Review – Pronty: Fishy Adventure (Switch)
I like the concept of an underwater exploration game. The ocean, as we know it, is incredibly vast, unexplored and mysterious in comparison to the land masses on this ridiculous planet. People want to go into space to see more, and to them I say “enjoy dying in the void.” We kind of sort of know what might be out beyond the heavens, but that’ll take generations more in terms of technology and then finding people willing to sacrifice their lineage to live in a sky RV that might get to another planet “someday.” No thank you.
Let’s just strap on goggles, grab an incredibly explosive tube of air and convince James Cameron to dump another few million dollars into looking at a cave near the bottom of the Mediterranean. What will we find? Who the hell knows! It’s the ocean, it legitimately has life that we’ve never seen and has never seen us, and we could fight it if the time came. Aliens? Boo, give me some pre-Jurassic fish that might have telepathy or something.
Pronty, a metrovania adventure from 18 Light Games and the Happinet Corporation, tells the tale of the titular Pronty, who is some kind of mer-creature that can be a couple of different visages, should you so decide (selectable skins). Pronty is conscripted into the Royla guard, who are tasked with keeping the oceans around this underwater city safe and clean, and that’s just great. You’re assisted by your robotic eel dude Bront, who gives you advice, information and also acts as your primary weapon. Pronty is a guard all of one day before a massive sea creature crashes in, doing huge amounts of damage to the city and the waters around. Pronty is cut off from their home, and so you must explore the watery depths to figure out what is going on, how bad the damage is, why there’s massive, hostile fish and also what the hell Pronty even is.
From the drop, Pronty is pretty straightforward. You have areas you can’t get to yet for various reasons (collapsed tunnels, poisonous Red Tide) and you need to take the long way around to find different powerups that’ll give you better access to these places. Bront educates you in how they’re used as you find them, and also reveals things that he could do all along that he just failed to mention until this very second. Pronty has a limited number of slots to equip these powerup “chips,” so you initially need to pick and choose which passive abilities will help you out the most. From instant target refreshing to dealing revenge damage on enemies, Pronty ends up with a fairly sizable arsenal of swappable charms by the end of the game, which is fairly decent.
Pronty also has a decently sized map, which isn’t for nothing. In the same slate as Elderand, there’s enough ocean to really give you a sense of scope, and that’s appropriate for something that takes place in the goddamn ocean. Additionally, Pronty also has enemies insta-spawn as soon as you return to a room, but the effect isn’t nearly as rewarding. You won’t find healing items or random weapons scattered about here, but rather pieces of recyclable material to unlock different effects for Pronty.
Initially, all you can do is set up fast travel between “outposts” (save/heal spots), but these materials are later used to improve Pronty with more equippable slots and such. With so much to see, it’s a little surprising that heal items don’t drop more often, but I suppose that’s to capture the “difficulty” of the game, which feels pretty high even on the lowest setting.
At first, Pronty is a very enjoyable exploration title, adhering to a good utilization of the open water areas and the various concepts that are delivered through Bront’s exposition and lore that’s baked into Pronty’s computer. Each and every major element you discover – from the massive fish that cause damage to the otherworldly environments you stumble upon – comes packed with lore and information that is added to a growing compendium. In theory, this information helps to better flush out some of the deeper mysteries of Pronty, including your very existence and the reality of Royla’s underwater foundation. It has a Bioshock vibe going, not in the big spoiler country, but in the Rapture-adjacent location and ideology.
If this game was more in that mindset – a mashup of Subnautica and Abzu – then we’d have a massive winner on our hands and that’d be the end of it. Unfortunately, there’s a certain amount of uncomfortability that keeps Pronty from really hitting the high notes. The first is the aforementioned lore, which suffers from impossibly small text. Even when you have the Switch hooked up to the big screen, you find yourself squinting to even read the one-sided dialogue between Bront and Pronty.
When it comes to codex entries, you really need to stop and carefully read over what’s put up on screen, easily losing your place in deciphering all that’s being said. This is a classic issue when bringing a game from the PC to the Switch; Disco Elysium had the same fate, and even the Baldur’s Gate entries were practically illegible until a patch was released. This, hopefully, is something the devs can fix for Pronty soon.
But what cannot be patched is a feeling of weirdly unbalanced combat, which is the throughline for Pronty. On the one hand, you can easily dispatch a majority of minor enemies without ever needing to exert too much tact on the battlefield. You learn how to dash early on, and, surprise, it’s an invincibility dash like many games have delivered in the last couple of years. So if you can throw Bront, hit the enemy, and dash either away or through them, you’ve got yourself a winning combination. Since all you get is the recycled material, there’s no incentive to grind up enemies unless you’re eyeballing a specific powerup, so don’t worry too much about that.
Then, when you get into the boss fights, you’re now figuring out the classic “stage one, stage two” battle transformation and going from there. This results in an almost guaranteed rundown of the same formula each time. Go in, be aware you’ll sacrifice about three to five lives figuring out all the patterns, then forging ahead and calling it a day. Most of the time the same “throw and dash” are all you need, and real deaths come from being impatient and thinking you can get fancy with cool moves.
The fact of the matter is that Pronty is going to live and die based on what people get from this and what they want to do with it. I’m not trying to be confusing: this is a title where most of the elements are pretty middling, from combat and exploration to leveling up and bosses. The art style is very cool, I cannot dispute that. I adore the way the world looks and the facets of terrain mixed with lost technology. The comic book style cutaways to expositional moments are perfect for storytelling, and, indeed, the story is what Pronty hinges on. The comparison with Hollow Knight is a massive stretch (Hollow Knight has much better animation and combat), but the ravenous fanbase could be one and the same.
Personally, I might revisit Pronty at some point in the future, but it simply won’t bubble to the front of 2023 as the forerunner for what game I would want to play. It’s classy, it’s structurally sound, but I feel like I’ve been down this road several times and it doesn’t have anything that sticks out as a “one more time” moment. Perhaps others will enjoy their voyage under the sea, but I had to surface, pronto.
Beautifully designed locations and characters, a little bit of a loss in terms of animation efforts for Pronty herself and the slightly murky moments when in darker zones.
The novelty of more free movement underwater maintains throughout, and the areas are simple enough to fast travel between. Combat is good but not great: it barely scratches the itch. Could have used more versatility and variety in the powerups.
Evocative, captivating music that really gives the feeling of a gothic underwater scene. Sound effects for attacks and collisions is rather standard but still effective. Would have liked to have heard even more orchestral creations.
All the interesting bits started to feel flat after a while, and I was simply going through the motions. Dramatic and surprisingly dark storyline is given in spoonfuls, but doesn’t come quickly enough to balance out the monotony of some areas. It’s good, but it just isn’t great.
Final Verdict: 6.5
Pronty: Fishy Adventure is available now on Nintendo Switch and Steam.
Reviewed on Nintendo Switch.
A copy of Pronty: Fishy Adventure was provided by the publisher.