When you think of rhythm games, you don’t usually think of RPGs. If you did, maybe the rhythm action genre would be in ruder health than it currently is. With The Metronomicon, L.A.-based indie studio Puuba is looking to try something new, bringing the fast action of the music experience together with the more careful and considered approach of an RPG.
The way the game is played is probably the best place to start when considering The Metronomicon, given that it’s a genuinely new concept. On the left of the screen, your four-character party stands below four individual music tracks. Arrows come down the tracks and in traditional rhythm game style, you need to press enough indicated inputs at the right time in order to trigger an attack. Once this is done, a cooldown period comes into play for that specific character so that you can’t just spam the same attack over and over. At this point, you can tap a button to switch to one of your other characters, picking up the beat and performing one of their actions in the same way.
Party members can each have up to three attacks or actions enabled, with secondary passive attacks also being on the cards. To trigger your second stage action, you perform all of the moves for your first stage attack but then carry on hitting the required notes until you’ve racked up enough to reach that second level, then carrying on to the third level if you wish. If you just want to hit that first attack though, you can just change character when you’ve got enough moves in the bank to have activated it.
It sounds complex, but it’s an ingenious system that’s really easy to get to grips with. This is a key point to The Metronomicon’s success, given that the RPG elements mean that there’s an awful lot more going on than you’d find in your standard rhythm game. Enemies are attacking and depleting your pooled HP total while buffs and debuffs are being applied at a rate of knots, so if you weren’t able to trigger your medic’s “Cure” ability reliably, the whole thing would fall apart. It’s to the developer’s credit that anyone will be able to pick this up and be up to speed with how things play out within just a couple of tracks.
As you would expect, you’re able to manage your party’s equipment loadout, change characters around and alter their attacks and abilities to your liking before each battle. Most players will be able to cruise through the campaign on the easiest setting without worrying about this too much, but even cranking things up one notch to “Medium” suddenly brings in new layers of gameplay. For success, you’ll need superhuman button-pressing skills as waves of new notes and patterns are added to the tracks, as well as some deft party management skills. With elemental forces on offer, having your water attacks lined up is going to be the difference between success and failure when battling a fire-based boss, for example.
If you do make it through the adventure – which sees you playing through multiple tracks before taking on a boss level to unlock the next area – there’s a fair amount of content to check out after the fact. Beating certain levels in the quest will unlock secondary challenges with differing requirements, so you might have to play the song again but defeat seven enemies before it finishes, or deal 3,500 HP worth of damage.
These can be taken on with your adventure party configured however you see fit, which is in contrast to the game’s excellent “Arena” mode. Here, you’re set a series of challenges with a pre-determined party line up. It might be that you have to survive a song without having a medic to hand, meaning that you have to employ other tactics (such as using stuns or protection spells) in order to prevent your team from being decimated. Players that get into the game will doubtless spend more time in the Arena challenges than they do in the campaign, simply due to the amount of levels on offer and the detailed tactical approaches that some of them require. There are also daily challenges to be had as well, which seem to be equally as taxing.
So, there’s plenty to be going on with and while there’s very little to actually complain about, there’s one place in which the game stumbles. Most rhythm players will know that it’s a cardinal sin to obscure the line which indicates the point at which you need to press the required input. Sadly, there are times when certain move animations cause this to happen later on. If this was because of an enemy attack it would be understandable, but as it stands, it sometimes feels as if you’re being punished for pulling off a move correctly. It’s certainly only a few attacks that have this effect, so if it’s causing you a problem you can always just switch that move out of your repertoire, but it’s something that scuffs the polish a little.
It has to be said that it’s only a little scuff, since the level of polish applied to The Metronomicon in general is stellar. There are some nice little touches in here that show the developer has really thought things through, such as being able to use a guitar controller and alter things so that fret colours are shown instead of arrows, or indicating and preventing the unintentional broadcast of tracks which will get you a copyright strike on YouTube if you’re streaming the game, by stopping those songs from auto-previewing in the menus.
Not only that, but the soundtrack (which comprises mostly of smaller artists, but does include bigger names such as Shiny Toy Guns and Jimmy Urine of Mindless Self Indulgence) is very cool throughout. Obviously, not every track will be for everybody, but there’s a really nice mix of tunes here and it shouldn’t be a surprise if you find some of them working their way into your non-gaming playlists.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided with.
The task of combining rhythm action and RPG gameplay styles is not one that many developers would have been able to pull off as well as Puuba have with The Metronomicon. As well as a stack of great jams and entertaining gameplay, there’s plenty of polish and enough depth here to keep you stepping back to the dance floor.