly to the touch for basically no reason, so maybe the elevators aren’t actually that disproportionate.
In summary, your movements are far too clunky for precision platforming or for combat, but the game has both, because that’s what games have in them, I guess. It’s a shame, too, because the puzzles are genuinely clever.
I wouldn’t mind the instant death or platforming so much if it was in service of the puzzles, which are all simple in execution while not necessarily being instantly obvious, making them satisfying to figure out. Unfortunately, I guess the game was nervous that puzzle fans would find the puzzles not puzzling enough and threw in frustrating jumping challenges in between shoving blocks onto switches.
I’d also be more generous if the checkpoint system was good, but alas, that is not the world in which we live. Instead we live in the world where there are sometimes one or more checkpoints in a level and if you touch one, it saves your progress at that exact moment. Once. So if you have to backtrack past a checkpoint and then die, you have to do the whole thing again anyway. Unless you touch another checkpoint first, in which case it becomes jealous and clingy and lets you save again. Once.
And that’s when they actually work. I once had a checkpoint undo my progress, including unlocking that specific room, trapping me inside forever. And by the way, the Restart option in the menu does not return you to the checkpoint, it restarts the entire level.
This was sadly not the only technical issue I encountered. Collisions were generally funky when it came to actually pushing those blocks whose sole purpose in life is to be pushed by me. Ungrateful squares. Especially on conveyor belts or elevators. I even once managed to push a block down a shaft and fell in after it and got stuck because the block got caught on the flat wall and I was pinched between it and the other wall. Level restart.
The physics in general could be inconsistent, which is exactly what you absolutely do not want in a puzzle game. Inconsistency is the worst thing a puzzle game could have, and not being able to figure out where something will fall in a game that frequently asks me to drop thing on other things is asking for me to drop the game.
The enemies in the game didn’t have much better luck. Special mention to the enemy that turns into springboards. It’s the first enemy in the game that is actually hostile to you—making it the one to set the precedent and therefore the worst. It jumps towards you to eat your face off and then pauses for a moment to get its bearings. But if jumped in the wrong spot, sometimes its AI will simply decide that moving is for chumps and never move again. This usually means that it landed on a hazard like radioactive waste that kills you instantly if you touch it, so you can’t bring the spring to where you need it. Throw yourself into the ooze and reset at the checkpoint.
In isolation, all of these things would be minor nitpicks and I would simply move on. But they aren’t in isolation. Like accidentally walking through a swarm of gnats, they never come alone and they get all over you.
As I mentioned, this game does have genuinely good puzzles that are fun and rewarding to solve. But not when I have to spent ten minutes dying and making my way to the same tight jump where I bump my head on spikes and die only to reach the other side and get instantly mauled to death.
Blinded Me With Science
One of the things that I most comment on when discussing the art of a game is clarity. How well I can determine what is and is not important at a glance. This is easily the single most important thing that any game’s art style can do and is a fundamental principle of game design. Somebody should tell that to Transmogrify.
There are so many set dressing props that are not at all interactive or obstacles, but are bright and highlighted like they’re meant to be on the same layer as the player, and just as many instances of obstacles and even platforms that are dark and fade into the background completely.
And when the obstacles aren’t faded into the background, they’re hidden behind something. Usually a railing. The number of times I have died because they put a railing over the top of something that can kill me and thus I failed to see it a is worryingly high number when it should be zero.
This means, objectively, that the art in this game is bad, which is a shame, because it’s good. Take a moment to process that if you need. It looks great, honestly. The cartoon visuals are stylized consistently and animated extremely well. And as infuriating as it is to die over and over in this game, the character ragdolling off into space at the slightest touch of something remotely harmful is amusing.
Though I am curious as to why he has a hazmat suit if it doesn’t actually stop the materials from being hazardous to him.
I also have to admit that I love the detail of the gun barrel collapsing in like a telescope if you shove it against a surface.
The sound effects and design is… fine. It’s not bad, but nothing to write home about. There isn’t any music, which isn’t inherently bad but it means I have very little to talk about. Well, there’s music in the menus and title screen, but it’s fairly generic sci-fi menu music.
The story is there. I don’t have much to say about it. Someone waking up in a mysterious science laboratory overrun with monsters and no means of communicating with the outside world and having to escape while probably figuring out what happened at said laboratory is approximately the second most common use of a laboratory in sci-fi as a setting, right behind a character undergoing experimentation at said laboratory, and potentially leading into the described scenario.
Honestly the fact that there aren’t any bodies is the most interesting part of the mystery, though I will freely admit that a specific driving question continues to be a good source of narrative tension no matter how many times that question has been asked. Tropes are Tropes for a reason.
Though even so, I’m not totally impressed by how it handles things. There has to be a better way to establish the protagonist’s name then by having the on-site AI reading aloud his social security number. Speaking of which, I don’t think said AI ever gave her own name. I only know it’s Grace because it was mentioned on the Steam Store Page, but it’s possible I wasn’t paying attention.
Like the rest of Transmogrify, it’s fine, but nothing more.
Transmogrify is a game with a strong central idea let down by a shoddy execution resulting in an experience that is aggressively mediocre. It insists on shoehorning too many ideas into molds that do not fit. If you like puzzles you’ll probably enjoy the ones in this game, but I can’t bring myself to recommend it without telling you that you will be bored and frustrated and annoyed.