Looking into the underrated Game Boy Colour-style indie gem Prodigal

 Looking into the underrated Game Boy Colour-style indie gem Prodigal

Prodigal released on Steam on the October 15, 2020, developed and published by indie studio Colorgrave Inc. The inspiration behind the creation of this little gem is evident with one glance, borrowing gameplay features from early Zelda games in its action/puzzle dungeon exploration, and dating aspects from the Harvest Moon series to create an engaging and thriving town location with strong, character-driven plots.

Prodigal is its own unique experience where not only is it a lovely little treat to those wanting more nostalgia in their game collection, but provides plenty of different reasons to sink in a few hours — or more than 20 — if the retro appeal isn’t enough of a pull for you by itself. And with currently only 54 reviews on Steam at the time of writing, Prodigal deserves far more widespread attention.

Welcome home

In Prodigal, you are Oran, returning to your home town after hearing of the passing of your mother and father. Upon your return, you aid your grandfather in your home by mentoring his new apprentice, Bolivar. You’ll locate an axe that will become your trusted tool right from the get-go as your source for income — you’ll use it to obtain gold and other useful items as you work your way through dungeons.

By exploring these areas, you’ll encounter puzzles, monsters, bosses and, of course, treasure — and you’ll also stumble upon items you can gift to townspeople. These are important to strengthen your bonds with those you once knew — to rekindle friendships, and maybe even develop a romantic relationship towards eventual marriage.

Prodigal

A real highlight of Prodigal is how different people react to Oran on his return — some are happy, some are indifferent; some even feel outright hatred.

This is because Oran’s character is not the typical hero of an adventure game. It is quickly established that Oran left the island without a word to anyone else after stealing money from his parents to kick-start his journey. It’s up to us, then, to take control of Oran and steer him in a better direction for some much needed character growth, since it’s clear his morals had previously ended up skewed. It makes the game very easy to immerse oneself in, as we consider Oran’s situation and how we can act as a helping hand.

Casual or challenging, the choice is yours

You can hopefully already tell that there is a lot to preoccupy yourself with despite how small (but very cosy) its world is. The majority of your time can be spent in however way you may like as the game does no hand-holding — Prodigal’s very own programmer in fact states his own disdain for this, so you can be certain that the game gives you the free rein some other recent releases have failed us on.

Your objectives and agency in the game world are entirely of your choosing; you can spend all your time mining for new materials to be discovered, explore the land’s dungeons and spend the gold in the casino, or set your sights on a lucky lady to woo. It can be a quick action title to fill in some free time of yours, or be a tale of redemption — or you can make it even more challenging for yourself by purchasing no power up items and attempting to speedrun dungeons. The possibilities are endless! We, of course, love our relationship building mechanics, as you know.

Gameplay design

Dungeon bosses are greatly varied in design and are beaten with different strategies. Dungeons feel distinct from one another and have a lot of thought put into them for their puzzles, which become more complex the further you progress.

Each dungeon’s effectively cramped design is backed up by the fitting and atmospheric music tracks played exclusively for their respective dungeons, making the adventure feel all the more new and gratifying as you trek through each dungeon for the rewards hidden within.

It’s evident that a lot of thought has been put into not only making the dungeons distinctive from one another in both design and puzzles, but also considering how the difficulty level and required tactics to advance gradually escalate throughout the game — even as the mechanics themselves are kept pretty simple.

The three all-important tools you’ll be using throughout your adventures are the dread hand, which teleports you back to the start of the room; a lariat to grapple across gaps; and the rust knuckle, which breaks and moves large objects. The escalation of difficulty and complexity comes from the different ways you’ll need to combine these tools together to progress.

Prodigal

A seaside town worth coming back to

Prodigal offers a wealth of heartfelt and melancholic stories as you grow closer to the townspeople. There are plenty of humorous dialogues with the various characters you interact with; even the unnamed townspeople make it worthwhile approaching every single person. This attention to detail really helps in making the town feel even more charming and wholesome than it already is.

NPC interaction and character events feel very similar to the Harvest Moon/Story of Seasons series. Characters will always have new lines of dialogue on different days unless they are involved in a quest at the time. The day and night cycle makes the town feel alive and active, and NPCs will go around to their usual spots doing their everyday tasks, so you’ll learn each villager’s particular schedules as you go. Then you can make sure you talk to them each day to really show them how much you care!

And, of course, nowhere is that more important than when you’re trying to find your future wife.

The ladies all have very solid and distinctive personalities, and you learn more about them as you grow closer to them through completing side quests and favours. The only downside is that the options you have make it very difficult to settle on only one — because all the ladies are so wonderful in their own ways.

By regularly visiting them and approaching them for conversation whenever they have something new to say (as indicated by an emoticon sprite above them) you can increase your relationship with them. And never forget about that gift-giving option either. You’ll know you’re on the right track when cutscenes appear to advance your budding romance with them.

Nostalgic goodness

As the title is drenched in the Game Boy Colour-style, Zelda-esque aesthetic, the sleek, retro sprite work and very fitting OST hammers home this feel good feeling of reliving our childhood favourites.

Sprites are incredibly detailed and polished. Character portraits are varied and expressive at all points of dialogue; they show a variety of different emotions and reactions that feel genuine, and portray each character’s unique personality and traits.

The soundtrack is just as fitting for the Game Boy-inspired presentation, too. While it may get repetitive — the game is quite small and we stay in the same locations for quite some time — the soundtrack as a whole is memorable with plenty of highlights you will not mind listening to on repeat.

Conclusion

Prodigal is merely £7.19 to experience, and I cannot recommend it enough. Additionally, both old and new fans of the title still have even more to look forward to with Prodigal, as its final and biggest update will drop mid March with additional content: four new dungeons, two hidden bosses, updates to tools, two new minigames, a handful of quests and Zaegul’s not-so-secret shop opening up.

There’s no better time than now to get into Prodigal! You won’t regret it.

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Lilia Hellal
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