As someone whose early gaming memories are tied inextricably to the Super Nintendo, I have a special place in my heart for the company’s cult classic Uniracers. As outrageous a concept as it was an underwhelming seller, the game put players in control of colorful unicyles battling each other in fierce tests of speed and skill, across impossibly twisty courses filled with sharp inclines and massive jumps. When other kids wanted to go fast, they reached for SEGA’s blue blur, or a certain cart-driving mustachioed plumber. Not me. I couldn’t get enough of the wacky, one-wheeled racer that could.
In all the right ways, Dutch Developer Joost van Dongen’s Proun+ takes me back to after-school gaming sessions with Uniracers. Ditching the cycle in favor of colored orbs, Proun+ pits players against AI opponents on twisty courses obsucred by fantastical shapes. What seems at the high level like a simple goal – move side to side to avoid obstacles – quickly becomes a tense test of reflexes as you also contend with 4 other opponents to be the first through the finish line. Oh, I forgot to mention: gravity’s not so much an obstacle here, making an average race in Proun+ a madcap, breakneck exercise in 360 degree concentration.
To that end, the real star is the game’s courses: constantly twisting expanses dotted with monolithic triangles, circles, beams, and curls; spiraling in corkscrews and forcing you to thread your way through tight gaps one second and circle deftly back and forth the next. Better still, they’re in equal measure pleasing to the high score chaser and the art-game afficianado. Proun+’s tracks run the gamut from flamboyant courses packed with curls and confetti to futuristic races filled with sleek metallic surfaces and beset on all sides by neon wiring. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself just as distracted taking it all in as you are challenged by the levels themselves.
While we’re on the subject of being overwhelmed, it suffices to say that Dongen’s title earns the “+” in its name multiple times over. A remastering of the original 2011 PC release for iOS (and soon Android and 3DS), Proun+ lays enough modes atop its stable of available courses to keep you chasing leaderboard supremacy for a long time to come. These include the swear-inducing “endless” gauntlet, which tests how long you can last before your first collision, and the unique “points” run that litters the course with score tags that multiply depending on how long you’ve gone without crashing.
Smartly, Proun+ prioritizes multiple play styles over staggering course variety. Rather than feeling repetitious, this gives you ample chance to internalize each course’s cadence by replaying it in different contexts, improving your chance at perfecting your approach in each one. And perfection is most definitely the name of the game here, as the five ascending difficulties peak at “Speed of Light,” where three-star runs may as well as serve as your arcade cred. business card.
Yet for all the talk of pleasing high score-toting, battle-hardened players, Proun+ feels jaunty and full of life thanks to Arno Landsbergen’s sound work. You may be tearing out your hair attempting to shave a second off the clock, but you’ll be doing it to a soundtrack that feels ripped from action-packed Saturday morning cartoons — a funky, toe-tapping cross between something you’d hear in Pink Panther and Johnny Bravo.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that I heartily recommend Proun+. In a landscape full of racers trying to be either the mobile equivalent of Mario Kart or Gran Turismo, this self-styled “journey through modern art” exudes an endearing weirdness that sets it apart and nestles it in your brain. Like that off-beat game you used to play, that you’re convinced only you can remember, which you can’t possibly forget.