The best thing about indie developers is that they have much more freedom to experiment with style and genre. Your platformer might have a sports section, or your shooter might force you to play Tetris. What I’m trying to get at is that we should be grateful for indie developers because we get games like The Metronomicon: Slay the Dance Floor. It takes the concept of games like Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy a little further, using dancing and rhythm-based gameplay as the means of fighting your way to victory. This console port of last year’s PC hit shows us something a little bit different, but doesn’t always manage to combine these genres successfully.
The premise of The Metronomicon is simple; four students graduate from the Neon Shield Academy, a school which teaches the art of combining dancing, music, and combat, and set out to break up “parties.” These are gatherings of dancing monsters who seek to cause mayhem and steal the ancient Metronomicon, a book on the powers of dance and music. It’s a quirky take on the standard “four heroes” trope, but while it appears novel on the surface, there’s nothing substantial underneath. I don’t think The Metronomicon needs to rely on its story at all, but flashes of cutscenes where characters are bickering don’t do it for me. There seems to be very little purpose to the entire journey, which results in the usual “save the world” rut we’re oh so used to.
The characters themselves don’t add much to the narrative either. You end up with eight characters in the main story, and none of them stray far from stereotypes. Violet, the group’s mage, gets immense satisfaction from blowing things up and is consistently hyperactive and irritating. Then there’s the crazy old man Gruver, who has completely lost his marbles but contains an immense amount of knowledge. Each party member fulfills a different RPG class, such as medic, berserker, or thief, and this means they have different roles in battle. It would be nice if the characters could break away from their tropes, but from the little interaction we get throughout the story, there’s no real chance for any of them to stand out amongst the rest of the bunch.
When you’re in battle, your four party members will have a separate rhythm section, and you need to press the buttons in time with the symbols and the music. You don’t need to control all four characters at once — instead, you can swap between them when the time is right. For instance, you could start the fight off with a strong attack from your warrior and then swap to your mage to unleash some heavy magic damage. If your health gets too low, then you can swap to your medic. It’s a fantastic and unique idea that, when perfected, works really well and keeps your adrenaline pumping. You have to plan your fights meticulously while keeping in time with the music and watching your health. It’s sometimes overwhelming, but when you get it right, it feels great.
New to the console versions is the ability to play with your friends locally. How many RPGs can you think of that let you do this nowadays? I love sitting down and playing games with others, so this was a huge draw for me. Each player controls a different character and their actions during multiplayer play. It’s a test of teamwork and patience, but also of observation and strategy. It’s really fantastic to see this aspect added to the game, because even though online multiplayer has become the “thing,” there’s nothing like sitting down with your best friend to take down monsters while dancing to some sick beats. There’s also a new mode called Endless Mode which lets you play through multiple songs until you lose all of your health. These additions are coming to the PC version too, so existing fans won’t be missing out.
This is a great chance to talk about the game’s music, which is the star of The Metronomicon. The soundtrack is a selection of various independent bands’ tunes, and each and every track is bound to please at least one person. These tracks cover a large range, including club mixes, heavy rock songs, slow and melodic soundscapes, and more. The variation is staggering, and this is an excellent way of getting new material out there.
There’s one thing getting in the way of musical perfection — the controls. The Metronomicon is definitely suited for keyboard controls. You have to press the directions on the D-pad in time with the corresponding note; this can get extremely fiddly when the game requires you to press more than one button at a time. You can use the face buttons as well, but this takes some adjusting to. Triangle corresponds to up, square to left, and so forth, but the results are still the same when you’re stumbling over a fast-paced song with multiple button inputs at once. If you’re really daring, you can even play the game with the Rock Band 4 guitar, but I sadly don’t own one of these.
These aspects are not helped by the game’s visuals. The bright colours and neon lights are all appealing, but particularly in battle, when these start flashing, they act more as a distraction. There’s so much going on at some points that it’s hard to focus. You hit a high chain of notes, which makes the dance floor start flickering, then you miss a note, causing some damage and a potential need to heal. It can become too much to take in. The static portraits in cutscenes are wooden, and in a game so full of colour in the battles, there was a distinct lack of this outside of combat.
A lot of the game is spent fiddling around with menus and equipment (which is to be expected in an RPG), but every screen is presented with boxes of text that lead to yet another menu or screen. You also have to spend a lot of time scrolling through your equipment and skills in menus where text is so small it’s almost unreadable. I wanted to spend my time enjoying the game’s combat and music. Unfortunately, I think I spent just as much time managing characters’ skills and equipment as I did battling monsters.
I’ve been pretty harsh with The Metronomicon, but that’s not to say I didn’t like it. The game manages to do something different fusing rhythm mechanics with turn based battles, but the awkward controls made it difficult to completely enjoy. While the addition of multiplayer, a new character, and a brand new game mode might tempt some toward the console version, the game is clearly best suited to the PC. As all of the upgrades are coming to Steam as well, there’s no real reason for existing fans to try out this new port. If you like RPGs, music, and rhythm gameplay, and prefer console or handheld gaming, I’d recommend Theatrythm: Final Fantasy any day.