These days, it feels like it takes a lot more for a Metroidvania to stand out from the pack, especially when there are so many excellent titles that have already shown impressively creative takes on the genre standards. Pronty from Taiwanese indie developer 18Light makes its bid for your attention by plopping players in a dark, deep-sea environment that can be freely explored in all directions. It has some issues here or there, but Pronty overall does a great job of presenting players with an occasionally challenging and always alluring adventure that feels like a welcome addition to a crowded genre.
Pronty places you in the role of the eponymous aquatic creature who wakes up on their birthday eager to finally become an official Protector for the undersea human city of Royla. However, while running through some training drills with their robotic swordfish companion, Bront, an evil giant fish named Raksha attacks and all Protectors are immediately called in to defend the city. Given that Pronty was stationed at an outpost that’s on the very edge of the frontier, they have a long journey ahead before they can join in the counteroffensive and there are various overt and subtle hints along the way that the damage to Royla is much worse than it first seemed.
Overall, it’s a decent enough plot, though it clearly doesn’t take center stage here. Most of what you learn about Roylan society—and thus, the broader context of what you’re supposed to be fighting for—is gleaned from various data logs and such that you collect while exploring, supplemented by occasional directive comments from Bront. Otherwise, most of your experience with Pronty is spent quietly marveling at the gorgeous sunken locales and fighting off hostile fish.
Because of this, it feels like there’s a bit of a disconnect between the narrative and gameplay, as it often doesn’t seem like Pronty is really moving the plot forward or doing anything relevant to the larger conflict. Even so, the lore that you slowly uncover still manages to be interesting and keeps you wanting to explore more to uncover more of the mystery of this subaquatic civilization. Other games such as Blasphemous and Hollow Knight may have done a better job of telling a story that mostly takes place in the background, but Pronty still left us feeling satisfied.
Gameplay follows the traditional Metroidvania design of exploring a big, interconnected map, powering up with collectibles and new abilities, and killing a bunch of baddies and bosses along the way. Of course, the big gimmick here is that it’s all underwater, so environments and combat encounters are designed around having 360 degrees of movement. Though Pronty moves a little more sluggishly than we would like, movement still feels smooth overall, and there’s a nice amount of enemy variety to keep you on your toes and push you to try different strategies.
Combat is handled via a rather interesting system in which Pronty doesn’t actually do any of the attacking. Instead, they direct their companion Bront to attack foes in a way that feels sort of like a twin-stick shooter crossed with the combat seen in Ori and the Blind Forest. Bront attacks every time you tap the ‘ZR’ button and you choose targets by rotating the right stick to lock on. Hold down ‘ZR’, and Bront will rush to Pronty and spin around them, acting as both a shield and a close-range weapon that damages anything that tries to touch Pronty. It’s an interesting battle system that’s bolstered by the abilities you slowly acquire, but it feels like it never quite comes together as well as it could.
It can be awkward and clunky, for example, when you’re being rushed by multiple enemies and have to keep the right stick trained on the one you want to hit, all while furiously tapping ‘ZR’ and using the left stick to try maneuvering Pronty around incoming attacks. Plus, it feels like Bront just doesn’t do enough damage for most of the game, especially when fighting bosses. Later abilities like a charge attack or permanent boosts to your damage help add to your offensive capability, but we would’ve liked it if foes were a little less spongy.
That said, we did appreciate the genuine challenge offered in most boss fights. While fights against individual enemies rarely prove to be too difficult to overcome, each boss features multiple phases of progressively more punishing attacks that are sure to bury you a few times before you learn the timing and tells. None of the fights feel overwhelming, but we were reminded on occasion of the tougher bosses in Metroid Dread that demand skilled and precise play to claim victory. And while Pronty is clearly designed for this level of difficulty, it gives options for players who want something a little different. Those who are put off by difficulty can always play on the easiest ‘story’ mode, while those who like a little more pain can choose to play on tougher difficulties that not only make the numbers less fair, but also add new attacks to each boss’s arsenal.
When you’re not busy fighting for your life, you’ll spend time exploring all sorts of creepy and serene undersea locales rife with collectibles and secrets to uncover. Backtracking to previous areas to unlock old paths with new abilities is common here (and made more convenient by a helpful fast travel system), though we would characterize the overall experience as being quite linear. Those of you who prefer a Metroidvania that takes off the leash and lets you find things for yourself may be a bit disappointed here, as it feels like you’re usually railroaded into the next section without much choice to deviate. This isn’t strictly a bad thing, and it does tend to open up more after you get past the first few hours, though it does feel like it could’ve taken better advantage of the unique undersea setting. After all, being able to move in all directions is a bit less alluring when you’re often not actually allowed to go very far in most directions.
When you do stray off the beaten path, we appreciated that Pronty adequately rewards your efforts. Whether it be a new challenge room you can try to endure, a new bit of lore that fleshes out more of the backstory, or a new upgrade for the Memory Board (more on that in a bit), there’s always something worthwhile to find. Add all these collectibles together along with the potential for multiple endings, and there’s a lot to do in Pronty if you want to go for 100% completion. Best of all, it doesn’t feel like a slog to scour maps as you’re often going to find something more interesting than a basic stat boost.
For example, one of the most common finds is a new upgrade for your Memory Board, which is a shameless copy of the charms system in Hollow Knight. Each upgrade for the board will give you a unique buff like speeding up your stamina recovery, giving specific attacks new secondary effects, or boosting your mobility. However, you only have limited (though expandable) room in your memory board to slot upgrades, so you have to be choosy with your build and often have to cycle things in and out to meet new challenges. It may make more sense, for example, to go with a particular build to overcome a boss, then change afterward to something that’s better for dealing with crowd control. We enjoyed the extra dimension this added to both combat and exploration, as it’s always a thrill to find new upgrades and test them out in new builds.
Visually, Pronty utilizes a wonderful hand-drawn art style that does a great job of selling the spooky but peaceful vibe of this undersea world. The art deco-inspired architecture naturally brings BioShock to mind, and there’s a pervasive sense of quiet wonder as you swim past old, waterlogged posters and shattered stained glass windows. There’s a very lonely feeling one gets exploring these environments, even while accompanied by Bront, and that atmosphere permeates Pronty across its ten(ish)-hour runtime.
This is supplemented by a light touch soundtrack that punctuates the underwater sounds with quiet tunes that add to the mystique of each locale. Much of the soundscape here is defined by various sounds like rushing water and bubbles, while slow violins and strings come in every here and there to highlight new discoveries. We loved this chill approach to the soundtrack and felt that it works well with the overall tone that Pronty is clearly going for.
Pronty may have some minor flaws, but this is overall a very solid Metroidvania that does a lot to set itself apart from the pack. Things like the impressive atmosphere, challenging boss fights, and oodles of worthwhile collectibles keep drawing you further into the experience, while the promise of multiple endings will keep you coming back for more. And though combat feels like it could use a little more tightening up, it’s certainly a unique system that fits well with the underwater setting. If you’re at all a fan of Metroidvanias, we’d encourage you to pick this one up; it’s not an absolute must-play, but it is an attractive, challenging, and thoroughly enjoyable undersea romp.
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