The Metronomicon – PC Review – by K3W3L

Genre: Action Indie Rhythm RPG
Developer: Puuba
Publisher: Kasedo Games
Release Date: Sep 29, 2016

The Metronomicon is the third title from developers Puuba, who previously developed Concursion and The Weaponographist. After publisher Mastertronic went into administration, this would mark the first of their titles to be published by Kasedo Games, the indie-oriented sub-label of Kalypso Media.

I enjoyed The Weaponographist so much, so I was naturally thrilled when I was given the opportunity to test out this game and give my feedback. For that, I’ll be forever grateful for the opportunity. I’ve slowly followed the updates over the months leading up to the game’s release, giving my own notes, feedback and suggestions while playtesting the game in order to help the devs make it as perfect as possible. As a result, this game does feel as much like my ‘baby’ as it is the devs’.

If you’ve played any of Puuba’s previous titles, you’d instantly recognise their trademark menus. They always open with logos of the company, publisher, and a note to plug in any controllers before firing up the game. As always, navigation throughout the game is purely keyboard/controller-based, so you can store away that mouse.

Having followed and played Puuba’s previous games, it is readily apparent that The Metronomicon features their best visuals yet. The menus and transitions are incredibly sleek and move rather smoothly. Compared to their earliest game Concursion, this is a HUGE step up.

The positive visual experience doesn’t stop there. Each character is quite beautifully illustrated, and animated in a rather quirky fashion during combat using Spriter Pro. While I realise that this puppet-style animation won’t really appeal to everyone, I found it rather cheery and humourous. A neat thing about it is that the animations are also synced to the beat of the music, so usually in a faster song the characters would be visually dancing faster.

Upon starting the story mode, a cutscene will play. Although the cutscenes don’t have a lot of  animations (characters move in a somewhat static fashion, much like in The Weaponographist), they are fully voiced. The voices aren’t just limited to the cutscenes – they also act as audio cues while playing the songs. They are in general well-done, and David Autovino (who voices three characters with three completely different voices) is the star standout here. In contrast, though, I sometimes found Violet’s high-pitched voice somewhat grating, and at times a complete mismatch to her appearance.

The game is split into 5 zones – you get a cutscene at the start of, and at the end of, a zone. Beyond that, there’s not much in the game story-wise. The RPG purists may find the lack of story disappointing – I don’t, though, because the game experience is purely in the songs for me.

You are initially given a party of 4 graduates from The Neon Shield, a school founded by its Grandmaster to teach students in the way of the rhythmic combat arts, learning from the titular Metronomicon (Metronome + Necronomicon – geddit? Never mind.). Throughout the lands of Koras (where the game is set), monster dance parties keep popping up, and it is up to your myriad crew of 4 to put a stop to this. As you progress throughout the zones, more and more characters will join your cast, giving you up to 8 characters to pick a party of 4 from.

Each character has their own specialisation – mix and match to build a party that suits your playstyle. After you get all the characters, you are practically spoilt for choice as each character has a lot of abilities to choose from. Add to that the wide variety of equipment you can loot and that’s a lot of things to take into account. Equipment can span various categories, ranging from typical RPG-style equipment that raises statistics, to more exotic equipment that grants additional effects, sometimes based on how well your rhythm play is doing. Each piece of equipment also has funny descriptions associated with them – for example, one of the item descriptions reads: “Attained second-hand from a jerky jerk of a demon hunter.” The item in question is not only a reference to their previous game The Weaponographist, but can also only be obtained if you owned that game – a very neat loyalty bonus for loyal fans of the developer, and the item is not overpowered such that it is essential to own it.

Between the colourful visuals, crazy enemy variety and hilarious dialogue, Puuba’s irreverent brand of humour is on full display once again, and I LOVE it. Whenever a cutscene plays, I find myself more often than not laughing or snickering.

The aforementioned 5 zones are called dungeons, and each dungeon features 10 songs. Each song is a level in itself, roughly around 3 minutes long. This is where the rhythm and RPG aspects really blend together – you are given 4 tracks, 1 for each character, where notes fall from the top of the screen. To assign orders to a character, hit the notes. When you reach specific levels you will be in position to cast the ability at that level – from there, it is up to you whether you want to continue casting in order to make the ability stronger, or hit the next ability. You only need to focus on one character at a time, there is no penalty for missing any notes on a character that is not currently active. I find this incredibly similar to how any Rock Band games on the Nintendo DS are implemented where you switch between instruments – some people have even likened it to Sequence, aka Before The Echo, another rhythm-RPG combination.

You’ll experience a bit of tunnel vision at first as you try to read the notes and carefully make sure you don’t miss any, otherwise you’ll set your casting progress back. As you progress, the effect will lessen slightly. There is an infinite grace period after casting a spell or after switching lanes, so you can take the time to carefully survey your enemy’s power type and the abilities at your disposal. Incidentally, your abilities and the enemy’s health bar is colour-coded, so you can easily tell at a glance which element it is, and which of your abilities can easily counter it. I usually liken this to a super simplified version of Pokémon, which has gotten way too complicated recently if you ask me. But I digress. The simplicity means there aren’t overly many wrong moves you can do, giving you a good degree of freedom with which to counter your enemies.

In terms of detecting inputs, I’ve found the game to be far more lenient than other rhythm games, as even notes which I was pretty sure I hit incredibly late were still counted. But on the flipside, a judgment system was implemented that gives you more points the more accurate you are, so while it doesn’t punish you as much as other rhythm games for being overly inaccurate, it does give more reward if you are more accurate.

What about the songs themselves? Well…they’re mostly indie artists, so I admit I was a tiny bit disappointed at first, and the generally unfamiliar artists (I literally could only recognise Shiny Toy Guns!) could definitely put off a few people. Also, since this was a dance game, I assumed most of the songs would be dance and pop numbers – a genre which I generally don’t like listening to. But as I progressed throughout the game, I was pleasantly surprised to find some rock and metal numbers mixed in throughout – and after repeated playthroughs the pop and dance numbers really grew on me as well, they were undeniably catchy and got really stuck in my head. I wouldn’t say any of the tracks are overly bad – a few aren’t as noteworthy, but even those are decent songs in their own right. The cool part is that there are some songs exclusive to the game – besides Shiny Toy Guns, Jimmy Urine from Mindless Self Indulgence wrote a song specifically for a boss level.

The songs are sequenced well in terms of difficulty, and in the later stages (one where you are on board a pirate ship, and the last where you are at an…erm…extraterrestrial location – that is as best as I can say without spoiling it) the songs are REALLY appropriate as the elements in the songs really fit the setting. Even the final boss song has some melodies that give off an air of finality, as you reach the end of the game’s story.

Each song has 3 difficulty levels, and each difficulty level has 4 hand-choreographed charts (note lanes) for each song. Which makes it a total of 600 choreographed note lanes. Holy wow. Easy mode is relatively sedate enough for those that aren’t as well-versed in rhythm-fu to follow, so they can focus more on the RPG elements – while hard mode is a good enough challenge for rhythm veterans, the patterns can get incredibly syncopated at times.

The devs have estimated that story mode is about 6-8 hours long – in practice, you’ll need slightly more than that due to learning the mechanics and getting better at them. Also, there’s a large amount of replayability if you’re into high scores, and an arena mode where you replay songs with special modifiers/goals. After beating the final boss, you also unlock daily challenges.

It wouldn’t be a rhythm game if you couldn’t use external peripherals with it, right? To that end, The Metronomicon also has support for not just the standard controller, but also Guitar Hero controllers (you can actually customise the note colours to follow the GH scheme), and even dance pads (while difficult, dancing the songs on hard is not impossible!).

I’ll finally end off with the only few negative aspects I can see with this game, namely because I don’t personally find these issues much of, if at all, a drawback. Firstly, there is no song editor to edit your own charts – this is due to legal technicalities where people could upload charts for copyrighted songs. As of this review, this is still being sorted out, but the devs have stated that they intend to make the chart choreographing tech available to everyone down the road at some point. Secondly, a friend personally finds the controller placements wonky – looking at it, I can’t imagine how I’d play on a controller, but I don’t have any issue since I primarily use the keyboard. And lastly, the RPG elements fall away somewhat in the endgame as, at the highest levels, your characters are vastly more powerful than the enemies you fight. But I’m cool with that, because it means I can focus almost purely on the rhythm aspect, and chase high scores.

 

Pros:

  • Amazing blend of rhythm and RPG mechanics
  • Good strategical depth in RPG choices with regards to equipment/skills
  • Varied and impressive soundtrack – generally no duds, appropriate song sequencing
  • Vibrant and over-the-top visuals paired with quirky dancing animations
  • Packed with the Puubas’ unique brand of humour everywhere – item descriptions, cutscenes, etc.
  • Various difficulty settings makes it simultaneously newbie-friendly and catering to rhythm veterans
  • Daily challenges and high score leaderboards add a LOT of replayability
  • Wide support for controllers, guitar controllers, dance pads
  • HIGHLY polished

 

Cons:

  • Currently(?) no song editor
  • Soundtrack may not appeal to some people due to the indie nature of it
  • Somewhat wonky controller control placements
  • RPG aspects become slightly less relevant endgame

 

K3W3L gives The Metronomicon an overwhelmingly positive Drastik Measure 9.7 out of 10 (97).

Despite a few minor niggles, The Metronomicon flies so incredibly close to perfection. Unless any other game that releases in 2016 comes out and overly wows me like this did, this game is set to become my 2016 GOTY. I’d say it is definitely worth the 20 bucks – and then some.

Plus, the soundtrack, even though it only consists 38 out of the 50 songs, priced at $8 is a HUGE steal if you especially loved the songs in the game. Just take note of whether your favourites are included – the tracklisting of the included songs is listed on the store page.

Last but not least, there are plans for further DLC expansions that add even more to the game, a la Rock Band/Rocksmith/etc. Already the first song pack containing 3 songs, 3 challenges and 3 new items is already out. Hopefully this will inject more longevity into the game to come.