There’s a particular satisfaction to discovering an indie game that surpasses expectations. It’s like landing your ship on a new island and planting a flag for Spain. Sure, there might be locals who knew about it before you, but there’s still some satisfaction in finding something you previously didn’t know was there, and having it be awesome.
Also, you don’t have to transmit Smallpox to the people who already liked it, and… well, this history metaphor is breaking down.
Anyway, Proun is like that. An indie side-project that has been in development for the last six years by one guy, the game is surprisingly great and engaging. It was created by Joost van Dongen, lead programmer at De Blob developer Ronimo Games, but Proun is a solo project he’s just been making because he loves making games.
Proun (PC [Reviewed])
Release Date: January 01, 2011
You can feel that passion in the gameplay, because despite its small relative size (it’s a racer with only five total tracks), it has received a pretty high degree of polish. And it also has an unassailably cool concept; it’s a racer where the racing part isn’t nearly as impossible as the not crashing into things part.
In Proun, you control a ball rolling along a cylindrical cable. That makes up the track. You can’t leave the table, and the whole racing experience is based on it. Along the cable are placed lots of geographic shapes that basically just crowd up the racing space — using the arrow keys (or WASD), you rotate the ball around the cable in order to dodge them. Avoiding objects is key to keeping speed up, as is keeping rotation to a minimum and trying not to let the ball grind against surfaces along the way.
During each race, going for a certain amount of time without running into anything charges a booster that can be activated for a big burst of speed with the Shift key. This is a double-edged sword, though, because reaction time and reading the coming environment are already pretty difficult even at Proun’s normal speeds. There are other racers that you’re battling, but more than anything, you’re racing against your own reflexes. Every race, it seems, is yours to lose, and only through practice and repetition will you get fast enough to keep up and avoid mistakes.
The game really shines in its level design. Apart from being really challenging, with objects coming at you at high speeds and requiring quick reactions, Proun is beautiful. The whole thing has a modern art aesthetic filled with bright colors and geographic shapes, and according to its website, proun-game.com, it has even appeared in some modern art museums. That’s a level of legitimacy that the game doesn’t really need, but it is an interesting development — bottom line, while things come flying at your face all the time, Proun is still really great to look at. It doesn’t feel overwhelming and all the environments are visually interesting, even after playing them over and over again.
And if there’s a drawback to Proun, it’s that this is the case — its relative lack of tracks means as you work through its “Championship Mode,” which has four circuits of increasing speed and difficulty, you’ll play the same three tracks over and over. Later in the game, a fourth track can get unlocked for finishing the third of the four Championships (if you can manage it; things get pretty difficult), and a fifth is available as well, but that’s it. Obviously, this is a completely minor complaint: both from the standpoint that it doesn’t matter, as the game’s speed and the design of each track already make up for any lack of variety overall; and from the standpoint that van Dongen made the game in his spare time and is distributing it for free, so quit whining.
Oh, that’s right: You can download Proun right not for free at proun-game.com. Van Dongen is releasing the game under a “pay what you want” structure, so if you don’t feel like paying him anything for it, you don’t have to. The free version nets players all the features of the game: four-player split-screen multiplayer, the four championship tracks, online leaderboards, the ability to race against all your old ghosts and a single-race mode. Choose to pay for it, which you really should do, and that fifth track gets unlocked.
While it might be a little thin on content on download, van Dongen has created Proun to be pretty highly moddable, and there are already a few fan-made tracks available on the website to download and try now. Modders with access to 3D Studio MAX already have all the tools needed to make new tracks, and a tutorial for doing so is packed in with the game, with additional information available on the Proun site.
When it comes right down to it, Proun is more than we deserve, especially for free. It’s a blast to play and highly challenging, beautiful to watch in motion and relatively featured-filled, given that it is, in fact, free. The only drawback to the game is that van Dongen didn’t have a huge budget and a big team to make more of it. This is a no-brainer: go download Proun now, and then hand over $10 to van Dongen along with a heartfelt “Thank you.”
- Great level design
- Beautiful art style
- Exciting, challenging gameplay
- Pay-what-you-want pricing
- Multiplayer support
- Highly moddable with user-created tracks already appearing
- There’s not more of it
Final Score: 92