Rhythm games live and die by their soundtracks. The problem is, if you're holding a plastic instrument in your hand, you've probably played through the same songs over and over whether it's in Rock Band or Guitar Hero. Regardless of how advanced the gameplay is, then, at the end of the day, if you're tapping through Bon Jovi's "Livin' on a Prayer" in one game, you might as well be playing it on any of the popular franchises. That's where The Metronomicon: Slay the Dancefloor makes a bold left turn.
Rather than featuring a list of staid genre staples, the rhythm-game/role-playing game hybrid (trust me, it works) features 50 highly curated songs. These aren't your usual crowd-pleasers, either, with tracks including unreleased music from Shiny Toy Guns, an exclusive from Mindless Self Indulgence singer Jimmy Urine and tunes from synthwave artist Perturbator and rapper Mega Ran (among others). If there's a common thread connecting the songs here, it's that everything has a driving beat or a funky groove. Sometimes both.
"If any song is in the game, it's because at least one member of the dev team totally loved it," Metronomicon's programmer and studio lead, Danny Garfield, said. It's this personal touch that makes the game so easy to buy into. Because most of these songs are unfamiliar, they have an inherent "one more try" quality that makes playing them over and over on different difficulty levels so enticing.
As far as gameplay goes, you arrive at a dungeon, play a section of songs in any order you want, unlock more tracks and then take on the boss song/monster. You attack by finishing a perfect run of notes and then switch from one character's note highway to the next.
You'll level up, earn new abilities and recruit new party members along the way -- standard RPG fare -- but when was the last time you played a role-playing game with a Rock Band guitar or a dance mat? Much like The Metronomicon's gameplay-genre mash-up, using these peripherals is a surprisingly perfect fit.
I didn't try the dance mat, but playing through "Live It Up" by Shiny Toy Guns with a plastic Stratocaster felt incredibly natural. And thankfully it's simpler than Guitar Hero, as you only need to press the fret buttons in time; you leave the strum bar alone.
The game's narrative is just as silly as its core conceit. Dance parties have materialized throughout the land of Koras. These parties play host to massive amounts of monsters that boogie the night away and trash villages like rock stars do hotel rooms.
To combat them, The Neon Shield school was formed around a book called The Metronomicon to teach "warrior breakdancing." Its lessons instruct your valiant party of sorcerers, healers, rogues and other RPG archetypes how to defeat the darkness and bring peace back to the land. In the game universe, dancing and music fuel magic, and if you're the best dancer, you can shoot fireballs. Seriously.
So yeah, it's a little different than getting a band together, touring and playing increasingly larger venues to accrue more fans, à la Rock Band.
Because of the premise, the game needed a smattering of upbeat songs to balance the moodier numbers. Ten percent of the tracklist was made in-house by members of the Puuba development team, but the remaining 45 songs are licensed tracks from established and indie musicians. Further in keeping with the game's driving nature, each song needed to have at least a three-minute section that has a distinct beginning, middle and end. "YYZ" by Rush, for example, probably wouldn't work here.
But that doesn't mean a song had to be three minutes to make the cut. Garfield cited "Bed Down With a Monster" by Crushcraze as an example. It might as well be 10 different songs wrapped together into one five-minute track. The team eventually settled on an arrangement that blends the song's different movements into a condensed but cohesive whole.
"If you listen to one minute, and then a minute later, you'd never know it was the same song," Garfield said.
The track from Jimmy Urine was a different challenge, but one that ultimately paid off. Puuba asked the Mindless Self Indulgence frontman for a song that was instrumentally layered, had multiple rhythms happening simultaneously and that changed over time. "We love you; do what you like," Garfield recalled telling the singer.
Urine came back with "Fighting With the Melody," a bouncy, idiosyncratic acid-disco tune that couldn't fit The Metronomicon's tone any more perfectly.
So far, the response from the musicians featured in the game has been incredibly positive. After the game was released for PC earlier this year (it's coming out for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One this summer), Urine released the song as a single and made its music video entirely with footage from the game -- try getting that to happen with Foo Fighters or Modest Mouse.