How many games throughout history have centered around running and jumping? These two simple acts have formed the foundation of countless games, some of them all-time classics, some of them forgotten relics. As the medium has evolved, so too have platforming games. Many modern examples feature slick new moves, advanced physics or complex puzzles. Prog.1 strips platforming down to its basics. There are no attacks, no life meters, no special moves and no camera to adjust. You run and you jump, and with these most basic acts, you cheat death at every turn.
The controls are the most important part of building a precision platformer, and they work very well. Running and jumping are fluid and responsive, and there’s virtually no learning curve. It’s easy to hop into the game and start cruising through the early levels, particularly if you’re experienced with challenging platforming games.
And Prog.1 does indeed provide a challenge. After the first few levels accustom you to the controls and mechanics, the game becomes an increasingly brutal exercise in precision. New gimmicks are introduced every few levels; some platforms disappear when you stand on them for too long, others teleport you around the map or warp in and out of existence. The later game is filled with deadly traps and enemies which react to your presence in different ways. Certain enemies can shoot at you while others simply roam from side to side.
It’s fast paced and precise, adding up to a game that will kill you a lot. Short levels and seamless respawning ensure that death never gets too frustrating. On the flip side, you die and respawn so quickly that you may die again before realizing you respawned. I’d occasionally lose rhythm and die repeatedly before I could take a breath and recenter myself. In the default story mode, this isn’t a big deal, but it’s frustrating when you’re playing with limited lives.
And playing with less lives is one of the only ways to challenge yourself after you’ve beaten the game. There are optional files to collect, but there aren’t very many of them and they’re easy to get. It might buy you an extra half-hour, tops, if you collect them all in a row. If not, you might have to play the whole game again, as there’s no good way to track where they’re located.
With a core game that’s only a couple hours long, it would be nice to have greater reason to come back. Unless you’re hardcore enough to train and beat the entire game without dying, the replay value simply isn’t there. The experience isn’t original or unique enough to inspire many second looks.
Prog.1’s strengths come in the gimmicks and hazards that enhance its gameplay, but even these are derivative of other games. Sure, certain hazards may be presented in slightly original fashion, but they really just cover the basic platformer checklist. So even though Prog.1 is a competent and fun game, it’s almost unnecessary, trying desperately to shove pieces into a niche that’s already stuffed full by hundreds of other games.
To its credit, Prog.1 offers a decent original story, based around the concept of a sentient computer virus coming to life. As that virus, you must cope with the increasingly difficult conditions being created for you by the computer’s programmers. Short cutscenes appear in still images and are reminiscent of the 8-bit era. This solid presentation carries over to the game’s music, which uses a chip-tune soundtrack that provides atmosphere and a fitting backdrop to the game’s action. The graphics are nothing special, featuring set pieces that are visually uninspired and sometimes messy looking. Like the gameplay itself, mostly serviceable, but not good enough to be notable.
While it may sound like I disliked Prog.1, I actually enjoyed my time with it. Though simple, the core mechanics work well and provide a difficult but balanced challenge. Unfortunately, it’s a package we’ve seen many times before, often bigger and brighter with more originality. It’s a fun game and a nice little diversion, but with better options available, it fails to stand out among a crowded genre.