An innovative concept will only get you so far. Without the proper execution and requisite technical polish, a game will always feel rough and frustrating. Metrico is a perfect example of an excellent theory bogged down by control and interface issues, along with a few bugs and glitches. Some may appreciate the challenge and solid, intriguing presentation, but they'll undoubtedly notice the jagged edges. It has a ton of promise but it simply isn't streamlined enough to warrant widespread acclaim.
The graphics are pretty straightforward, as we're talking about a game that quite literally runs on numbers. You'll work your way through a variety of charts and graphs and perhaps surprisingly, such boring mathematical diagrams have never looked more enticing. They're sharp and refined and while not overly ambitious, this visual display is worthy of some recognition. It's just too bad that the frame rate isn't very steady; otherwise, we'd have more respect for such a pretty set of graphics. The Vita can do more but for this particular title, understated simplicity is where it's at.
The sound is clearly the highlight of the production, as there are some beautiful tracks to accompany your chart-hopping. The developers selected a fantastic array of subtle yet wonderfully orchestrated tracks, and the effects are simple yet surprisingly effective. The team put a lot of effort into the look and feel of the game; they just didn't follow through on the execution side. Still, the high-quality sound and good design make for a significant accomplishment, and you almost want to keep playing for the express purpose of enjoying the music and visuals. It's unfortunate that the gameplay doesn't quite live up to expectations.
Metrico is a unique experience that utilizes just about every control option for the PlayStation Vita. The game takes advantage of the unit's motion control, camera and touch functionality and sometimes, it tries to combine them during later stages. The basic control scheme isn't complicated but unfortunately, trying to use every facet of the Vita's ample technology wasn't a good idea. It's just not accurate enough and sometimes, you sit there with a frustrated glower, trying to figure out exactly how to hold the unit. I actually dropped the damn thing once trying to conquer a particularly difficult level.
This is one of my biggest pet peeves concerning so-called advancements in technology: Sometimes, it just doesn't work (at least, not as well as it should). What's wrong with the basic control? What's wrong with the analog sticks and directional buttons? Tilting the unit and trying to use your fingers on a touchpad has never been as accurate as pressing a button, and never will be as accurate as pressing a button. Yes, the touchpad, camera and tilt are all nifty little additions, but I don't care about the "cool" factor; I care about the solidarity and reliability of the control mechanics.
Okay, end rant. The point is that if the developers hadn't been quite so fascinated with the Vita's alternate input options, this game could've been a lot better. It could've been better had it not focused so heavily on trial-and-error gameplay, too. I'm one of the biggest defenders of that style of gameplay, because I've got the necessary patience and diligence for it. I also like that there's very little hand-holding; I like figuring things out for myself. At the same time, a developer must always strike a good balance and I think this is a little too unforgiving. Too many times, we have absolutely no clue what to do, and when there are over 60 puzzles to confront...well, you get the picture.
On the surface, it's pretty straightforward: What you do has a definite impact on the world around you. You have to satisfy various goals and objectives in order to progress; discovering how to achieve such goals can be difficult. It's really cool the way it works, though. There are any number - get it? - of well-designed, imaginative puzzles in the game, and all of them revolve around statistics and numbers. You have to interpret certain statistical situations and equations, but it's not anywhere near as tough as it sounds. And once you figure out the proper method, it's quite rewarding to see your success on the screen.
As I said before, it's an ingenious concept that should've been more engaging than it really is. Admittedly, I kept playing, even though I was frequently frustrated and annoyed at the control schemes. This speaks to the game's originality; this game is like nothing else you've played and that's saying something. I applaud any developer with so much creativity, especially when they attempt to turn an intensely boring subject (to many, at least) into a piece of relatively casual entertainment. They just didn't need to be so enamored with what the Vita can do...it's almost like they put the Vita ahead of the game in terms of priorities.
It's just impractical. The use of the camera is ill-advised and that goes double if you're on the go. And really, isn't that when we're supposed to be using a handheld? The tilt function seems to work all right but the touchscreen controls are unreliable and even unresponsive at times. The puzzles are so wonderfully conceived and clever, it's disappointing to see that effort disappear beneath wonky control. Half the time, you're not battling the puzzle; you're battling the Vita in a desperate attempt to do what's required. That turns the experience into a chore and really, nobody wants that.
Metrico isn't a bad game. On the one hand, you're immediately captivated by the unique gameplay. On the other, the interface keeps hindering your progression and immersion. It's great that we're tasked with seeing things from a variety of different mathematical perspectives and done correctly; this would've been a clear-cut innovative winner. Execution is just so critical, though. When you fall shy in that category, everything begins to fall apart. Remember, this is an interactive hobby and as such, the interaction part needs to be good. The concept can be utterly amazing and the technicals can shine but without solid execution, the experience falters.
The Good: Understated yet slick visual presentation. Excellent music and nicely implemented effects. Fantastic premise. Innovative and even ingenious approach to puzzles. Plenty of content.
The Bad: Developers bowed to gimmicks and as a result, control suffered significantly. Trial-and-error repetition got a little nuts. Silly long load times and a little buggy.
The Ugly: "This proves that a great concept isn't all you need."
8/13/2014 Ben Dutka