Metrico seems like a game that was made with me in mind. Its combination of side scrolling platform-leaping, brain-taxing puzzling and the minimalistic, stylish aesthetic all come together to make this infographic-inspired Vita exclusive as inviting as anything the platform has had to offer in recent months.
The developers, Digital Dreams, call the gameplay style “input morphing” which is really just a fancy term to describe the fact that your input – that which moves the character around the environment – changes the world you’re navigating. And the best thing about this system is that the rules change. That might seem like something which would frustrate and annoy you as you try to work out how to navigate the world but it’s not as drastic as it might sound.
The basic rules are always the same – your actions impact upon your environment. This might be simply moving left and right on the screen to raise or lower a platform. It might mean repeatedly jumping to lift a column into the air so you can reach another ledge. As the game evolves, it might mean firing projectiles to defeat deadly enemies in a certain sequence to get access to the next area. Further still into the game and the environment starts to react to the Vita’s tilt controls too, meaning that you’re often trying to jump to a platform while holding the device at an awkward angle that keeps the platform within jumping distance.
What changes, then, is the level design and the particular interactions needed to control the movable parts of those levels in the specific way that allows you to solve the puzzle. If a platform gets higher as you run to the right but falls if you jump then that platform will always react to that input. But the next puzzle might contain a platform that climbs as you jump and declines if you run to the right. So each puzzle is new and yet you already posses the skills to solve it – you just need to figure out what skills to use, and in which order. As the puzzles grow in complexity, they become more difficult but they generally require a kind of curious mix between mental and physical dexterity to solve.
Some of the tilting and twisting required by the sections with accelerometer controls made it uncomfortable to play, which is obviously the goal but only enjoyable within certain constraints. You probably won’t want to hold your Vita upside down over your head so you can still see the screen if you’re playing on a packed train, for example.
This is all complimented by an atmospheric, perhaps even esoteric, soundtrack that’s probably not something you’ll want to listen to on your iPod but it ebbs and flows along with the game in a way that’s involving and evolving along with the environment. It fits well and it competently reflects the minimalistic, growing and receding environments too.
Those environments are surprisingly varied, given that they all comply with the relatively flat, seemingly textureless aesthetic. The variance in colour and background dressing can make a huge difference to the general appearance of each set of levels and the smooth character animation – whether you select to play as a male or female character – is consistent throughout to give Metrico a unique character animation style that is vaguely reminiscent of one of my childhood favourites, the rotoscoped Flashback.
Unfortunately, that smoothness of movement isn’t universal. Metrico regularly suffers from some frame rate slow down as it loads in the next environment but this never appeared at a critical time, only ever as my character transitioned from the solution of one puzzle to the inception of another. That’s indicative of the complexity behind those visuals and the systems that are controlling the mechanics of each puzzle. Basically, it’s designed to appear simple but it’s not really simple – it’s just very well designed. I love that, even if it does mean a couple of seconds of frame-dropping now and then.
So Metrico is a clever, stylish game but one which is complex in its systems and difficult to adequately describe in words, or even demonstrate with video. It’s a very sensible choice to offer a demo on the store and probably even more so to enter into a deal with Sony that sees it appear as a free download to PlayStation Plus subscribers in August. I suspect that it will be a game which polarises opinions among Vita gamers but I loved almost every aspect of it and I’m very happy that the Vita remains such a strong platform for imaginative experiences like Metrico.