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Mutazione - Is it my Genre? Trailer Analysis

A trailer breakdown of Mutazione is the best way I know how to start discussing genre in game marketing.

M. Joshua Cauller, Blogger

November 6, 2019

10 Min Read


Welcome to my trailer analysis video for Mutazione! Today we are going to ask, is it my genre? Before we get there I want to bring up a piece that was created by IGN: Video games have happily outgrown their genre labels. The author says:

The games we play these days are more nuanced and varied than they’ve ever been before.” 

I couldn’t agree more. Defining genre in these days is way beyond using simple terms like: it’s a platform, or it’s a shooter. Those terms don’t work and it’s hard enough to talk about genre because the word, the idea, all of it sounds — lets just simplify for a second and just say a genre is really about: 

“Is this my thing?”

Is it something that I am going to enjoy? We like to reduce games into this bite sized hand-overable thing where we say: I think you are gonna like it because it is like this…. And that’s very very hard. It’s part of the difficulty in communicating genre in general. More importantly it’s harder when you are talking about video games. That’s where I live. That’s where I spend all of my time. I make indie game trailers and I love talking about indie game trailers and that’s what we are going to do today. We are going to talk about the launch trailer for Mutazione. It’s kind of my favorite game of the year and before I get any deeper into any of that let’s just watch the launch trailer together.

I love this phone call. I love how the music kicks in with the voice, as a replacement for the character’s voice. This shot right here…. This mystery right here…. Just a little tease of something in the water back there. This is so key, everyone is super nice. I love this hug. This is a dark turn but it goes somewhere really important. That transition…. There’s so much more. It’s kind of hard to explain. This is where it brings it all around. You could stop there but there is a little bit more that they want to tease. This is going somewhere a little tense. I think that this trailer is pretty perfect except for the walking part at the end there. (That wasn’t necessary.)

There is something special about this trailer in the way that it captures so much about what makes the game special. One of the most unspoken quieter parts about this is that it’s a quieter trailer. It’s a quieter game. 

It’s longer than most trailers. 

Most trailers you want to keep at like a minute twenty-four seconds, approximately. This one let things breathe a little bit because that’s the spirit and tone of the game is that is breathes. I typically rush through games. I kind of do critical path, maybe the side quests. But in this one I wanted to stop and see how everyone was doing. I wanted to talk to everybody. That’s pretty special about this particular kind of genre. It’s about being chill and resting and recuperating a little bit. If you are going through a hard time this is a perfect game for you. That’s hard to put into a genre label. Yeah, so let’s get into rewatching some key bits from the trailer. 

Logos… I don’t really care about those. You can skip those. The part of the trailer that really kicks things off is when you see Kai at the lighthouse. The pelican flies by and you start to hear already. I believe the term for this is J-cut, where  you start hearing what’s happening in the next scene before you are actually seeing it. That’s the phone call starting to happen now. Phone dialing is so nostalgic, romantic in this. 

What’s happening here is actually framing the narrative of the game, which is framing the genre of the actual game, which is as a story adventure game… Narrative Adventure

The closest analog you might see in some of the opening shots here with especially the moments where you see the rolling boat flying by. That might compare a little bit to Oxenfree. There is a beginning and an end here and we are going to contextualize everything you are going to be seeing within the story. That’s the first point is that:

This is a narrative adventure game.

Hey just wanted to pop in from the future.  Ha ha ha. Part of the time powers thing. So there is one key part that in the present day I am about to forget and that’s that the text that you are seeing at the bottom of the screen is telegraphing that you are reading a lot in the game.

There is no voice-over.

That sort of thing and that is a key part to note in the genre, so lots of reading. That’s all. OK. Back to your present tense Bye bye.

The next thing that’s really important is this line here: 

“Everyone’s super nice.” 

It’s really critical to understand because that is very very important. You see Tung pick her up. You see everyone around a campfire. Mu, she is amazing. She is kind of my favorite character by far. Yogi is pretty amazing too. That hug… This “Everyone is super nice” line  is so critical to the precise and unique genre of Mutazione because it’s character rich. You are really going to feel for everyone. You might even remember everyone. As a deep like, you feel very bonded to them. I am probably never going to forget Mu. You might forget the name of the Shaman that you are hugging, the dot Shaman. Like I said I just really wanted to know what everyone was doing and make sure everyone was ok. I feel like that’s pretty key to what this game is.

I am going to keep going. This part here where you see that grandpa has been pretty ill. This is a critical part in trailers. 

You need a tonal shift.

From happy, everyone is really nice, to what’s the core tension here? This is part of framework narrative 101. When grandpa is really ill that shifts your emotional tone to both being sad, grieving, that sort of thing, but also where is this going? This destabilizes the viewer, makes you wonder, ok what’s going to happen? Where’s this going? You would never guess where that is going. 

This is going to lead into the gardening again, which is where it goes in the game. There is so much that I could say about gardening but the whole game you’re forging, you are collecting these swamp foxtail seeds. You are collecting all the beautiful objects that you are finding growing all over this mutated island, to get to this next scene here which is a garden. 

There is a lot that could be said about whether or not you want to use user interface within game trailers. Here I believe  it is critical. You want to see the full seed box. You want to see that she is planting a tea plant and what that is going to do as it pops up. Now that is not going to make sense but you need to understand that…

…There is a really robust, deep mechanic to gardening.

There is not really a category for this. This isn’t anything like Stardew Valley where there is also gardening or some of the many other kinds of gardening games. The gardening here is less about you sowing and reaping. It’s far more about restoring and giving back after maybe being kind of a consumer in your life. This is about going from being someone who takes to someone who gives. 

This is a really complicated, nuanced mechanic — a  complicated, nuanced narrative element — and emotionally it’s super super rich because  you are actually developing moods for each garden. In this one you are developing a euphoria garden, which is kinda hard to explain. 

That’s actually why it’s so important for the next line you see come up in the dialogue at the bottom of the screen. “There is so much more though.” This is the specific garden. “It’s kind of hard to explain.”  Exactly! 

So this part here, Kai is working on her drum and her grandpa is excited that something is happening between them. I promise I won’t cry in describing this game. There’s so much emotion and substance to every single scene here that like I… I did cry a lot throughout the game, sometimes really happy tears, sometimes there’s some real mourning that happens. 

This is the key.:

It’s hard to explain.

This isn’t something that I would recommend saying in most game trailers. You kind of would want to evoke more without saying that things are difficult. It helps you to understand what’s happening in this next kind of chaotic mania of weird things. 

Suddenly you are seeing an island floating in the sky. 

It comes back around to the conversation with Kai and her mom and that her mom loves her. The whole thing has been framed within a narrative. That’s the most important takeaway. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like gardening. Don’t worry about that. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know that the garden is musically oriented and that you are actively doing some kind of composition. We don’t need to explain that. We don’t even need to explain that this is kind of a grieving game. This is a game about processing your losses. We don’t need to say any of those things. We simply need to wrap it around in the story and bring you back to a point where you see that this is going somewhere. 

The story is going somewhere. 

There is a greater mystery here and that’s what happens with this next shot. The shot is teasing a very late point in the game where Kai goes and confronts the core tensions of the island. That’s what this next shot is about too. It’s confronting those… This is that moment at the end of the trailer where Kai is going through that tunnel. It’s extremely dramatically important. I don’t think that comes across in that trailer because… it’s part of the hard to explain part. It’s not as important on that. 

What’s more important is the end of the phone call which closes, brings closure to the trailer’s narrative framework of the beginning of the phone call and the end of the phone call. So that you understand that this is really about an unfolding story. There is of course a little flash here at the very-very end which is kind of just a tiny little additional tension point. I don’t know that we should even really discuss that because again that’s part of the discovery that you are going to be finding in the game.

So this is the key. When describing a game like Mutazione you want to make sure that the active tensions of the story come through beautifully with beautiful music and beautiful narrative framework so that the person who is playing the game or wants to play the games decides,  

“This is for me because I like games about stories.“

If you like games about stories Mutazione is probably your thing.  If you don’t like any games that have lots and lots of emotion and processing  low points and triumphant celebrations of friendship than it’s probably not for you. I might suggest that Mutazione is the first game that I would universally recommend to everyone this year. It’s kind of my favorite but I will stop gushing. I will stop gushing. 

This has been my first — I guess this will be my first video for “Is It My Genre?” I hope you’ve appreciated some of this trailer analysis and I hope that you tune in with me next time that we do a video like this where it’s about “ Is It My Genre?” Alright, thanks so much. Bye bye.

-M. Joshua (mjoshua.com)

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