Metrico+ is like Ikea furniture.
Once you open the box you’re presented with a baffling array of parts – wood, screws, weird twiddly knob things. You begin putting it together but, when you finally check the instructions, you see that what you thought might be a cupboard door is actually a side panel. You go “a-ha” and flip to the next page to carry on. The only difference is that, with Metrico+, there is no next page. There is no instruction manual. There are just a load of pieces and infinite possibilities.
Okay; “infinite” might be pushing it a bit, but Metrico+ makes a surprising amount out of fairly little. This is another puzzle game with a difference, though this time it’s something called (according to the game’s Steam page) “input morphing”. Basically, while the player’s input – how they control the character – won’t change, the outcome of that input will. So, for one puzzle, moving right to left will raise a bar. For another, the same movement will make a platform travel in the same direction. The upshot of this is that each puzzle, while using the same building blocks, can be markedly different from those that came before it.
In addition, as you play through the game, you’ll unlock a variety of different abilities that your character can use in the puzzles from a jump to a gun-type-thing to being able to reset the character to being able to switch places with an enemy pie-chart. In addition to giving you more tools to use, this also means that there is an even greater number of permutations available to create the levels.
Literally everything has the potential to be used as a piece of each puzzle that needs to be solved: walking, jumping, falling, shooting, rebounding, hitting, killing, resetting or even allowing your character to die. When you learn a new skill the game does a good job of making sure that it incorporates that skill into subsequent puzzles but, ultimately, you won’t know exactly what does what until you give it all a go.
Remember the Ikea furniture? How I said that Metrico+ has no instruction manual? Now imagine that you’re building that furniture, from scratch, without a guide. You’ve got five different types of screw and six or seven holes in a few pieces of wood and you’ve, basically, got to try each and every type of screw in each hole (at least once) to see which one’s going to fit. Then you’ve got to try to assemble the furniture. Metrico+ puzzles are exactly the same.
Once you’ve worked out exactly which of your umpteen abilities will do what in any given puzzle, you’ve got to try to work out how to put them all together to progress. Some puzzles will require you to just meet a certain set of criteria and you’ll be through. Others need you to do pretty much the same only, this time, you can’t jump more than five times. There are puzzles that require precise timing or have a specific path that you have to follow. Some call for you to reset your character after one move so that you can do another one back where you started. Metrico+ also delights in giving you more pieces than you need to complete the puzzle and I, like a lot of puzzle-loving gamers, tend to expect to have to use all of the items I’m given to find the best solution to the problem.
Fortunately, most of Metrico+’s puzzles are pretty well put together and you’ll probably find that you can flow from one to the next quite easily and that, for the most part, the progression makes some sort of sense. There are, though, puzzles that entirely shut down that feeling of flow; puzzles that are so different and so jarring and so complex that you just stop in your tracks and struggle along with it until either: you figure it out and move on or you quit and play something else.
I’m going to be honest: I ragequit Metrico+ three times. Admittedly, each time I came back I got the answer pretty swiftly. But, as opposed to that warm, satisfied glow that you usually get when you brain your way through a puzzle (which isn’t the only way to complete some of Metrico+’s puzzles – brawn can work just as well), Metrico+ just left me feeling a little bit stupid. Maybe it’s because, by the time I’ve got the solution, I’ve literally tried every one of my abilities a hundred times and it’s only when done in an incredibly specific and utterly bizarre pattern that the puzzle can be solved. Other times, it’s because (as I previously mentioned) I’ve been so focused on one element of the puzzle that I’ve overlooked the solution because it doesn’t involve the pieces I’ve currently got my eye on.
I’d consider myself a fairly seasoned and astute puzzle solver (in the past 12 months I’ve played more puzzle games than any other genre and I’ve completed all of them, with the exception of literally two puzzles, without having to go online to search out a solution) but I’ve had real difficulty with Metrico+. It might be that, finally, I’ve found the game that can really challenge my puzzle-solving skills but it really doesn’t feel that way. You’re right: it could just be me, but bear with me a moment.
Let’s go back to our furniture. You’ve successfully put together your bookshelf. You show your mother-in-law and she decides that she wants one. You offer to put it together for her and, as a reward for your excellent service, she will bake you those awesome cookies that she makes with the chocolate chips and the rosemary (trust me). Only, when you open this box, not everything is quite as it seems. The pieces are almost the same, the screws and bolts look familiar but what you did before isn’t working now. You’ve got to learn how to put the shelf together all over again.
You see, input morphing is all well and good but you’ve basically got to retrain your brain for each puzzle: there are no set patterns, no connection or justification; just arbitrary cause and effect. For the most part you can’t take what you’ve learned with you from one puzzle to another and that, for me at least, is where the frustration comes from. It’s why I feel silly or downright stupid at the end of most of the game’s puzzles: there’s something I’ve not tried, something I’ve missed or something I’ve overlooked because, before now, it wasn’t a factor. You never get to learn how this world works, what the rules are and how to bend or break them. You don’t accumulate knowledge or skills and, as a result, the experience is a fairly sterile one. Fortunately, the world that you’re attempting to puzzle your way through is made up of some very pretty graphics – if not the most cohesive ones.
If you read anything about Metrico+, you’ll probably see the word “infographics”. Infographics are supposed to be visual representations of data, they’re supposed to be used to inform or educate the reader in a quick and easily understandable manner, but that doesn’t really apply when you’re talking about Metrico+.
What the game’s marketing material really means when it says “infographics” is “bar charts”. Each of the game’s levels is made up, more or less, of bar charts. Some are horizontal, some are vertical and there are the odd slanted line thrown in for good measure. The majority of these will grow or shrink according to your input and it’s across them that you’ll be running, jumping, sliding, shooting and whatever else it is that you need to do to beat each puzzle.
And it’s really only the puzzle elements that have anything of the “graph’”about them. The game world that they inhabit can be anything from a flat black and white background to a mess of geometric shapes to a stylised overworld reminiscent of our own; complete with zig-zag pine trees, domed sand dunes and pyramidal mountains. In fact, there’s very little “info” in the infographics at all. Other than a fraction or percentage telling you how many times you have to do something to get the sodding bar chart to move, Metrico+ is incredibly reticent to offer up any clues as to what, exactly, is going on.
Back when the original Metrico was released on PS Vita, there wasn’t much of a story – just a neat little game that used all manner of different mechanics to solve puzzles. Now it’s on PC and PS4 though, it seems that Digital Dreams have tried to cram in a weird, inexplicable narrative that sees you choose doors that your avatar must go through at the end of each of the game’s six worlds, doors that will, inevitably, force you to diminish the poor boy (or girl) you’re controlling for no discernible reason. Like the presence of the trees, sand dunes and little circular lakes in the gameworld, this doesn’t really fit in with the whole “infographics” thing – it doesn’t actually fit in with the rest of the game, either.
With such an intriguing and interesting use of mechanics and gameplay, Metrico+ would be forgiven for omitting any kind of storyline – especially one that attempts to explain or defend or somehow define the experience for the player. In including this little story, however, Digital Dreams have just added something else to the mix that makes Metrico+ even more disjointed and even less enjoyable.
It’s not just that the story is a bit baffling and annoyingly ambiguous; it’s that there’s no real reason for having it. It doesn’t affect the gameplay in any way, it doesn’t inform it and it isn’t affected by it: it just gets in the way of the puzzle solving by making you mess about with these little linking sections that require the use of nothing more than running and one other button to get through.
When considered alongside the various gameworlds, the underground-like “map” showing their positions relative to one another (which actually comes the closest to representing a real infographic) and the input morphing gameplay, Metrico+ presents a fractured and imperfect face – one that, while intriguing, doesn’t do enough to pull you in and keep you there.
I’ve perhaps been a little unfair with Metrico+; it’s obvious that the developers have attempted to do something different here, something cool and weird, something that really makes you think about every puzzle in a way that you probably never had to do before. For the most part, it sort of works. The puzzles are entertaining and challenging, though, after the first hour, the constant re-learning might be wearing a little thin. The graphics are crisp and clear, though they don’t really fulfil the “infographics” vision that Digital Dreams purportedly had for the game. The soundtrack is great – I really can’t find fault with the unintrusive, semi-ambient music or the game’s more typical but still nicely nuanced sound effects. And the gameplay, while easy to learn, is deep enough to remain interesting for a while but the increasingly large number of mechanics can mean that it gets a little unwieldy in the later worlds. Oh, and it’s impossible to play with a keyboard and mouse: if you’re on PC it’s time to dust off the old pad and make like you’re playing on a console.
Ultimately, if you’ll permit me a final furniture reference, Metrico+ is like a bookcase that’s been cobbled together from three different designs, using screws that don’t quite fit and without an instructions as to how you’re supposed to put it together. It’s an intriguing experiment in gameplay mechanics and it’s certainly one of the most challenging puzzle games I’ve ever played but, for all that, its lack of focus and the necessity of constantly learning how to use the controls for each puzzle robs it of some of the enjoyment that you feel you should be having when you play.
On the game’s Steam page, the writer welcomes you to Metrico+. They also hope that you’ve got what it takes to beat it. I, unfortunately, don’t, I think. But, to be honest, I’m really not that bothered. If you really want a challenge, try putting a Fredde workstation together without looking at the booklet. I dare you.