If there’s one type of level that gamers typically despise, it’s a water level. Personally, I hate dark and ice stages more, but I can completely understand why many have an aversion to all things water. Not many games pull it off well, and those that attempt to form a whole game underwater tend to either be successful, or a miserable failure.
Pronty not only has the courage to try and pull this off, but it also wishes to do so in a metroidvania style title – a ‘wetroidvania’, if you will. Considering my previously discussed love/hate relationship with the genre, I hoped for the best but feared the worst.
Thankfully, not only did the game pleasantly surprise me – but it may also be one of the best in the genre on the Switch.
Many thanks to Happinet Corporation for the review code.
UNDER THE SEA
Pronty is the latest sea guardian recruit for the underwater city of Royla (a name that bears a somewhat foreboding similarity to that of Lovecraft’s R’lyeh). After hundreds of years of technological advancement, this race of fish-people have made their home here and the protectors are the first line of defence against threats to their serving their masters here and rely on the guardians to ward off any threats to their futuristic Atlantis.
Whilst in the middle of his training with his companion / weapon Bront, Pronty witnesses the protective ice wall to the surface break, allowing in the gigantic fish Raksha and swarms of mutated critters. With his home in danger, Pronty needs to act fast to get rid of this menace. Unfortunately, he may not like what he uncovers along the way.
What starts out as a rather cute little story, ends up getting mixed with some rather dark undertones as you explore the wrecked city further. Dialogue is relatively frequent, especially towards the start, but it’s not enough to be too troublesome – at least on a first playthrough. Animated comic-strip style cinematics also play on occasion for certain story events, and are a welcome (if infrequent) addition.
WET WET WET
Using a cartoon visual style that evokes the Bioshock series with its destroyed underwater city, Pronty really is stunning to look at. Whilst centering on the Atlantisian city of Royla, the game has an impressive range of locales that feel distinctly unique from one another. Whether it be dilapidated security centres with a handful of their protective systems still active, or the inside of a mortally ill gargantuan whale, there’s certainly enough to keep you visually interested whilst navigating the predominantly art deco environments. The audio, by comparison, is pretty minimalistic; the soundtrack mainly kicking in for intense battles when the tension is running high – but it also works. Swimming around with low key ambience really adds to the atmosphere and and highlights those moments of tension when you come across some real danger.
Navigating through these confines is relatively straightforward, as the game is surprisingly quite linear for a metroidvania. At the start, you’ll be channelled through a very specific path, with alternate routes either being literally unpassable or by having Bront stop you and saying that you’re not ready yet. Whilst this does feel a little hand-holdy, the game starts to open up a little once you get to (more or less) the centre of the map; not a lot, mind you, as the bite-sized version of your map in the hub area will tell you where you can find the next opponent to take out, but you’re still mostly left to try and find your own way. Whilst many may not care for this linearity, it’s something that I came to appreciate; there are loads of titles in the genre that offer huge areas to get lost in, so it’s nice having a game that doesn’t feel quite as overwhelming to navigate.
The main distinguishing feature of the game, however, is how Pronty controls. Being underwater, he is able to swim in any direction he likes, allowing him to navigate anywhere that isn’t specifically blocked off. His movement speed may be a tad too slow to start off with, but that becomes a bit easier to deal with once he obtains his dash ability. As the game progresses, Pronty will gain new abilities to help him traverse the environment. Obviously, there’s no need for a double jump here, so instead we have the ability to teleport to Bront’s position, deflect electrical bullets, ram through blockages, and so on. They all fit the theme rather well, even if some of them can be quite tricky to use effectively. The teleport ability, for example, is pretty neat but its fiddliness can make it pretty useless if tried to use whilst in combat, for example.
Speaking of which, combat is done by aiming the right stick in the direction of attack and lobbing your friend spiky-head first into your enemies. This is accompanied by a further ability you’ll gain early on that makes Bront rotate around you like a rotary saw, which can then be flung out for a power attack. Attacks can be further powered up by dashing through enemies and marking them; a technique that probably won’t be very useful against bigger bosses, but certainly helps deal with some of the stronger foes that you’ll fight. It’s certainly feels like a unique combat system, even if it sometimes doesn’t feel quite as tight as it could be due to your reliance on Bront doing what you tell him to do. It works most of the time, but on the odd occasion he can get stuck somewhere and require you to press the recall button.
But, in reality, this is rarely an issue since standard fights tend to be rather straightforward. There are some more hectic encounters that may make you sweat, but the abundance of save points means that you’ll rarely need to worry. Where things do get a little harder are with the boss fights, which make for some incredible encounters, but are also a huge spike in difficulty when compared with the rest of the game. There’s a blade covered shark, a makeshift medusa formed from electrical eels growing out the broken head of a statue, and so much more. This is where the combat really comes into its own, as your skillset really seems more designed around these one-on-one encounters rather than a plethora of smaller foes charging at you. It’s a shame then that the difficulty of some of the encounters will prove to be a barrier for many, as even on the normal difficulty some of the later bosses can be extremely brutal.
Thankfully, this difficulty can be alleviated in one of several different ways. Being a metroidvania, exploration will – of course – lead to rewards, and vials obtained can be used to upgrade either Pronty or Bront to make them stronger. Microchips can also be found lying around (or by winning one of the game’s minigames), and you can equip a handful of these to make you more agile or give you some bonus abilities. I was particularly fond of the baby shark that attacks enemies whenever you dash. He’s a cutie.
The other important way to alleviate the difficulty is by using the game’s difficulty selection. There are a few to choose from at the start depending on your playstyle, and these can be altered at any time during your playthrough. More interestingly, not only can you change the difficulty mode but you can even use sliders to modify your damage resistance, stamina usage, and damage output. It’s a very welcome addition that will allow all gamers to make the game suitable for their preferences. I personally hate low stamina meters, so I adjusted mine a tad in order to get a little bit more dash usage to help me get around the world faster.
It’s one of the many great touches that the game does that help it stand out from the pack and make it worth your time. Whilst the game may not be the longest in the genre, it still offers a relatively meaty experience for the price and even has a variety of unlockable skins and multiple ending to help try and make you come back for more.
Pronty is one of those games that will probably pass people by due to being yet another metroidvania and having the audacity to be set entirely underwater. However, it’s a beautiful experience that offers a really unique gameplay style and a lot of fun. There may be some small missteps, such as a steep boss difficulty spike, but this is still a game you won’t want to miss out on. Especially not for this price.