Vectorpark’s games have consistently been utterly beautiful and charming little toys, sumptuously animated and delightful to explore. Metamorphabet [official site] is yet another stunning success from the one-man team Patrick Smith, creating the most delightful alphabet-teaching game you could hope for. Here’s wot I think:
This is certainly the most focused project from Smith so far. Following on from the experimental strangeness of Feed The Head, to the madly wonderful Windosill, via the oddly compelling balancing weirdness of Levers, and the Amanita-like exploration in the gorgeous Park, Metamophabet is more immediately… understandable? I don’t know if that’s fair. Vectorpark games tend to be esoteric, experimental, while Metamorphabet is more clearly an educational toy designed to make learning letters a lot more fun. Yet keeping that wonderful strangeness.
Each letter appears in turn, letting you click on it, drag it, open sections, see it transform into other shapes, and with each transition show and speak a word that begins with that letter. Once you’ve exhausted a letter’s possibilities, the next becomes available.
First released on iOS, it certainly makes a lot more sense to be played on a touch screen. Not just because it’s a much more intimate and tactile experience to touch and interact with the letters directly with your finger, but also because using a mouse is far more complicated a task for a pre-schooler. Not impossible, obviously, but it will be a much more remote, less engaging process.
However, I remain delighted it’s out on PC. I’ve got a touchscreen laptop, and I cannot wait for my son to be old enough to meaningfully play with this. (Just now, at six months, he stares at my desktop screen in fixated delight at the pretty moving colours. It gets the Toby Rating of being “as stare-at-able as In The Night Garden”.) And, let’s not pretend otherwise, it means I get to sit here and play with the lovely toy.
And it is so lovely. A caterpillar driving a car is obviously brilliant in any context. Here you can pick the car up and bounce it around, hearing clunking machinery clattering about inside, while the caterpillar just looks damned cool with his head out the window, scarf fluttering in the breeze.
An F growing a foot, then feathers, then a fan, so it’s flying, with wiggly toes when you click on them, is bloody great by any measure. Lizards walking on a Moebius strip of logs is taking it to the next level.
It often steps from the gorgeous and fun up to the truly magical. O’s ostrich and orange interact in the most extraordinarily compelling way, the ostrich both interested in, and slightly afraid of, the orange. Its tentative animations are sublime, and making it swing its long neck around to follow the orange is hilarious. You can even have it try to balance the orange on the tip of its beak.
Then you’re on to P, and its physically realistic fluttering paper, transforming into a spinning pinwheel, before the stick of the pinwheel is transformed into a flagpole at a parade of Ps, each playing a different instrument. Click on each and their instrument will sound.
Each letter is sounded out, each new word clearly spoken, all with the careful precision of a Sesame Street sketch. And best of all, exactly how to interact with each letter is not overtly flagged. Nothing is tricky, of course, but it does require a minimal amount of experimentation, where to click, or what to move. In other words, it doesn’t patronise the 3 or 4 year olds it’s most clearly aimed at.
Plus there’s plenty of repetition before a change happens. It’s interesting to note how it feels to me that each interaction happens for just slightly too long, one or two more repeats than I’d think should be there. Because I’m 37, and not 3. It knows its audience.
I played the entire way through with a goofy smile on my face. And I have a depth of envy for anyone with a child the right age for this to be the utterly amazing teaching tool it so clearly is. I cannot wait to sit my boy in front of it, let him fall in love with the letters, and grow familiar with each set of tricks.
It seems reasonable that we should demand Vectorpark begin work on a number-based game, and then perhaps colours, spatial descriptions, and finally, grammar.
Metamorphabet is a thing of joy, on the surface simple, underneath a labour of love. And you’ll love it too.