Metrico came as a complete surprise. This PS Vita exclusive popped up amid a stable of mobile apps, toys and games that were vying for the attentions of a panel of experts at an event hosted in a bar just a few blocks from the Los Angeles Convention Centre.
During our recent visit for E3, I’d been asked to help judge at Pocket Gamer’s Big Indie Pitch event over there. For those that don’t know, these are really fantastic gatherings they regularly host nearby to pretty much any event that’s going to have a lot of game developers at it. GDC gets one, Google IO has one and there are even Big Indie Pitches at mobile development conferences most of us console gamers have never heard of.
Basically, independent developers can come and quickly pitch their game (or in some cases just their idea) to a panel of judges who make notes and at the end decide what was the best pitch. The winner gets a load of free advertising on Pocket Gamer’s family of websites. It’s good for the winners, of course, but it’s also good for those who don’t win the advertising because they get lots of (hopefully) useful feedback and, perhaps, a little bit of extra exposure among people who will eventually be telling the world about their games. The judges benefit too, because we got to meet the people who make games – the next stars of our industry.
I was a little out of place, representing a console gaming audience among a panel of judges who were experts in mobile gaming. I was a little at odds with the – wholly legitimate – judging approach of how to monetise, how to market via the AppStore and how to maximise broad appeal. There were some fantastic mobile games on show, with really great hooks and really great features. Worthy winners and ideas that just needed a little more work to blossom.
I and one other judge, who also had a slightly broader remit, fought hard for this game but, ultimately, I think it was simply in the wrong company. It didn’t place among the top three. But it was the best game I saw that night, and one of the most interesting I saw during the whole week at E3. So what is it?
Metrico is a puzzle platform game that takes its aesthetic and systems from the world of infographics. What that means is a very strikingly delicate art style, geometric shapes and smooth animations. The player moves a little silhouetted character around the landscape and, at certain points, their movement has an effect on the environment. Columns will rise and fall based on your character’s jumping, platforms will reciprocate based on whether you’re running to the left or right on a certain spot. Each new area poses a new kind of puzzle based on these concepts.
It all sounds simple enough but the real intelligence of Metrico is in its unpredictability. The rules, while basically always working to the same set of ideas, often change slightly so that you might arrive at an area and instantly be sure of your approach, only to discover that you need to rethink how you’re going to make your way through an area within those general mechanical boundaries set by the game.
A column might rise as you run towards it but be too high to reach when you arrive, blocking your path. Running away might lower that column to a height where you could get on top but now you’re too far away to get atop it. Maybe the column doesn’t rise if you’re jumping so leaping towards it will leave it low enough to mount. The next puzzle might feature a column that only rises when you jump, and remains unresponsive to your lateral movement.
Extrapolated across a whole game, and linked together in many varied combinations, you can imagine that there’s plenty of scope for devilish puzzling here. The appearance of spiky, dangerous enemies which also have an effect on the dynamics of the environment based on how you approach them adds another layer of complexity to a game that appears so simple and yet regularly confounds as you search for a way to conquer its mind-bending movements. As with all great puzzle games, the hook is in that rush of adrenaline you get when you work out the trick to progressing. Every screen is a puzzle but every puzzle is an opportunity to feel like a genius in Metrico.
It’s developed by a three man team from the Netherlands called Digital Dreams. They share a building with Vlambeer (Luftrausers) and Ronimo (Awesomenauts) and its clearly a productive environment for imaginative, compelling game creation. Metrico is set to be released as a PlayStation Vita exclusive later this year and I can’t wait to get my hands on the full game. It might not have won at the Big Indie Pitch but it certainly won me over.