With more games releasing to the market than ever before, players are becoming hard-pressed to find games that do a single game genre very well. Today, Steam sees the release of The Metronomicon, developed by Puuba Games and published by Kasedo Games, serving up a game that simultaneously does two genres justice – all while injecting enough spin and charm to keep the game memorable.
The Metronomicon is Puuba Games’ attempt to marry the genres of rhythm and role-playing games, a concept Bemanistyle readers will be familiar with thanks in part to Jason Wishnov and Iridium Studios’ Before the Echo (originally released as Sequence). In a nutshell, when these two genres are combined, the RPG combat choices are triggered by successfully matching rhythm command inputs and song performance is rewarded with the typical shower of experience points, currency and equipment or quest items expected of an RPG excursion.
From the beginning, The Metronomicon stamps its own identity, sprinting from the starting line with the absurd premise of dance combat and establishing a presentation that never takes itself too seriously. The tone is set immediately with a well-done J-Punch score that is appropriate for each menu while still being memorable, and the vibrant visuals made their presence known right away.
Diving into the game, players are introduced to the world of Koras and an academy that trains warriors in the “rhythmic combat arts.” These combatants battle against monsters that organize and throw giant parties that attract even more monsters to the area.
There are a number of cutscenes that keep the story going, with each introducing a new element such as a new environment or character. While the art is static, each cutscene is fully voiced. Much of the story is cookie-cutter RPG fare, but, with the humorous tones and whimsical approach, each character’s personality gets fleshed out in scenes that are still brief enough to keep the pace moving along.
The Metronomicon certainly offers players a lot to look at, and its graphical approach is certainly unique. Most traditional rhythm games have a narrow focus of view for the player, which means many assets can go unnoticed during gameplay. The Metronomicon offers up a number of graphics that, at first glance, merely ape fantasy and RPG tropes, but in the chance one gets to take a full look, the details reveal a lot of thought put into the humor and absurdity of the premise.
The player’s cast of party characters get thrust into the cliche pen-and-paper character classes, ranging from physically-impressive warriors, defensive-based support characters, healing characters and offensive elemental magic users, but Puuba Games made sure to put their own touches on each character, which can be appreciated by those that take the time to notice.
But, perhaps the real show-stealer of the game is the wide cast of bizarre enemies the players encounter. Most of the game’s characters only feature short dance loops that match the tempo of the song being played, but the exaggerated animations are extremely noticeable and give the game a real pop of personality. The game also features very large mini-boss and boss characters that exhibit this same charm.
Throughout the battle, the game serves up a number of hit sparks and color-based cues, which serve as important clues as to what exactly is going on during gameplay. Since the player will have their focus narrowed down to the rhythm-based gameplay lanes, these prove crucial. With gameplay flow based on the music and rhythm inputs, players won’t see extravagant spell animations or lengthy Knights of the Round-style summons, but The Metronomicon uses its graphical strength to highlight what it needs to for its gameplay while reflecting its personality.
The Metronomicon’s sound relies heavily on its music offerings, and, while personal tastes in music fuel whether these hit or miss, Puuba Games intelligently leveraged a number of internet-known independent artists to provide a modern genre mix that keeps the adventure mode from being too repetitive. J-Punch also lends further tracks to the gameplay, and artists such as Dj CUTMAN, Ben Briggs, Guitar Viking and Mega Ran make an appearance.
The game also has a few meaty hooks for fans of Jimmy Urine of Mindless Self Indulgence and Shiny Toy Guns, as Jimmy Urine provides an exclusive track, while Shiny Toy Guns appears with an unreleased music track. The artists are modern, but that doesn’t stop the game from featuring genres that range from electronic to disco to rock.
Outside of the music, gameplay features the stock sound effects of battle, which again, can be important in cluing the player into what is happening. A number of voice clips were recorded for the game, which are serviceable through the cutscenes, but character quips during gameplay are another cue that notify players when they’ve executed an attack the enemy is weak against.
Certainly, though, the star of the game’s sound is in its soundtrack. It’s varied enough in genres, tempos and themes to pace the game’s adventure mode, and dangles enough star power in front of players to warrant an official soundtrack that is available on Steam as well.
To further expand upon the gameplay, while the default settings give off a four-panel dancing game vibe, it may be more accurate to compare the game to Harmonix’s Frequency/Amplitude or Rock Band Unplugged/Blitz series. While it is important to be able to accurately input the commands to execute the character skills, peak performance and high scoring will be achieved by being able to seamlessly flow between the four characters in your party, each represented by their own individual lane of rhythm inputs. This is very similar to the different instruments or song layers represented by different lanes in the aforementioned Harmonix titles, and, just like how hitting a series of commands of in the Harmonix titles autoplays a layer for a short time, the characters in The Metronomicon have cooldown periods for skills that remove inputs from a lane for a short time.
Looking at the rhythm side of the gameplay, The Metronomicon offers three levels of difficulty to ease players into the game. There are no note ratings, making each input a hit or miss, and, while a missed input does slight damage to the party, misses aren’t punished nearly as much as they are in Before the Echo.
A lot actually goes on through the RPG end of the gameplay, so The Metronomicon is a bit more forgiving on its rhythm inputs. Still, being on point with these aspects is what drives the scoring/leaderboards and many of the unlockables in the title, so they do remain largely important.
However, if players concentrate too much on the rhythm aspects, multiple enemies can jump in to attack and place status effects on the party, meaning Puuba Games succeeded in mixing the game genres together.
Character skills can do physical attacks, elemental skills and status effects that buff the party members or hinder enemies. Using the color cues on the screen, players will get the most out of their characters’ turns by countering the enemies’ elemental types (fire spells really burn up earth enemies, water spells do heavy damage to fire enemies, etc.) and the character classes are specifically set up work together, meaning it is very advantageous to maintain a character’s trademark buff skill (for example, the protector class has a taunt that directs enemy attacks to her; since she has a high natural defense, this leads to less damage done to the party by enemy attacks).
The results are so satisfying when it flows, as the player is not only nailing the rhythm commands and racking up a score, but also taking down scores of enemies and stronger boss characters. The gameplay does receive occasional mix-ups as enemies can trigger status effects that are similar to DDR mods like flat, sudden and wave, and some enemies can inject mines into the rhythm playfield. Mini-bosses and bosses can also execute meteor attacks that change how the player maintains their rhythm lanes, but these can be countered by building up a team attack meter that can be unleashed when the going gets tough.
I played through the game on an Xbox 360 controller and rarely had exception with the inputs. The gameplay boiled down to using four face buttons for rhythm inputs and using a trigger to go between the character lanes, and this all flowed seamlessly. Other players do have the option to use a keyboard, and the game has been developer-tested to work with USB dance pads and guitar controllers.
For Bemanistyle readers, the hard difficulty never reaches the rhythm levels found in the higher play of Bemani titles, but the difficulty is evened out by how well the player responds to the RPG elements. The rhythm commands are charted out very well, and, in DDR terms, the hardest difficulties have short streams of 16th notes, with most presenting longer streams of 8th notes, short jackhammers or trills or extended use of air steps.
The Metronomicon features an adventure hub that allows players access to a number of features, while the other menus in the game represent the song selection wheels found in traditional music games. The navigation is clean as players can jump into a song by selecting a few options, but the game offers up a number of optional areas to bolster the player’s party, tackle additional challenges or unlock the game’s media to view or listen to at any time.
Through each song in the adventure mode, players only have to survive a song to clear a stage, but defeating set amounts of enemies to reach a mini-boss is key to uncovering extra content. Defeating mini-bosses unlocks even more songs as well as sidequests, which, in turn, allow the player to earn more experience points for characters, along with currency and exclusive equipment.
Players only have to clear a handful of songs to reach the stage’s boss, but the real meat of the game is in tackling these extras, which, in turn, make the player more powerful to deal with later enemies. Revisiting songs is also key in possibly finding new sets of equipment and raising leaderboard scores once the characters are at a high enough level that the player can concentrate more on the rhythm side of the gameplay.
Players also have a lot of choice in setting up a party, with eight characters of varying skills ultimately being made available. While progression ultimately yields more powerful equipment, players can choose between equipment that raises stats, sets that boost performance based on rhythm skill or sets that yield more rewards. While the rhythm aspects seem to be the main hook of the game, the RPG elements can still be a bit deep.
Bringing everything together, The Metronomicon is an impressive package, and is rewarding on the levels of both rhythm gaming and RPG progression. Seeing everything in the game took me approximately 20 hours, which is quite generous given the introductory $15.99 price (the standard price will be $19.99 once the promotion ends).
The Metronomicon throws enough at the player to avoid making the process a real grind, and areas such as the arena make playing the same song a different experience. Revisiting songs is more about improving score or finding new equipment as opposed to the RPG staple of grinding out experience points to level up. As long as players perform adequately on each song, the level progression is on par to keep up with the adventure.
For seasoned rhythm gamers, it might not scratch a challenge itch, but the rhythm commands provided satisfying results and the RPG battles add interesting elements to the overall gameplay. There is certainly a lot of appeal surrounding the title, and its quirky nature makes it a real head-turner.
The rhythm genre is getting a lot of attention lately from independent developers, and the genre mix is appearing more and more. However, few of these games measure up to the balance and offering set of The Metronomicon. Most importantly, The Metronomicon is just fun to play as the music flow and light RPG combat mix in a way that requires timing, preparation and attentiveness. For most players, progression in The Metromicon will be grossly rewarding.
We may get to see the world of The Metronomicon expand with possible DLC tracks (maybe an adventure expansion?), but, as it stands, the title is one of the most enjoyable rhythm gaming packages available for 2016. The year is still “young,” but, honestly, The Metronomicon may be my personal favorite game for 2016.
The game will be available today on The Metronomicon’s Steam store page.
* Review copy provided by the development team or publisher