Time-based Twin Stick Shooter Profane is Good, Yet…Aptly Named
I tend to play games with a narrative focus, but sometimes I just like an outright challenge. That’s what encouraged me to pick up Profane, a dual-stick, bullet-hell boss rush shooter. There’s no experience grinding, no complicated narrative…just a series of tough-as-hell boss fights with screens full of swarming bullets. It’s enough to make the head spin.
Profane’s main hook is it’s life mechanic: your health is tied to the time remaining for the level. Before each stage you choose a number of passive upgrades and power-ups; passives are free, but each special ability (like a strong laser beam or a teleportation dash) removes time from your starting clock. Once you head into the stage, it’s just you and the boss battling for supremacy.
Profane is aptly named, BTW. Even as someone who’s played a number of bullet-hell shooters, I found myself swearing at this game frequently. When I first started playing the game, I had no idea anyone was supposed to beat even the tutorial boss (who happens to be named Tutoriaal). As if some sort of taunt, the campaign’s first boss can still completely stomp you out; it took me hours to finally beat it. Thankfully, there’s also a challenge mode that allows you to try out all the various power-ups and passives, though the bosses still seem to come in the same order.
This pattern repeated for me with each of the three campaign stages I was able to successfully clear. That’s right: just three. The game’s mopped the floor with me, and I’m okay with admitting that defeat. Every hit you take knocks 15 seconds off of your health. Even flawless runs seem to cut you awful close to your maximum health. Once you’re out of time, you only get one more hit before it’s game over. Profane feels challenging, yet still defeatable…if you’re paying attention.
In my experience, success in Profane is less about twitch reflexes and more about pattern analysis. Complicated bullet patterns usually have some safe path you can move the character through, though you may have to die a few times to figure it out. I’d have loved a practice mode of some kind; a way to play in slow-motion, or decrease the time penalty to become more familiar with challenges. This is especially ideal since each level consists of multiple stages. If you’re stuck on the third stage of an encounter, you’ll have to grind your way through the first two every time you die just to try and analyze the way through the third. Still, even after you’ve found the key so to speak, staying alive can require pixel-precision, particularly on very hectic/graphically intensive maps.
This brings us to the Switch port of the game. Even with the game wrecking me more often than not, I love it; it’s mechanically precise and often leaves me more curious about how to solve a particular puzzle than simply frustrated. But that’s only when playing the game with a Pro Controller. Playing Profane with the Joy-Cons felt like an exercise in futility, especially on the Switch’s small screen. Once I docked to play on my TV and paired my Pro Controller it felt FAR more reasonable. I can’t really imagine going back to play it any other way.
That said, I also noticed some slowdown and frame-rate drops in graphically intense stages. One such level forces you onto a small bridge surrounded by lava, then rains curtains of bullets from all sides of the stage. It’s definitely NOT the time you want to have graphical hiccups when moving a couple pixels in a direction could cost you 15-30s of life.
Overall, Profane’s an exceptionally challenging top-down shooter with an interesting hook using its time-centric gameplay. With both Daily Challenge and Challenge Modes, there are ways to keep busy even if you don’t care for the campaign, but either way, make sure you bring a Pro Controller and a larger screen along for the ride.