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Aug 05 2014

Review of Metrico

header2.5 Stars

Metrico is a game with a lot of very interesting ideas both in terms of gameplay and presentation and it blends those ideas together very well, but unfortunately it never really feels the need to fully explain any of those ideas to the player, often to the game’s own detriment. Based entirely around the unique structure and design of infographics, the game has you platforming across bar graphs and sliding on downtrends but with the interesting twist that your actions then alter the metrics that those platforming elements represent. To call this purely a platformer though would be disingenuous, it’s actually more of a puzzle game as you’ll spend most of your time trying to determine exactly what actions will affect any given metric. This is because the game-somewhat ironically considering its subject material-never really tells you anything. While at first that makes for some good logic based fun, it quickly becomes frustrating, especially when the VITA’s more exotic and painfully analog control methods come into play,

There isn’t really any story to speak of here, so let’s just jump right into the gameplay. As I said earlier, the game’s major conceit is that the level design is based around that of infographics and as such is full of graphs (of both the line and bar variety) as well as other statistical looking platforms for you to surmount. The position of each one of those platforms though is determined by your own actions; bars can rise or fall based on how many times you’ve jumped in that puzzle, how many shots you’ve fired, how many times you’ve died, or one of any other dozen different variables or variance within those variables. Nothing is labeled and there’s no real through line to determine what actions will affect certain platforms, so the challenge in each puzzle is determining what actions will affect the environment and figuring out the sequence you need to execute them in so you can make your way forward. It’s a very unique concept and I can’t think of any other game quite like it, Metrico tests your logic, your timing, and your observational skills as any little variance could be a solution. It’s a game that really rewards experimentation and when your hypotheses end up working out the feeling is incredibly satisfying, of course the opposite is also true and the game is full of incredibly frustrating moments.

Metrico's colour scheme changes radically from world to world though the infographic theme is constant.

Metrico’s colour scheme changes radically from world to world though the infographic theme is constant.

Sadly that frustration ends up becoming the defining feeling here for quite a few reasons. The controls are a big factor, they make an effort to use every part of the VITA buffalo and while it’s appreciated that I finally have a game that uses the VITA’s back camera, it doesn’t necessarily make for great gameplay. The VITA’s more exotic features such as its camera, motion controls, and back touch screen are less than precise and when combined with the game’s pronounced lack of explanation, things can get kind of annoying; they can also get kind of uncomfortable because the controls aren’t very well implemented. There’s a shooting mechanic in the game and while firing is controlled with the front touch pad (or more sanely with the shoulder buttons) aiming is controlled with a painful awkwardness by the rear touch pad while the right thumbstick sits lonely and unused. Similarly the VITA’s back camera is really shaky and terrible at properly recognizing colours, which is of course the exact thing it’s used for here, and naturally the puzzles it’s used in require greater levels of timing and precision than the camera can reliably provide.

Really that’s the ultimate fault of this game, being unable to tell whether it’s a deliberate action that’s making something happen or some errant twitch of your hand; in fact that’s essentially what made me finally give up on this game. At the end of every world there is a finishing puzzle with a glitchy aesthetic that asks you to set some doors in place and on the door challenge at the end of the sixth world, I simply couldn’t figure out to proceed any further. I tried everything I possibly could over the course of about two hours; I flung my vita around every which way short of throwing it at the wall, shot and jumped in every possible variance, and showed the VITA’s back camera all the colours I could think of. The only really clue in the room was a pie chart split into three exact coloured segments, which made me think I needed to show the VITA all three of the colours that the game recognized (red, green, and blue) at once and in perfect balance, so I whipped out the 1993 Karelian flag but still had no luck. At that point I honestly had no clue whether the camera was misreading things, whether I was totally wrong about the solution, or whether the glitchy look of the level was the game actually glitching out on me even though the same faux-glitching happened in the past few door challenge rooms. That’s not a pleasant way to cap off one’s experience with a game but that complete futile fumbling frustration sadly came to define the game for me.

It's a good thing the backgrounds are so pretty and zen because you're going to spend a lot of time looking at them as you flail angrily at the game's puzzles.

It’s a good thing the backgrounds are so pretty and zen because you’re going to spend a lot of time looking at them as you flail angrily at the game’s puzzles.

Moving onto the presentation, the visuals here are clearly the star of the show, featuring the stark contrast of infographics put against a sprawling prog-rock style background. As you traverse the highs and lows of the game’s modular graphs, you’ll slowly start to see endless landscapes of fractal mountains unfold behind you, growing in distance as the puzzles grow in complexity. It’s a great visual metaphor for the idea of an overload of information but the look overall left me somewhat wanting. I wasn’t sure for what at first but then I figured it out, what I was looking for was context. Call me dull and pragmatic, but in my mind the real beauty of the infographic style lies in its ability to convey, not in the starkness of its form. None of the design here ever really feels like it conveys any sort of information, it is full of bars without context, numbers attached to axes but with those axes remaining undefined. I suppose that’s the point of Metrico’s art style in the end, to highlight the beauty of a graph’s dips and rises unfettered by purpose, but it just didn’t click for me personally; instead I got the impression of someone taking the wheels off a car so as to better show its lines. To touch on the music quickly, obviously given my description of the game’s backgrounds you were probably expecting it to have a prog-rock sound but instead it has a softer electronica world music vibe which has a trippy feel that fits the game’s visuals.

Metrico is a game I was really excited for and that I really wanted to enjoy but it ultimately ended up leaving me with more negative feelings than positive. While I definitely think it’s a game worth looking into, as it’s wholly unique in pretty much every way, I can’t really recommend it as an outright purchase. It’s got a great concept but it’s been executed in an unnecessarily frustrating way and the whole thing overall feels somewhat aimless, giving no motivation or worth to that frustration. In the end I’m giving Metrico a 2.5 out of 5 stars, it’s definitely worth checking out the demo or playing it while it’s free on Playstation Plus but I can’t really recommend it beyond that.

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