Water levels don’t exactly have a stellar reputation in video games. They’re notoriously hard to get right and have consistently appeared in lists of the worst levels ever or in rants on Reddit. But for some insane reason, the developers of Pronty decided to set the entire thing in the depths of the ocean, and somehow they’ve made it work. Pronty is an amalgamation of many modern Metroidvania games, not doing anything new as such but executing it all with verve. Although it was first released back in 2021, it has made the long swim upriver to the Nintendo Switch, giving me the perfect opportunity to dive in.
You are Pronty. Well, you’re actually a clone of a Pronty, a sort of genetically engineered life form meant to protect the underwater city of Royla from threats by stabbing said threats with Bronty, a robot swordfish that is directly linked to Pronty’s mind. Believe me, I’m aware of how insane this sounds but I tell you nothing but the truth. Royla is clearly the remains of what was once presumably our own Earth, humanity little more than a distant memory. Perhaps not even that. Vast statues, reactors and more are all now just part of the underwater landscape.
The storyline is largely kept to the background. Some very short cutscenes fill in enough of the detail to get a general overview of what’s going on and you can definitely deduce a lot of it just through the visuals alone, but most of the narrative meat is found in various collectables that can be read through if you have the patience. The general gist is that the world is now underwater and various mutated aquatic lifeforms are causing problems, so an A.I. sends you out to hunt down and kill some big boss monsters, with the ultimate goal being a hulking behemoth of a fish/thing.
Pronty is a gorgeous game to look at, with all sorts of beautiful backdrops swimming into view as you plunder the murky depths. There are dark, dingy corridors, bright open areas and lovely background details that help flesh out what the world must have been like before disaster befell it. Enemy designs are just as impressive, incorporating familiar aquatic life with bio-mechanical parts to create strange hybrids like exploding fish, giant squids made of incredibly hard bricks, starfish riding strange wheels and more. Each one is unique and easily identified, always making it perfectly clear what you’re facing and what it can do, and every single one of them just looks freaking cool.
In true Metroidvania fashion, the map is a sprawling web of rooms, corridors, shortcuts and discoveries. The story does provide some general direction but how you get there is the meat of the game. Many chunks of the map will need new abilities to access, so you go off on an adventure to find an upgrade and wind up battling one of the cool bosses, like a massive shark whose hide is pierced with hundreds of huge blades. Although Pronty doesn’t break any new ground, the execution of its classic Metroidvania design is excellent. Everything comes at a nice pace, the layout isn’t overly complex but has heaps of room to get lost and explore, and it’s satisfying to finally reach your goal after spending 15 minutes swimming around, looking for the way forward.
There are bases scattered around, too, providing a moment of respite and opening up fast travel points across Royla. More importantly, here you can apply new upgrades to Pronty by inserting special mod chips which can take up one or more of your limited slots. There’s plenty to find in the world, giving you a good reason to poke around, and there’s freedom to find combinations that work best for you, like maybe focusing more on boosting your speeds and how quickly Bronty can charge up. But honestly, what I love most is that the distance between these save points is nicely judged. I enjoy the Metroidvania genre as a whole but can find the punishing nature of them becoming more and more of a negative, especially when I don’t have time for long sessions and risk losing a bunch of progress because I didn’t stumble across a save point in time. The developers of Pronty have struck a superb balance here, and I often found myself breathing out a heavy sigh of relief when I came across a sanctuary just as my health was low and my patience was waning.
The basic combat has a twin-stick shooter vibe because you control Bronty, you’re living spear, with the right stick and order him to attack by hammering away on the appropriate button. Provided you can keep your aim true you can whale away on the attack button to keep up the Bronty assault, leaving you to concentrate on moving Pronty and performing dashes using the ZL button. But before long you get a couple more tricks to use: Bronty can become a living grinder/shield by holding down ZR, and by releasing the trigger he can be fired off as a power attack. A tap L can lock Bronty into place, and holding it will summon him back to your side, handy for any moments he gets caught up somewhere. Which he will.
At first, it felt a little awkward to get to grips with but once I found the rhythm the combat became hugely enjoyable. That’s doubly true during the boss fights which are the highlight of Pronty. Each one brings with it unique attack patterns and mechanics that stop them from feeling too samey, like an electric hydra that fires off bolts of lighting water or a huge squid that would decimate the area with blasts of water and strong currents. These battles are tough but fair, making them a real joy to complete and the highlights of the whole game.
If the combat and chip system sounds somewhat familiar, well, that’s because they are. Pronty does borrow quite heavily from Ori & The Will of the Wisp and from Hollow Knight, but I view that as a compliment to both of those games and Pronty’s underwater theme and visual style help set it apart from its inspirations.
Let’s get into some specifics about how this Switch port performs. For the most part, it’s great, clipping along steadily, but there were a few hiccups where the framerate would drop suddenly and then pick up again. Not game-breaking, but noticeable. Hopefully, an update or two can smooth things out a little more. The handheld mode doesn’t fare too great because the text is hard to read on the smaller screen with no option to increase the size, although there isn’t too much text to get through, and during occasional moments the camera pulls back which caused me to completely lose track of my character. That made boss fights in handheld mode pretty much unplayable for me, but for general exploration it’s fine.
Pronty is a fairly typical Metroidvania game in most regards, drawing heavily from some of the genre’s big hitters and then mixing in some of its own unique elements. The result isn’t watered-down, it’s stronger for it. The underwater setting is beautiful and Pronty is a joy to control, especially in combat and against the fun bosses. If the Metroidvania genre hasn’t won you over I doubt Pronty will change your mind, but if you love getting lost in a big map and stumbling across an upgrade that opens up new doors, Pronty is fantastically designed and a lot of fishy fun.
Categories: Reviews, Videogame Reviews
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