When is a game not a game? Hopefully the nonsensical nature of this question makes it obvious that it’s rhetorical. I also don’t actually care – if I’m playing Proteus and enjoying it, I’m happy to call it a game, and a beard-stroking discussion of semantics isn’t likely to affect my enjoyment.
This is relevant to Proteus because you don’t ‘do’ a whole lot in it, you simply wander around procedurally generated pixel art islands. Don’t believe anyone who tells you that there isn’t a goal, because there is one, and it’s absolutely worth pursuing. But this quasi-objective doesn’t define an experience which can be enjoyed even if you remain completely oblivious to its existence.
Proteus is all about the journey – which is just as well, as the whole thing is basically journey. You start off the coast of a colourful, randomly produced island with the game’s only guidance being ‘Explore’. And so you do. You mosey up hills, along pathways, through glades of multicoloured trees. You come across other living creatures: bouncing white shapes that resemble rabbits, or some form of low-fi firefly. All of this is accompanied by ever-changing and responsive music, soundtracking your experience in accordance with your actions and the world around you.
The whole thing is deeply relaxing, and Proteus is wonderful in a very literal sense: there are views and vistas and moments that are beautiful, uplifting, even moving. Every island you load is different from the last, meaning replayability abounds even if ‘completing’ one can take only 20 odd minutes.
Given that, £9.99 is slightly steep when you look at the value versus other digital propositions – although this does get you both the PS3 and Vita versions, the latter of which can create islands based on your GPS location. But whatever the cost, this is a unique and tranquil experience. Nothing is asked of you except to investigate and enjoy what is presented, and watching day turn to night or Autumn move to Winter on these colourful and fantastical islands provides the kind of smile-inducing happiness so rare in games.
Simple but wonderfully effective, combining ‘Ooh what’s that?’ invitations to explore with ‘Ooh isn’t that lovely’ moments of beauty. Size doesn’t matter with a gem like this.
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