Pitched somewhere between Elite Dangerous, Metroid and No Man’s Sky, and originally released for mobile devices, Morphite is an interesting and currently unique addition to the rapidly expanding array of indie games that grace Nintendo’s Switch console. Players tackle the role of Myrah Kale, a promising but still fairly green space adventurer who begins the game under the wing of her surrogate father, Mr Mason.
Armed with only a scanner and a pistol, players learn the ropes by traveling between a handful of relatively safe planets in search of plant and animal lifeforms to scan and sell, earning Myrah some credits and Mr Mason the valuable data that his research demands. As with all such humble openings, it isn’t long before Myrah begins to delve deeper into more dangerous regions, mostly in this game due to the titular Morphite, which is a much sought after and valuable substance.
Whilst Mr Mason and others will give Myrah missions that advance the central plot and any number of side quests (ranging from brief fetch quests to more involved treasure hunts spanning several locations) the player is free to wander between systems and planets as they choose. Navigating the ship is a bit fiddly at first, but there is no direct ship control in Morphite, it’s just a case of programming the navigation computer and then hitting go.
Every planet features a randomly generated landscape with a number of parameters that make each one fairly unique and in general, quite interesting. Various plants and creatures spawn ranging from small and harmless (frogs, fish and small mammals) to those that are larger, more exotic and often, more dangerous. Dinosaurs and large predatory cats are examples of those that can easily harm Myrah, but I was pleased to find that her access to better weapons (and upgrades for those she already has) generally scales well with reaching more dangerous locations.
A key gameplay mechanic in Morphite is that of scanning flora and fauna, then selling the scans for chunks, which are the primary currency in the game. Scanning plants and slow moving or static creatures is easy, especially when the creature in question is docile (or stuck on scenery.) I found it a bit more frustrating scanning aggressive or fast moving species, because all scans are taken manually by targeting the creature for a fixed amount of time. I can’t complain too much though, I mean I doubt Sabretooth Tigers are that keen on hanging around whilst a human stands next to them with a flashing handset so there is an element of realism here.
A mechanic I liked less was that of the random encounters that sometimes happen as Myrah travels between planets. These can be simple, unavoidable random events like asteroid strikes, but the more interesting ones include attacks on the ship by other ships. Unfortunately, these tend to be resolved as fairly boring text based decisions and outcomes that effectively allow dodging, fighting or submitting chunks. Myrah can upgrade her ship to increase the odds of success in such outcomes, but because there is no real involvement I didn’t feel much inclination to bother with any of them.
Now, I preferred playing Morphite on the Switch in handheld mode because the small, crisp screen seemed to suit the bold colourful visuals, but that’s not to say it doesn’t look great on the big screen as well. Morphite is a basic looking game, but it is also extremely striking and in particular because of some of the architecture that its procedural generation is capable of, quite impressive in its own way. The simplicity of the art style also means that there are very few visual issues with the game in either mode, which is great news.
The story of Myrah and Mr Mason starts fairly slowly, but it does develop into something much more interesting and the way in which Morphite caters for players that want to focus either on the story itself or the wider universe is great. I never felt restricted by the story, nor cut loose in a game with endless possibilities for getting lost and wandering aimlessly without a purpose. The side missions are a bit dull to be fair, but mostly I found myself simply ticking them off as I traveled to locations that I wanted, to see for my own reasons, so that was never a major issue. There’s rarely a sense of forced impetus to anything, including the core story itself.
In the end, I liked Morphite all the more for it being an acceptable title for playing on the move. I tend to find myself switched off by the simplicity (and the bloody cheek) of crap mobile games that make the port over to Nintendo’s exceptional new console, but Morphite is not among the ever growing list of conversions that I think you should avoid at all costs. Instead, I think at the very least, Morphite deserves to be awarded with a: