Before diving into Pronty, I want to note that I’ve stated many times that Metroid is probably my favourite game series of all time, with Metroid Prime specifically being my all-time favourite game. However, despite my love for these games, nothing makes me wince harder these days than if a game describes itself as a Metroidvania—the term itself being particularly annoying to me. Outside of a few notable examples like Hollow Knight or Blasphemous, I’ve yet to play a Metroid-like that really captivated me.
Metroid is a very particular kind of stew, and if you just can’t get the spices right, then you’ll end up with a game that drives you close to madness. You need a balance of slow-building gameplay that compliments the hostile, tense atmosphere that accompanies it, and if any one element is off, then the game either feels boring or frustrating to play. This brings me to Pronty, a game that both feels boring and frustrating to play—attempting to be an aquatic Hollow Knight but just ending up feeling hollow.
Pronty tells the story of a little fish person of the same name, who, while beginning its training as an underwater guardian, catches a glimpse of a massive leviathan sea creature responsible for destroying several of the game’s underwater civilizations. When the same creature destroys Pronty’s home, he sets out on an adventure to stop it before it can do more damage.
My first issue with Pronty is the way it tells its story. Unlike some of the better examples in the genre that either uses their worlds to tell the story, punctuated with small cutscenes or dialogue here and there, Pronty cannot shut up. Pronty is stopped every five seconds to have your fish companion—that’s also its main weapon, and also named Bront which just feels lazy—lay out every little detail about what’s happening. And if it’s not Bront stopping the game, it’s some next thing, and it absolutely kills the game’s pacing.
“Pronty is stopped every five seconds to have your fish companion—that’s also its main weapon, and also named Bront which just feels lazy—lay out every little detail about what’s happening.”
I don’t know if, as I’ve gotten older, I’ve developed less patience for games that feel the need to stop gameplay to deliver the plot constantly or if it’s just worse in a game like this that describes itself as a Metroid-like. The reason Hollow Knight’s atmosphere works is because you spend so much of the game alone that when you finally do find some excentric little character, it adds small glimpses of life to an otherwise dying world. Not even just the plot, but almost every bit of gameplay is so plainly laid out that it sucks all the fun and intrigue out of exploring the world.
At one point, I approached an area that was too dark for Pronty to explore, and a good game would have either just let me continue in until I got lost or died at the hands of an unseen enemy. Hell, even a lesser game would’ve at least just stopped me going forward with maybe a little text line like, “it’s too dark to continue.” But not Pronty, which needed to stop the game for Bront to not only say it’s too dark to explore but flat-out name the upgrade that we should find before exploring.
It just felt so insulting, like I couldn’t be trusted with the information that an area too dark to explore might require an upgrade that lights up a room. The reason games like Metroid work is because they allow you to come up against walls and force you to explore their worlds to find ways to break past them. You’re presented with locked doors, and you need to find the keys—and when you finally do get the item that you needed to explore the rooms from the start of the game, there’s a genuine sense of excitement.
But it’s not like Pronty’s world is fun to explore anyway. Being an underwater adventure, there’s a certain freedom of movement that’s allowed to players, but the game somehow even managed to mess this up. For a fish person, Pronty is a uniquely terrible swimmer, moving both slowly and lacking any kind of fluidity. Maybe it’s because I’d been playing Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze before this that I was so shocked at the difference, but somehow a giant gorilla moves with more grace underwater than this fish person.
This is coupled with one of the most ineffectual weapons I’ve ever experienced in a game of this kind. Pronty attempts a kind of twin-stick shooter style of gameplay as you swim around and aim at enemies, which will send Bront in to attack like a little javelin. This may seem pretty straightforward, but it always feels like it takes way too long for Bront to reach what you’re aiming at.
When it finally does get there, it just needles the enemy for almost no damage. What’s more, players have to keep their aim line constantly pointed at whatever enemy they want to attack in a sort of “lock on” mechanic, lest Bront just flails wildly at nothing.
Attaching shooting mechanics to something that is effectively a melee weapon just doesn’t feel right. It creates a strange disconnect since your means of attack don’t come from you, which means your positioning—a crucial strategic element in a twin-stick shooter—is pointless. You can kind of mitigate this by not aiming, which will have Bront attack the nearest enemy within a certain radius, but your attack is so pitiful, and enemies are such damage sponges that combat never feels satisfying.
Trying to dodge away from enemies is frustrating at worst and mindless at best, as almost everything swims faster than you, and your incredibly pathetic dodge is tied to a stamina system that makes Breath of the Wild’s early stamina bar seem generous. Furthermore, Bront can also act as a shield if you hold the attack button down, but this has the potential to overheat and leave you without a weapon, which seems like an interesting safety vs. risk element attached to combat. But given Pronty’s horrible movement underwater, it just ends up being more frustrating than anything.
Furthermore, holding the attack button is how you charge Bront’s strong attack—like Samus’ Charge Beam—so you can sometimes lose him while trying to charge an attack, and enemies hit the shield, causing an overheat. Also, since Bront is both a weapon and a companion, sometimes it’s possible to lose him during exploration, leaving you without a weapon, lest you hold the R button down to summon him to your side. It’s not a major inconvenience, but it’s annoying nonetheless.
Every other aspect of gameplay just doesn’t fit the genre. The game is way too linear, even compared to something like Metroid Fusion or Dread. It’s way too generous with its save points, which double as fast-travel points, so exploration never feels tense or engaging. While you’ll get a fairly standard array of upgrades, Pronty has a badge system that’s more or less lifted straight from Hollow Knight.
I genuinely disliked every moment I spent playing Pronty. I won’t say it’s a game that’s devoid of quality, but its combat is so mindless while simultaneously being frustrating, and its world is so generously laid before you that there is no thrill in experiencing it. What could have been a fast, fluid bullet-hell style Metroid-like just ends up being a game I immediately wanted to turn off after any extended period of time with it, either from boredom or frustration. Just wait for Silksong.