The platformer is probably the only genre in which the entire experience can change depending on what terrain the player character is walking on. Case in point: Metrico, a puzzle-platformer that purports to take place inside a series of graphs and charts. Originally released for the Vita, it caught the ire of reviewers for its insistent and unnecessary use of the handheld’s various input methods. Metrico+, now on Steam and PS4, swaps out those features, creating a more straightforward but still fairly original title. Unfortunately, it also reveals a secret that the discussion about its controls previously hid: Metrico’s core gameplay wasn’t great to begin with.
It’s an intriguing idea, at least. The player’s actions influence the world around them – literally. Some platforms move when you do, others grow whenever you fire a bullet…and it just gets insanely specific from there. Later puzzles require bouncing projectiles off walls, swapping positions with enemies, and resetting the player’s location to a number of checkpoints, and all of these things must be used with deliberate timing and sequence in order to manipulate the world into providing an exit for each area. It sounds more complex than it is, because each mechanic is introduced gradually, giving ample time to exhaust the possibilities of each individual feature before mixing it with those that came before. There are some exceedingly clever solutions on display here, although they’re tossed in with some that can be achieved largely through brute force as well.
The largest problem with the gameplay is that there’s no immediate way of determining which actions will do what. Each puzzle necessarily opens with a few minutes of trial and error, because every identical shape is governed by completely different rules: sometimes their position reverts when you jump, sometimes just looking in a specific direction changes them. Everything is on the table here, and none of it is communicated.
A unified colour scheme wouldn’t entirely solve this, but a unified colour scheme plus some identifying symbols probably would have. Even if it didn’t eliminate the trial and error component, some definitive segregation between colours denoting platforms and colours denoting background details would’ve been appreciated. This is to say nothing of the “puzzles” that merely consist of discovering which esoteric combination of actions will make the level essentially solve itself.
There are other, smaller issues as well. The jumping controls have a slight amateurish quality – the kind one would find in a Flash game from the 2000s, where standing next to a wall limits vertical movement, and gaps always require the maximum horizontal jump distance. The aiming controls are also strangely inconsistent, requiring a second for the protagonist to turn around before the trajectory indicator will even appear.
Aside from these quibbles, the controls are simple and agreeable, so those for whom the unorthodox input was the only issue with the original release may actually enjoy this version more than I did. Technical issues aside, the game’s soundtrack is also supremely annoying. It seems to be going for an “ambient sound by way of actual composition” vibe, but ambient sound works best when you can’t notice the repetition, and most songs in Metrico are just the same two measures repeated ad nauseam.
There’s also a significant thematic flaw in the game’s half-assed commitment to its own infographic aesthetic. Bar graphs and the occasional line graphs are the only metrics that actually inform the gameplay. Levels that don’t utilize these end up only as collections of mismatched blocks that could have come from any number of developers’ first stabs at a 2D platformer. I was curious whether the additional story elements added to the re-release would remedy this, but that’s not remotely the case. In lieu of the original game’s between-world puzzles and choice of solution (which would be compared to other players online), there seems to be a Shadow of the Colossus-style “maybe this isn’t such a good idea after all” plot going on. Of course, given that we have no initial context for the game’s events, the whole thing was destined to fall flat, but it really falls flat when it ends on a meaninglessly abstract note.
I have a theory that Metrico, and Metrico+ by extension, was designed to repurpose its developers’ perceived shortcomings as features. That the aesthetic is clearly intended to frame programmer art as anything other than programmer art is the most obvious hint, but this narrative is the simplest explanation I can find for why so much of the game is obfuscated, once by gimmicky controls and now by empty symbolism. I don’t want to complain about this – it’s actually an excellent design technique, so the fact Digital Dreams knew to use it at all probably indicates they didn’t need to use it so extensively. So what could have been a solid game of realistic ambition is instead so concerned with covering its weaknesses that it forgets to let its strengths shine through.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided with.
The kitchen sink approach to input is gone in Metrico+, but the clever premise is still undermined by a timid, half-hearted execution.