It’s no secret that creativity is dead. Or at least that’s the foregone conclusion of many gamers. After years of reboots, remasters, clones, and whatever CALL OF DUTY is doing these days, many gamers have given up on the quaint idea of originality. But every now and then a game comes along that challenges your cynicism, that reminds you why you play games in the first place.
THE METRONOMICON is one of those games.
A so-called “Rhythm-RPG,” THE METRONOMICON is a breath of fresh air in an often stagnant industry. At Momocon, ComicsVerse got a chance to play the game and interview the creator. There were a lot of great games at the con, but THE METRONOMICON stuck out the most. It got us thinking about the very concept of creativity and its place in the industry. What makes a game creative? Can a game be too unique? How do you balance innovation with tradition?
I never thought an indie dance game could make me think so deeply. As I finished my interview, these thoughts remained in my head, begging to be answered. After mulling it over for a few weeks, and playing the game some more, I eventually came to understand why this game, and games like it, are so important to the industry. Consider this article less of a review and more of an object lesson on creativity in video games.
So, what’s so great about THE METRONOMICON? What can the industry learn from games like this? Well, let’s take a look!
Innovation From Combination
THE METRONOMICON is a rhythm-RPG. If you’re wondering what the heck that is, well so was I. Imagine if DANCE DANCE REVOLUTION had a baby with DIABLO, and you’ll start to understand what this game is about. It takes place in a world where magic and music are essentially the same thing, where every battle is a violent dance party. Just like a traditional RPG, you need to level up your characters, buy powerful gear, and fight giant monsters, but in THE METRONOMICON the combat works like a dancing game. You press buttons in time with the music as you heal, slash, and blast your way to victory.
Creativity doesn’t have to be complicated. Sometimes, innovation comes from combination. Merging two simple, well-established genres can create an entirely new experience. Before you can pull this off, you need a deep understanding of both genres and a sense of how they mesh together.
Rhythm games are an adrenaline rush. They keep you in a state of tension as you keep the beat. They require your mind to be in two places at once: both in the moment and thinking ahead. On the other hand, role-playing games are slow, methodical, and often story-driven. They task you with customizing your character, collecting the right gear, and thinking strategically.
Combining the two could easily be disastrous, but THE METRONOMICON takes the best of both worlds, merging the high-stakes tension of a rhythm game with the story and tactics of an RPG.
Creativity for Creativity’s Sake
A lot of games try too hard to be unique and lose sight of making a fun game. The industry obsesses over things like motion controls, virtual reality, and multimedia tie-ins without wondering how this improves the player’s experience.
STAR FOX ZERO is a perfect example of this. It easily could have been a return to form for the STAR FOX franchise, returning the series to its roots and providing a simple, solid experience. But in classic Nintendo fashion, they shoe-horned in obtuse controls, wonky mechanics, and a targeting system that made you look at two screens at once. And it was all in an ill-fated attempt to be “different.” Innovation should stem from necessity or at least passion. When developers are coming up with ideas, they need to ask themselves, “Would this be a good idea if it wasn’t new?” If you can’t answer that, then stick with what you know.
Nothing about THE METRONOMICON feels forced. It never feels like it’s built around a gimmick or created for the sole purpose of feeling “new.” Everything the game does differently is done for a reason: to improve the experience and create an engaging atmosphere.
There are a lot of ways to be creative. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel, nor do you need to create something out of whole cloth. All you need to do is provide the player with a memorable, quality experience.
Weird is Good
It’s a common complaint that AAA developers are unable or unwilling to take risks. With massive budgets and out-of-touch shareholders, developers tend to go the safe route, stagnating in their comfort zones and leaving experimentation to those with less to lose. We’ve reached a point where a single game can make or break a company. It’s no wonder creativity has fallen by the wayside.
Indie devs, by their nature, can take more risks. Their budgets are considerably smaller, they have fewer people to answer to, and they can afford to cater to a smaller audience. Because of this, the indie scene is often regarded as the vanguard of the industry, experimenting with new ideas and reviving old ones. THE METRONOMICON is no exception.
THE METRONOMICON is inspired, unconcerned with the conventions of modern AAA gaming. It’s exactly the sort of title that would never be approved by a big budget company: It’s part of an almost non-existent genre. It’s anachronistic, combining high fantasy themes with modern culture. It has a wacky, colorful style instead of a dark, washed out atmosphere. The music is eclectic, diverse, and strange, almost approaching JET SET RADIO FUTURE’s classically bizarre soundtrack. THE METRONOMICON is flat-out weird, but there’s a market for that.
Go All the Way
Many games try to think outside the box, but fail to take it all the way. BATTLEFIELD ONE, for example, took the series to WWI, which was almost unheard of for a shooter. This choice alone could have been revolutionary. Think about how different the First World War was from the Second. Think about the potential gameplay scenarios, the stories that could be told, or how older weapons would affect the gameplay. Sure, it would be hard to pull off, but if done correctly it could transform the genre.
But EA refused to go all the way.
Despite its incredible atmosphere and enjoyable story, EA refused to embrace its setting. Rather than building the gameplay around the war, they built the war around the gameplay, filling the game with automatic weapons and never truly utilizing the material they were given. In the end, they refused to step up to the plate, creating a game that looks unique but plays like countless others.
Eventually, Consumers Get Tired of Repetition
Ubisoft games are famous for falling into this trap. Until very recently, they had a habit of taking creative worlds and filling them with the same repetitive gameplay. Time and again, the setting and story changed, but the gameplay loop remained the same. As a result, the company’s reputation — and eventually its profits — were badly damaged. It wasn’t until the release of WATCH DOGS 2 that the cycle was broken, providing players with a new and interesting experience.
It’s natural to be timid when money’s on the line, but the industry’s commitment to caution is becoming a detriment. It’s easy to go with what’s been done before, but eventually, repetition catches up with you. So many games try to be different but shy away when it really matters. Games like THE METRONOMICON can teach the industry a valuable lesson: if you’re going to be weird, go all the way.
The past two or three years have been weird for the industry. Whether indie or AAA, many of the most successful games of 2016 were based on new ideas or classic ones presented in new ways. We’re slowly crawling out of the pit of stagnation as developers are growing more willing to experiment. Games like THE METRONOMICON keep this momentum going, proving creativity and passion are rewarded.
We need games like THE METRONOMICON to keep us inspired, to remind us why we make games, why we write about them, why we play them. Hopefully, the industry continues this trend, pushing the market forward with new ideas done well.