Friday, August 8, 2014

Metrico is PowerPoint: The Puzzler

Quick Note: Metrico is the perfect 'pick up and play' game. The stages are small and the puzzles are smart without being too difficult. The cerebral experience from the level design and the game world are easily worth the price of addition, especially if you're a fan of puzzle platformer games. 

Anyone who keeps up with daily gaming news knows how prominent the Indie scene is on Sony consoles. Old school platformers and trippy, artistic games are coming out of the wood work, filling the PlayStation store with fun and unique experiences. Metrico combines those two types of games into a smart, unique puzzler with platforming elements that requires you to use your brain (and a bit of trial and error) over timing your jumps just right, and it's all the better for that reason.

Jump and Up!

Metrico takes place in a world of infographs. Players choose between a male or female protagonist and fall into a colorful world where his/her actions change the environment. That's all that is given, with no context as to why the player is in this world or what it is the player is trying to do, but that's not a bad thing. The lack of any context or language at all adds to the atmosphere, and the gameplay and atmosphere of the game make up for the lack of story given to the player.

Interaction with the environment is the main gameplay hook, which sounds boring on paper, but is in fact a lot of fun in execution. Each level is unique in how you interact with the environment. For instance, jumping in one level will raise a platform to get to the exit of the section. However, jumping up in one stage will raise a platform, but to move a similar platform in the next level requires you to fall down.This is the core game mechanic of Metrico, but developer Digital Dreams sets up each level in such smart ways that each puzzle feels interesting and unique.

All the Colors and the Shapes.... Or Lack of Colors
Metrico does not have any hint system, and it's better for this reason. This may annoy some players, but to me it opened up a level of intrigue and puzzle solving in a 'try and die' approach that embraces attempting different things with very little punishment for doing so. Each level feels like a new package to be unwrapped and solved without someone holding my hand. Even in the later levels when I would reach a really frustrating puzzle, I had no help (especially because online there are no resources yet) and though I had to put the game down for a minute or two to cool off, the 'ah ha!' moment was always so satisfying when I finally found the solution.

The emphasis on environmental interaction for puzzle solving creates a puzzle platformer that focuses on the puzzle aspect, relying less on timing your jumps or attacks just right and more on setting up the level perfectly to get to the exit. There are very few games that can pull this style of puzzle solving off just right without a heavy reliance on reflexes or hints, and Metrico does it in spades.

As the game progresses. mew techniques that use the Vita's features are slowly added in to keep things fresh . There are six stages within the game that house all of the levels, and each stage has a unique gameplay mechanic tied to it (minus the first stage, which introduces the basic control scheme of the game). These mechanics include shooting a beam, using the Vita's camera to interact with different colors of light and utilizing the gyroscope to tilt platforms around. Most games use these features in gimmicky ways that are shoehorned in and are very frustrating, but Metrico places each mechanic in the perfect place with just the right amount of usage. Each puzzle uses these new mechanics on top of the old to add variety, but doesn't heavily rely on the new mechanics in a way that wears them down. I personally loved the ability to use different colored lights to raise specific platforms, which required precise interaction outside of the game to influence the environment inside the game. Brilliant!

So Simple. So Gorgeous
Within each stage there are also collectibles that come in the form of pie charts. To complete each pie chart, the player must manipulate the environment in such a way that the pieces appear. For instance, there may be three columns that the player jumps on in the level, but in order for the pie chart to be full the player must move the first bar to 0 percent, the second bar to 50 percent and the final bar to 100 percent. Once the pie chart is full it will stay full until it is collected, as most of the time  pathway to get to the pie chart is destroyed in creating the full pie chart. These little collectibles add another level of puzzle solving to each stage, as there is no real clear indicator as to which level has a collectible, forcing the player to move everything around and discover them.

There are a few caveats to this puzzler. For one, though most of the puzzles are smart and enjoyable to solve, there are a few sticking points and difficulty spikes. The first three stages left me feeling like a genius, where as the last three had at least one puzzle that stumped me long enough that I had to step away for a second. Again, once the puzzles have been solved it's incredibly gratifying, but the randomness of the difficulty spike can be frustrating. The other sticking point is also one of the games greatest strengths, which is no hints. Had there been a form of hints within the game, the difficulty spikes would have been less brutal. This does come at a cost of the wonder and curiosity that is required to solve the puzzles without hints, so I am on the fence about there being no hints in the game.  The difficulty spikes on top of no hints will certainly deter some players away.

Over all, Metrico is a great game about curiosity. Even the trophies are all hidden, forcing players to play around and discover them. Though the difficulty spikes will annoy and many players will be turned off by no hints, Metrico is sure to make many players fall in love with it's sense of mystery and puzzle solving. If you're looking for a good game on the go that's quick to pick up and unique, you can't go wrong here.

8.5 out of 10

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