mystakin's Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (Xbox 360) review

The Forgotten Sands is about as average as they come

Over the years, Prince of Persia has seen a lot of changes.  From a witty, rebellious look to a darker, almost sinister tone to a cel-shaded tomb robber, the prince and his story have seen many redesigns.  The Forgotten Sands attempts to bring us back to the original Prince we know from The Sands of Time and bridge the gap between that and Warriors Within.  As a game that feels like it was almost forced to coincide with the movie release, it’s surprising how well the classic Prince of Persia setup remains a staple of action-platformers while still falling short of greatness.

 The Prince is as agile as he ever was.
Throughout The Forgotten Sands the Prince will battle his way through palaces, catacombs, and other venues in hopes of reuniting with his brother and putting a stop to King Solomon's recently released army.  This pretty basic premise is met with a lot of contrived and cliched storytelling to make for a pretty lackluster story overall.  It all starts to feel too convenient that the boss you just fought just happened to crash into a wall and cause debris to fall into a perfect path for the prince to advance, or surprisingly the gate you've closed to keep out the advancing armies gets busted open by random chance in the next cutscene.  It all feels very basic and predictable, which is unfortunate in a game that with some impressive dialog.

For me, the Prince of Persia titles over the year have been defined by the Prince’s banter with whomever is accompanying him on his journey.  In The Forgotten Sands we get a taste of this between him and his brother at the start of the game and a little at the end between him and a djinn he teams up with, but the whole middle portion of the game is devoid of it.  It’s a shame the voice talent and writing staff don’t get more opportunities to let the Prince’s character shine in the game.  He does have short quips to himself every so often, but it’s not the same kind of back and forth dialog the other games excelled at.

I can freeze time, or water, or something. 
Where The Forgotten Sands gets things right is where many other Prince of Persia titles before it have excelled, the puzzles and platforming.  New abilities are rolled out to the Prince just as the old abilities start to feel stale, and by the end of the game there’s some real dexterity tests that stretch everything the player has learned to the limit.  Sad to say there’s not many mind bending puzzles, but there are a couple that are thoroughly enjoyable.  The camera will occasionally make the platforming more difficult than it should be, and the controls are possibly a bit too complex in the end-game for its own good, but the overall experience is very enjoyable.

There is a bit of a strange disconnect with the powers given to the Prince, however.  For example, he’s given the ability to freeze water but it never seems consistent.  It’s not a time trick like the rewind feature because enemies and traps don’t freeze along with the water, and it’s not a freezing trick because pools of water are unaffected by the power.  It winds up feeling contrived to have only these specific kinds of flowing water be frozen by the power.  Similarly, there’s a power given late in the game to blink structures into and out of existence.  Much like the freeze power, this is sectioned off to being a mechanic only to solve puzzles and is rather unexciting.

 When do I get to have fun again?
The combat in The Forgotten Sands is equally unexciting.  The game boasts a relatively simple upgrade mechanic that will boost your health, power, and give you new abilities, but the combat never really stops feeling like a roadblock between platforming and puzzle solving.  A major problem is that the only way to regain health is to either kill enemies, or destroy pots and vases in the environment.  Until you get some of the higher health upgrades, it’s very common to finish a battle with almost no health and only be able to scrounge a little more.  It doesn’t help that most of the enemies in the game are introduced in the first quarter, and all bosses but the final one use the same attack patterns.

Many of the locations start to feel a little too familiar as well.  It’s not uncommon to enter a room, do a little puzzle solving, and land in a room that looks almost the exact same but mirrored.  After booting up the intro sequences against, I was surprised to see how similar some of the earlier room structures were to some of the later structures as well.  That said, when a room is clearly designed to be unique, it truly excels and the end-game sequence is absolutely phenomenal.  It’s unfortunate that so much content before then feels a bit stale in comparison.

The Forgotten Sands comes very close to being a great addition to the Prince of Persia series, but fall shorts in many aspects.  All of the puzzle solving and platforming is top-notch and does the franchise proud, but a lot of the frame within which those mechanics exist is poorly executed.  There’s not a lot of points in the game that are so heavily focused on combat that you'll grow frustrated of it, but there’s enough in there to feel like it’s a missed opportunity.  The Forgotten Sands is a really fun experience for someone who loves the classic Prince of Persia formula, but it never achieves anything greater.    
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