Platformers are not as abundant as they once were, at least on the AAA side of things, but indie studios have been doing a fantastic job of bringing the genre back. Now Digital Dreams, a small outfit from the Netherlands has just released what is one of the more bizarre concepts in platforming; you’re now scrolling from left to right, solving puzzles and jumping around in what amounts to a world made of graphical presentations. In other words, if Tron’s main villain had been Microsoft’s PowerPoint instead of the Master Control Program, this is what the world inside the computer might have looked like.
Let’s Play Power-Point
As with any side-scrolling platformer, the basic goal of Metrico is simply to go from left to right. There’s no story here, no overarching character motivation, you simply start the game by selecting from a male or female avatar and just go. Once you’re in the world of the game, you’re surrounded by the bright, friendly, pastel colours and graph elements of every presentation you’ve ever had to sit through in a typical 21st century lifestyle. Except now these graph elements are obstacles that are getting in your way.
The simple aesthetics of Metrico hide a fiendish puzzle platformer, something that becomes more obvious as you progress further into the game. The controls are fairly straightforward with the usual moving, jumping—and later, shooting—that people expect. What people won’t be expecting are the numerous other ways to interact with the world. The obstacles in the way aren’t always as simple as timing jumps across moving platforms. Player actions can have an impact on the various bar graphs, pie charts and line graphs that make up this landscape. Jumping can cause a bar graph to rise or fall. Running can cause a line graph to follow you in the direction you run. Even dying and respawning has an impact on shaping and altering the PowerPoint world, and this is where the puzzle aspect comes in. Players must figure out how these various interactions combine with each other to change the world enough to clear a path to the next area. In this regard, every new level is an invitation to experiment with your actions to find out how they affect the world, and then decide on the best course of actions to shape that world to your benefit. It’s a very unusual method of obstacle navigation in world of Super Meatboys and other platformers that are focused on the player dying repeatedly until patterns are learned and reflexes are honed to precise, timed perfection. This is actually more a true puzzler in that sense; it’s not about practice, so much as figuring out what consequences your actions have in a given level and then designing a sequence of actions. Digital Dreams calls this “input morphing,” although most gamers will probably more familiar with the term “context sensitive” in that the actions available to your controls change depending on the situation. The touch screen, rear touch screen and motion sensing abilities of the Vita all play into this as well, lifting the best elements of other Vita platformers like LittleBigPlanet and Tearaway to great effect.
At $13.99—though it was “free” for PS+ subscribers for the month of August—Metrico and its 4-6 hours of gameplay provides a unique distraction for Vita owners. It’s not an easy game, and some of the solutions to the puzzles will certainly test the imagination, but there’s a uniqueness, originality and sense of style to Metrico that you won’t find anywhere else. If you’ve got a Vita and you’re a fan of platformers, this is definitely a safe buy. For anyone that owns a Vita and is looking for a game to test the brain matter for a few minutes at a time during a commute, the small, digestible nature of Metrico’s levels is the perfect solution, assuming you’ve got the constitution for banging your head against the wall when you encounter some of the game’s harder puzzles. No, it’s not as gorgeous or as “triple A” as other games like Uncharted or Gravity Rush, but it’s got a strong identity, and it will be interesting to see how Digital Dreams follows up this distinctive, Vita debut.