Proun+

04-03-15
Posted by James at 10:15

You know you've made it when your game ends up being cloned by others - it's often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, after all. This is exactly what happened with Joost van Dongen's Proun since its release on PC nearly four years ago, with clones like Unpossible and Polyrider cropping up after its release.

In spite of all this, Joost saw all the cloning as a proof of concept for his humble game, strengthening his resolve to expand on it and bring it to new platforms. This of course brings us to the here and now, with Proun+ on 3DS (also available on iOS and later, Android).

Proun+ is a twitch game at heart - it's fast, and you'll be avoiding things a lot. Except here you're speeding down a twisting, winding cylindrical rail, and these objects you're trying to avoid are pieces of modern art.

You read that right. The star of Proun+ really is the modern art, inspired by artists such as El Lissitzky. It's abstract, comes in all sorts of shapes and geometric varieties, and it's scattered around the cylindrical rail you're riding across. Avoiding collisions with it is a case of rotating clockwise or anti-clockwise about the rail, the game's centred camera lending an amazing sense of inertia to even the smallest movements as you see the whole world rotate around you.

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Discovering what you'll see next is a good chunk of the fun. One course boasts an interconnecting series of pipes, while another features more organic, ribbon-like shapes, all caked in a dazzling palette of orange-purple.

Finishing each race in the top three involves a lot of careful rotating, since collisions slow you down and too much rotation results in a loss of momentum. The trick is to strike a careful balance between making these smaller, well calculated movements, while possibly getting in a few larger, sweeping ones ad lib to manage your speed effectively.

It all kicks off with a carefully measured sense of speed: fast enough to make it feel exhilarating, but not too fast in order to give you a large enough window of time to avoid obstacles on the fly without the need for memorisation. Pulling off a clean run through intuition and instinct alone is hugely satisfying. The 3D effect adds a lot, lending everything an existence that's almost tangible, whether it's pieces of confetti suspended in mid-air, or a heightened feeling of claustrophobia as you navigate carefully around the inside of a larger object.

It also significantly improves your judgement of upcoming obstacles, since what was once a flat and busy image becomes a lot clearer in 3D space. Add to this the distinctive and well-judged sound effects - which help you focus on the action, rather than the heads-up display - and this is a game that makes it easy to get into the zone, as it were.

Two extra modes see the game take a breather from all the racing. 'Endless' is Proun+ in its purest form, where a single collision is fatal and your speed continually increases. It's here where you really get a feel for the course designs, since pulling off a flawless lap becomes a necessity.

'Points' goes in the opposite direction and attempts to subvert how you approach the game. Instead of avoiding objects, the order of the day is to run through translucent colour-coded gates in order to rack up a high score. Experimentation is key, because there's a trade-off to how points are earned: passing through consecutive gates of the same colour piles on the score multiplier, but consistency is rewarded too, with a secondary multiplier resetting if you make a collision. Despite this layer of complexity, accumulating a top-tier score rarely feels muddled or arbitrary due to some smart gate placement.

It's a shame, then, that a lot of what Proun+ gets right fades away when you play the final two (of five) difficulties: supersonic and speed of light. They speed the game up to the point where it's just too overwhelming to play via instinct. Obstacles zoom over the horizon with relentless speed, so not only is your brain not given much time to process the incoming threats, but it's so fast that your thumbs are going to be delayed in executing the right moves in time.

The good news is this doesn't do much to detract from the overall game. Proun+ bundles the same core content under each of its five difficulty classes, so simply choose whatever you're comfortable with and get rotating - there's a lot of fun to be had from twirling around a cylindrical rail, gawping at/avoiding modern art, and constantly bettering your game.
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One day I'll get to review something that looks like it's come from the modern era.
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