Metrico reminds me of these enormous, five-machine stereo systems my father brought home one night over a decade ago. We somehow managed to assemble one of those enormous towers of sound, then mucked with the various volume knobs on one of the machines, placed several dozen CDs inside a rotating contraption in another, tried out those newfangled DVDs we’d heard about on a third, saw what cassette tapes worked on the fourth, and then tried all the auxiliary inputs and other sources of sound on the last machine. I could play with all sorts of options, poking and prodding to see what everything did, then try to see what you could actually do if all the knobs were in the right place. This slider makes the reverb go crazy. That other one makes the voices all muddled. If you switch to input four you get AM radio.
Metrico is about messing with knobs and sliders. Each puzzle, at first, is an unintelligible graph or chart. What do the X and Y axes represent? What is this bar measuring? It was off-screen earlier—is it at 3/3 because it’s counting down something I haven’t done, or because it’s counted something I’ve already done? Before really solving anything, I simply played with all the knobs, seeing what activated them, how to get that platform to slide toward me instead of away. It’s only once I knew what everything did that I could manipulate the numbers and charts to suit my needs. There’s a moral there, I suppose.
Metrico turns obtuse graphical designs into challenges. It’s about understanding graphs. It sounds boring on paper, but in practice it’s equal parts zen and uplifting. On each of its six levels, Metrico demonstrates its central hook (i.e., tilting the Vita, warping between the restart points, or shooting dots), then leaves you to your own devices. No dialogue, only bar graphs, pie charts, and dots along lines. I had an idea of what I needed to do after the introduction to each mechanic, but every bar graph you need to manipulate to advance represents something different, whether it was the direction you’re tilting the Vita, the number of times you’ve died in that section, or some other metric (apologies for the pun).
This is puzzling to do before bed. Challenging, occasionally, but never frustrating. A mite too easy for some, as the answers will always come to you quickly after you’ve figured out how every bar or platform works. The moment where everything you’ve learned comes together arrives just at the end of its brief three or so hours, but Metrico is about novelty more than challenge. It uses every part of the Vita buffalo to amuse you rather than asking you to overcome it.
You (whether you choose to be a man or woman in-game) inhabit the inner world of these graphs as much as you make sense of it. And thanks in no small part to the outstanding soundtrack (which might have the same effect on the mind as a mild barbiturate), it’s a nice place to be. Minimalistic warm and cold colors dominate the landscapes of each level, beginning with a mountain region and ending with a dark interior populated by imposing monoliths that react to your dial and knob-mucking in the background. These are simple shapes, but they are a bit unsettling regardless.
Metrico is about making sense of graphs, but not about interpreting them. Everything you do is measured (your progress through the game, through each level, what little collectibles you’ve found), but you don’t learn anything about what any of these measurements mean. Make of these graphs what you will. At the end of each level you’re given a choice, and this too is measured. Will you side with the majority or minority? The percentages you’re shown don’t align with any morality (they are, after all, only numbers), but I felt attached to one particular side for some strange reason. I was definitely being watched, but I had no idea why.
What is Metrico about? I could give you more spiel about its morality tale of our tendency to interpret numbers and manipulate them for our own purposes, but I honestly don’t know. There’s the smallest of hints at a story, but the numbers and bars and lines never reveal their purpose. The ending cut-scene certainly doesn’t help. I can, however, tell you what Metrico is: calming, aloof and accomplished, all in equal measurements.
Suriel Vazquez is a freelance writer who once imagined what it would be like to live in one of those graphs of algebraic equations you had to do in high school, but was already too much of a nerd to share that thought with anyone at the time. You can follow him @SurielVazquez.