Proteus Review: Still Beautiful, Now Slightly Less Empty

I am trying to break Proteus.

I have come ashore on the desolate, beautiful island that makes up the game. It is Spring, and trees covered with pink, pixelated flowers drop petals all over the ground, while frogs and chickens, identifiable only by the way they move as they’re little more than piles of squares, scatter from my approach. I have come to beat a game that’s not about anything, or destroy it in the attempt. I am not here for art.

I’m not here for the art because this is not my first time on this particular island, and I’m wondering what more it has to offer. Last time I visited Proteus, the game was in a preview build that lasted maybe 45 minutes. Like titles such as Dear Esther, Proteus is about a strange place that mixes visuals and ambient music to create a singular experience — it’s like stepping into an 8-bit abstract painting that’s moving and breathing, and wandering around in it for a bit. But all you can do is wander around with no means of interacting with the world around you, and there are no goals; and while that preview build was a fun and even gorgeous experience, it didn’t cost me anything. And it was 45 minutes long.

This full release of Proteus is also 45 minutes long. It is also gorgeous. It costs $10. I’ve heard rumors somewhere that there might be an end to Proteus beyond what’s forced on you through the course of the game, and that no one has ever seen it. So I have come to beat this abstract island to determine if $10 is a worthy price for a game in which you can’t do anything but watch the world change around you.

“The magic frog does not cooperate.”

Proteus (PC [Reviewed])
Developer: Ed Key and David Kanaga
Publisher: Twisted Tree
Release Date: Jan. 30, 2013
MSRP: $9.99

The last time I visited Proteus, I wandered around the mystifying landscape and found myself fascinated by it all, wondering at the purpose of things like towers that make strange electronic sounds as you approach them, or a ring of human-shaped statues with vaguely animal-like heads. In that preview build, no answers were forthcoming. I could not scale the towers. I could not touch the statues. I could not enter the log cabin I found on one hilltop. I could never catch the frogs.

This time, I’m determine to find that one thing that triggers winning. Surely it must exist. Or if it doesn’t exist, then I will push Proteus to its limits. I will explore it thoroughly. I will find the one thing I missed or that wasn’t a part of it in the last build. I will refuse to play by the game’s rules.

And the game does have rules — there is a progression. At the risk of spoiling things, this is, namely, time travel. When you start the game, it’s morning, and you progress through a single day that represents springtime on Proteus. During the night, winds pick up and small white dust specs, which I’ve taken to calling tachyons because nerdiness, swirl toward the center of the island. If you follow them, you’ll eventually find them spinning together like a tornado; step into the ring they create, and Spring becomes Summer.

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2 Comments on Proteus Review: Still Beautiful, Now Slightly Less Empty

Dan Miller

On December 20, 2013 at 10:35 am

I just played through this on Vita for the first time yesterday. How do you review a game like this? It’s a gorgeous experience that anybody with some aesthetic sense should play. I’ll remember the moment that you drift away from the island as pretty magical, and unique in gaming. Journey was one of my favorite games ever, so it’s no surprise I enjoyed Proteus. It’s certainly niche. I spend so much (too much) time in games trying to maximize DPS and other competitive, incremental improvement bull, mindlessly plowing through hours of essentially non-moments that I won’t remember the next day. It’s refreshing to come upon something like this, which presents 2-3 fantastic moments in just 45 minutes. I won’t remember the middle 20 hours I spent on CoD this year, but I’ll remember Proteus.

Personally, I don’t see harm in giving it a 10/10. It achieves exactly what it sets out to. Hard to fault art when it hits its mark, though I’m sure it doesn’t resonate for many. I’ll never understand how price is factored into a review, especially when the price is 1/6 of a standard game… but that’s a longer discussion.


On August 11, 2014 at 8:47 am

Whoever wrote this. I found an end I have yet to read about. Can’t remember the season, could have been winter. Walked up a snowy mountain during a meteor shower. I looked into the meteor shower and found a circular opening in the meteorite tails, like they were aimed around me. I sat down. After a couple of seconds my eyes closed and it was all dark.