The best way I can think of to open this review is by quoting myself: “What a weird, boring, delightful, pleasant game. It is really difficult to feel [it] or describe it in one way.”
Proteus is boring. You walk around and have very little agency in the world. You can chase creatures and not much else. I really wish days could be shortened to 5 minutes instead of the current shortest value of 15 minutes. It’s also very soothing. The ambient music works its way into your subconscious. The chirps, squeaks and squawks of the wildlife are enchanting and harken to real outdoor life. There are moments when the game appears to adjust your walking speed downward, and this calms rather than aggravates.
There is one specific interaction that works for me and represents my favorite gameplay mechanic in the game. Before the seasons change, a collection of sprites gather and swarm, gradually spinning more rapidly as you approach their center. You can get close enough so they reach their maximum speed, but then simultaneously hold back and watch the effects on the world. At this state of maximum chaos I quite enjoyed watching the moon and the stars in the night sky; following them as they sped around the planet housing the island I was exploring. My mind would wander to the heavens, imagining similar - or drastically different landscapes in the comsos - all waiting to be explored.
There are really nice touches in Proteus. I like that there’s a button you can hold down which slowly blackens the screen in a way that looks like you’re closing your eyes. Hold it down long enough and your eyes close completely, eventually kicking you back to the main menu. The snapshot feature is neat. Ultimately snapshots are just game saves, but they feel like a photo album and stepping into them is fluid like exiting to the main menu is. On the Vita you can enable gyroscopic freelook; a feature I found to greatly increase immersion.
In Proteus it’s a pleasure to discover new creatures you never noticed before. Interacting with some creatures has an effect. What other creatures might cause some effect? The buildings and landmarks intrigue. Some are clearly the remnants of previous civilizations. But the whole world still feels mostly empty and pointless. There is joy for sure, but there is also boredom. The more I played, the more I enjoyed what I was doing and started getting hooked into the atmosphere, and the more I appreciated the overall experience. I’ve now played three times, each several months apart. Proteus is an experience that will always be welcome in small doses over long stretches like this.