Bumping into a heavily muscled and tattooed man asking whether you like ‘rhythm action’ is definitely up there with the strangest way to be asked to review again. Fortunately, that individual was Dom, Reviews Editor of this particular website, so no restraining order was required. The game in question, the somewhat ludicrously named The Metronomicon: Slay the Dance Floor, promises a unique combination of rhythm action and RPG, but does it have what it takes to out-dance the competition?
The first thing that strikes you about Metronomicon is its distinctive artstyle. The naive characters and lurid colour scheme certainly stand out, although they were not really to my taste. The monsters, however, are well designed and have a truly distinctive look. The general presentation is all a little too much like an amateur webcomic with functional writing and so-so voice acting, but I am more than willing to overlook these aesthetic misgivings if the core gameplay is up to scratch.
Metronomicon’s backstory, such as it is, concerns the recent graduates of a dance fighting school who must set out to battle hordes of monsters that are putting on destructive dance parties across the lands. While this initially reminded me a little too much of the early 1990’s Conservative government and it’s attack on rave culture, Metronomicon clearly casts you as the good guys in this battle. What follows is a loosely connected trek through five regions to find and eradicate the source of the evil power. This story is largely incidental, though it does help to provide some framework for the game’s progression. I would have preferred some closer links between the different areas and the tunes, maybe linking each to relevant genres, but can appreciate that mixing the musical styles up has its advantages too.
Rhythm action games tend to live or die by the quality and appropriateness of their soundtrack. In this case, Metronomicon does pretty well. The chosen songs may not be by well-known artists – MegaRan was the only one I was previously familiar with – but they are mostly enjoyable and certainly represent a wide range of styles. There are one or two tracks that brought unexpected difficulty spikes as they throw out either particularly fast or unusually paced sequences of notes, but these are fairly easily overcome once the song becomes more familiar. Having said that, I can’t see how the Hard setting is humanly possible for most of the tracks, although I am prepared to be proven wrong by some rhythm ninja in a Let’s Play video.
The gameplay will be recognisable to anyone who has played one of the main rhythm game franchises, but the twist comes from the well-realised marriage between the note tracks and a variation of JRPG turn-based battles. You control all four members of your party, switching between them at will and casting spells or attacking by successfully completing sequences of notes. Every character has three levels of ability with each requiring a longer stream of notes than the one preceding it. This mechanic allows for a degree of strategy as you must balance the strength of your attacks with the frequency. All abilities can be moved between the different levels as you wish, meaning that you can tailor your attacks to suit a particular level’s enemies and their weaknesses. As with JRPGs, certain combinations of spells and buffs prove particularly effective, and linking these together is the key to successfully negotiating the songs.
Success is defined at first through surviving the full song, with the added goals of unlocking stronger midbosses if you see off enough normal enemies. This nicely balances progression and challenge and should mean that you don’t end up stuck on one song for any length of time. Once you have beaten a few songs you’ll unlock the main boss for each stage. These boss fights feature longer songs and throw in more powerful attacks and debuffs to contend with. In this sense it all feels very much like a JRPG without the movement between battles.
This JRPG inspiration also brings with it an element of grinding in order to level your characters up. This is fine up to a point, but repeating the same songs can easily become annoying. The random loot drops add to this too, as you can never predict whether the items you gain will prove useful or not. I found the randomisation here to be particularly eccentric as later levels gave me rewards that were far less powerful than those awarded earlier on.
Sadly I wasn’t able to test the game using a guitar controller since it isn’t compatible with the new Guitar Hero Live guitar design, so was restricted to controller play. While this works well for the most part, I didn’t find the later combination notes very intuitive. Fortunately the tracks often allow you to switch to another lane and avoid them. This could of course be partly due to my aged hands lacking the dexterity of youth.
All in all, The Metronomicon successfully blends the mechanics of rhythm action games with the battle system of JRPGs. As such, it is well worth experiencing, although I am not sure how big a crossover market there is between those two genres. Unlike Persona 4 Dancing All Night, for example, the main element borrowed from RPGs is in the battling. If the concept intrigues you then there is much to enjoy, but only the most freakishly dextrous should try playing at the harder skill settings.
Version tested: PS4