icon Author: Zipakna
Promenade Review

Jump, run, explore, solve puzzles, fight, cook, or even arrange a date! Promenade is a 2D puzzle platformer by indie studio Holy Cap, which offers a crazy amount of activities on your way through a colorful world packed with secrets. And you have a cute octopus as a sidekick!

In Promenade, you take control of Nemo, who fell into mysterious caverns and almost drowned. Luckily, he gets rescued by a small octopus and they quickly become friends, so when it’s time to leave the caverns, they travel together.  Although the game has some sort of story, there is no lengthy exposition via dialogue. In fact, there are no dialogues at all, the story is presented by a couple of quick animations and you get to play through the rest. And I think that’s a perfect approach to storytelling in a platformer.

When you leave the caverns and learn the basic skill set, you soon arrive to the Great Elevator. There, a dark figure, that bears a suspiciously strong resemblance to our main character, appears. He breaks the golden cogs which make the elevator work and scatters the pieces around. Our goal therefore is to collect enough of those pieces to make the elevator work again. Three pieces are needed to assemble one cog and as Nemo gains access to higher floors, he needs an increasing number of cogs to make the elevator work again. Because every time we get up one floor, the “bad guy” appears again and tries to stop our progress by breaking the next elevator station.

A cog in a machine

So how do we get all those pieces of cogs? Our octopus friend plays a crucial role in that. Nemo is just a normal boy, but his cephalopod pal gives him unique abilities to help him traverse the environment. Your companion will allow you to grab various objects, including hooks so you can grapple. The game uses a unique movement mechanic, where the octopus can help you grab enemies in your way, and then by throwing the enemies below you, you can use them as a “propellant” for your jumps. And it’s not just a double jump. If you have enough skill and enemies in your way, you can chain the jumps, combine them with grappling hooks and ziplines, and thus cover significant distances without touching the ground. Some enemies have wings so you can also use them to glide. So even though you use just two buttons and a joystick for movement, you have a wide variety of moves at your disposal, and traversing the environment is a lot of fun. Plus, the enemies are not just an obstacle in this system, they are also a way forward and a solution to many puzzles.

The puzzles are another thing that makes the game feel special. There are so many of them! The variety is just crazy. It ranges from basic platformer puzzles or literally placing puzzle pieces to a matching spot on the map, to cooking meals, playing baseball, or playing space invaders on an old arcade machine. And there are boss fights too. You start with access to the first floor and you need to solve a couple of puzzles to be able to unlock the next floor. Each floor has access to a couple of special areas, each with its unique theme, like the beach, the space, or an area with giant flowers that you can water to climb on their leaves and get further. When you get enough cogs to unlock the next floor, you can always return to the previous floor. Some puzzles rely on that and require a bit of backtracking, for example when you need to find exhibits for a museum. Or you can find a hint for one puzzle on a different floor than the solution. The variety of puzzles is truly remarkable and keeps you glued to the screen because you are always discovering something new. The difficulty of the puzzles scales well, starting with very simple, short stuff to introduce you to all the game mechanics, but as you progress and get to higher floors, the puzzles get more difficult and require more skill when platforming. So even though the visual style could mislead someone to think that it’s a game only for children, the difficulty is enough to challenge adult players too.  

Run Forrest, run

Promenade is clearly made with speedrunning in mind. There is a whole section of settings tailored for speedrunners, which allows you to skip some cutscenes and animations and turn on a timer. As an achievement hunter, I often encounter titles that use achievements to encourage players to speed run the game, but then they do not include any features to make it easier and you have to sit through dozens of minutes of animations while trying to save every second. So even though I do not enjoy speedrunning and the time attacks were the most infuriating and challenging puzzles for me to get through, I do appreciate how the game makes things easier for speed runners.

But the game is not just for speedrunners, casual players can fully enjoy the game too. There are 180 cogs to collect in total, but you don’t need to get all of them to finish the game. So if some of the puzzles feel like too much of a challenge, you can skip some of them without blocking your progress through the game. The health system is also very forgiving. You have five hearts and there are hammocks where you can rest and replenish them on every corner. If you lose all the hearts, you just get moved to the starting point of the area, no hard punishments for dying. You can also activate automatic healing in the settings if you want truly relaxed gameplay.

If you’re stuck on what to do next (and that is very rare, because there are so many activities) or if you want to 100% clear every area, you can find a journal page at every location. The journal then shows how many pieces of cogs are in the area, which ones you collected already, and a description of the activity that will give you the missing pieces. Often the description works as a hint of where to look, but sometimes it doesn’t really help and you have to thoroughly explore the area.

To the finish line

With so many cogs, floors, and side areas, the first walkthrough of the game takes about 10 hours, even if you don't find all the secrets and cog pieces. And after the story ends, the game encourages you to keep exploring and if you want to get all the achievements, it's easy to spend twice as much time in the game. For the price of 20 USD you get a beautiful, massive world to explore that is filled to the brim with creative puzzles and is extremely fun to navigate thanks to a unique movement system. I played the game on Switch and I think it's a perfect game for handheld gaming on the road. Savepoints are everywhere and each puzzle is pretty short, so it's easy to hop in and out of the game. I couldn't find many things to complain about, except for a small detail that after reloading a location, the puzzles reverted to their starting states. Of course, you don't have to solve them again, but it would be nice to see them in their solved state. But that's just a minor complaint in an otherwise very polished game with a ton of content, charming art style, and a relaxing soundtrack.

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