I think, here in 2016, that we can safely say that - bar a few precious embers as its dim flame is finally stamped out - the Vita is done. What a delight, then, to see one of its real unsung gems given a second lease of life, with Digital Dreams' Metrico being given a generous makeover for a release on PC and PS4 today (an Xbox One version is due along shortly).
Metrico - "a short and beautiful puzzler that feels like a wholly self-contained piece," as we said in our review back in 2014 - was a game as eccentric as its host platform, its infographic-inspired levels taking advantage of all the weird nooks and crannies of Sony's Vita. There was some motivation for it to make the most of the Vita, too, seeing as it was ushered into existence with the help of Sony funding.
"It's been our ticket into the space we want to be," Thijmen Bink, one of the three core members of Digital Dreams, tells me as I'm taken through what's new in Metrico+, and what the experience on that Vita game brought to the small studio.
"We learned how to make a real game! And we learned about what we should do better in terms of production. We're a small team and it's hard to pull something like this off - it's super stupid to make a multi-formant game with three to four people. It's becoming easier with things like Unity, but on Vita it was really hard - Unity was the only engine to support it, Unreal wasn't there yet and Sony's Phyre engine wasn't really friendly. And the engine was too young back then - I think we did really well considering."
The original Metrico didn't exactly set the world alight in terms of sales - "That's why you have a deal with Sony," says Bink, "to make it worth your while!" - but it endeared itself to many of those who did play it. We delighted in its creativity in our original review (an 8/10, or a Recommended in new money if you will), and I was a fan of its playful, ever-changing nature.
"Reviews were very extreme," Bink reflects. "Some people loved it and thought everything was cool, and other people were off, usually with the hardware features. First it was sort of surprising and disheartening, but we knew all along it wasn't for everyone. We thought it was cool having people love the game or hate it rather than this middle ground. But we learnt that we had to do more play testing - which was hard on Vita as you can't get builds out."
Metrico+ is a slightly less abstruse game, then, featuring all new worlds plus reworked puzzles elsewhere. I got snagged on a couple of challenges while playing it - I'll put that down partly to the pressure of playing in front of one of the game's developers in a crowded bar, but mostly just to the fact I'm awful at games - but the charm is still there. Most importantly, for me, the sinister edges of a game in which you control a character lost in a world of meaningless graphs and data are sharpened for this new outing.
"It's becoming a bit darker this time around," says Bink. "The graphs and the world is a very meta representation of what a game is like. It's not so much that you're stuck within infographics - more that you're stuck in a factory where you're repeating things over again, and you do have to follow orders. I don't want to say too much... But there's definitely something we're trying to tell, and it's a little dark. Hopefully once people contemplate it they'll come out enlightened."
I hope Metrico+ finds an audience now it's gone beyond the Vita, and not just because it's a fascinating little game but because Digital Dreams is a properly fascinating studio with a bright future ahead of it. Now Metrico+ is out, it's setting its sights on staffing up and taking on something a little more ambitious - and if it can apply the same creativity and imagination as is evident in Metrico, it could be something very exciting indeed.