While Sony may not give the PlayStation Vita much love these days, others have set out to do so over the years to prove the handheld's worth. Digital Dreams was one such developer who exclusively released its debut title Metrico on the neglected platform in 2014. It received both glowing and scathing remarks for varying reasons, but if one consensus could be reached, it was that the game had unique ideas to offer with its level design and unconventional use of mechanics. Not content to take this criticism lying down, the feisty studio has multiplied its efforts, done its homework, and strived for higher grades this time around. By adding to and altering the original game, is Metrico+ a refined package that lives up to its apt appellation?
When it comes to first impressions, it visually stuns from the start. Taking inspiration from the worlds of business and geometry, the graphics utilise graphs, charts, and shapes to give form to a minimalist vision that makes all six worlds' levels a delight to watch scroll by. Almost everything morphs in dimension according to your movement and actions, whether in the muted, cool colours of the neat foregrounds or backdrops. It may be simple, but there's purpose behind the abstract scenery not only for its purely satisfying aesthetic, but also because it intimately ties into how you interact with the environments.
It's expected that you can jump and run left or right, but it's another thing when the levels themselves react to these mechanics. Metrico+ employs uncommon design by having platforms extend, rise, or lower depending on your movement. Jumping on certain objects or sliding down a slope may affect something as well, but what's key is learning how to adjust everything in order to surpass about a dozen puzzles per world. You'll notice that percentages and other numbers mark shapes and will change as their integers alter, and depending on how much you jump, move, and use other things like shooting balls of light, you'll slowly figure out the skill required here is less about reflexes and more about logical deduction.
However, what Digital Dreams needs to be commended for the most is how the gameplay shockingly uses traditional punishment and respawn mechanics toward figuring out puzzles. Falling to your death, resetting your character at checkpoints, and even getting smashed or poked by obstacles can be the answer to getting one shape or platform to work in your favour. We were legitimately chuckling during epiphanies of joy when we discovered that multiple "failures" so often served as ways to win a single puzzle. It made us realise how much these types of twists on common game design staples aren't taken advantage of, which highlights a speciality for clever, innovative ideas on the developer's part that others should take notes from.
One criticism pointed at the original was its Tearaway-esque obsession with using the handheld's many features, mostly to an unwieldy degree despite promising intentions. The PS4 version entirely ditches this approach and sticks with mapping out controls to the buttons and triggers alone. The touchpad, lightbar, and gyroscope may have been subtracted with Metrico+, but we would argue it provides a streamlined, more consistent experience compared to its predecessor.
However, we wished that our time had lingered with one or two more worlds to parse through. We completed the game and found all its collectables in about seven hours. During that time, you'll at least be treated to an ambiguous story that provides exceptionally minimal context to where and who you are. We're tempted to just call it dressing since there's no substantial visual or aural storytelling to speak of. Despite the fact that we would've appreciated more depth to our character and settings, it's not necessarily needed for a game of this nature.
The sound effects and music fit the title to a T. Strange yet melodic echoes and reverberations play whenever shapes, respawning, or interacting with platforms is involved, and the nostalgic, electronic soundtrack by Palmbomen is a treat to listen to as its breathy songs build from singular beats with one instrument to full-fledged tracks brimming with personality, which reminds us of how Sound Shapes' catchy music is structured as well.
Metrico+ is one of the smarter puzzle games we've touched in a while. Its brainteasers will force you to think outside the box with a steady flow of fresh challenges, which illustrate the clever creativity that powers it through and through. Its spick-and-span art style and appealing soundscape also manage to divide and conquer, with small yet noticeable improvements across the board that round it out well.