As far as rhythm games go, The Metronomicon is certainly different – and it’s the best direction we’ve seen the genre go in for years.
When you think rhythm games these days, Guitar Hero and Rock Band quickly come to mind. Before that, Dance Dance Revolution was popular – but the genre’s popularity has been fading recently. Last year’s Guitar Hero Live and Rock Band 4 weren’t the best sellers that previous games were, and new games in the series aren’t on the horizon. It seems that the intended audience has moved on…
Perhaps part of this is because of a familiar pattern. Both Rock Band and Guitar Hero are stuffed with licensed tracks, and DLC adds even more to the tracklist as time goes on. As some point though, gamers master each track and grow tired of the game – and there’s only so much people are willing to spend on DLC as well. Combine that with a high entry barrier that having to buy new instruments brings and it’s easy to see why it’s a cycle that couldn’t go on forever.
The Metronomicon’s developer, Pubaa, radically changed this approach to rhythm games, but the game stays familiar enough to be enjoyed by fans who are used to those other titles. This became clear when we met with Pubaa’s studio lead Danny Garfield back in August, who enthusiastically explained and demonstrated how the game works. We also got some hands on time in, but it wasn’t until this month that we were able to play the full game with all the music tracks included.
As with other rhythm games, you’ll quickly notice that The Metronomicon also uses a system where four instruments have to be played at once, only in this case the instruments are characters in your party. What not’s different is that each instrument/character has four lanes and an torrent of notes coming down them – requiring you to press the corresponding buttons at the right time, in sync with the music. Pretty standard rhythm game stuff in that regard.
Although similar, The Metronomicon does feature a few major differences to Guitar Hero and Rock Band. The obvious first one is that you’re not playing a physical instrument here – you can either play using a keyboard or with a gamepad. That’s not the biggest game changer though – The Metronomicon stands apart mainly because it’s not a straight up rhythm game; it’s a rhythm RPG hybrid where getting to the end of the song and hitting all the notes isn’t all there’s to it.
Starting out with a party of four characters, you travel through a campaign mode in which you rhythmically beat your opponents and are quickly joined by other travelers. Once your group gets bigger, you’ll have to decide who to take into each battle with you, and this will depend on who you’re up against and the tactic you choose. You can go on the offense with some hard hitters, but unless you’re playing on easy you’ll probably want a more balanced group to join the fight – maybe reserving a slot for a healer.
Playing the right notes doesn’t just get you to the end of each song, it also allows you to cast spells and attacks on your foes – and this is how you defeat them or meet special objectives. This isn’t an automated process though, as tactical choices are involved both before and during the battle. You’ll have to choose who to take into battle, but also which three spells and attacks to equip them with – because in true RPG style, they’ll acquire and develop them over the course of the game. To further complicate matters, you’ll also have to equip these skills in what I call the ‘easy, medium and hard’ slots. Easy skills require fewer notes, but are also less powerful. This means you have to be aware of how you want to approach your enemy, as well as how your level of skill plays into this.
It’s a dynamic that works exceptionally well and allows for you to play each level again and again using different tactics. This is something that comes naturally, but can also come from special objectives that the game gives the player. You even have some freedom in how you play the campaign – emphasizing either your musical abilities or the option to level up and find loot.
Audiovisually speaking, The Metronomicon is clearly an indie title. For obvious reasons, it doesn’t have a tracklist that features dozens of timeless classics by the world’s biggest bands and acts, but we were pleasantly surprised by both the diversity and quality of the music on offer. It’s not a soundtrack many will use as an in-car playlist, but it’s worth pointing out that The Metronomicon doesn’t rely on music alone for its gameplay. Graphics are colorful and cartoon-like, though animations are rough and a bit stop-motion like. Not something I really noticed while playing (too focused on the notes for that), but it stood out to onlookers.
Kasedo’s recent Project Highrise put a fresh new spin on an old genre, and The Metronomicon does the same and more for rhythm games. The inclusion of adventure and RPG elements works great, and while my Guitar Hero days would focus on a select few tracks that I really enjoyed I found myself leaving that choice completely up to the game this time. And for a soundtrack where most of the artists were unknown to me, that says quite a bit about the quality of the game behind them. If you’re a PC gamer and you were jealous of console owners with all their rhythm titles – be jealous no more.