Prince of Persia looks nice, but borrows a lot from better games
Ubisoft's last "Prince of Persia" trilogy was generally pretty fun but many criticized the darker tone the last two chapters took on, longing for a fun and light-hearted adventure like they had in "Sands of Time". Those people will have their wish at least partially granted in the latest entry in the series, simply titled "Prince of Persia" (though the protagonist is not established as being royalty or from Persia, but whatever).
This latest entry seeks to distance itself from the past trilogy, removing the time altering powers and linear structure of the past games in favor of a wide open world and a magical friend named Elika who saves you whenever you fall off something or get "killed" by an enemy. Much has been said about this feature, many saying it supposedly makes the game easier, but I found it to simply be a means of streamlining the game and making it more fun. I must have fallen hundreds of times over the course of the game but none of these failures cost me more than a few seconds of time rather than waiting for a Game Over screen to appear and then hitting retry. It does have a more detrimental effect on combat, however, as no battle really feels that intense as you can fail as many times as you like, failure simply makes the fights last a long time as enemies heal every time you require Elika's assistance. Those looking for more of a challenge can attempt getting an achievement that rewards you for falling less than one hundred times over the course of the game.
This feature is nice and all, but the real star of the show here is the visual style. The game looks cel-shaded to some extent but the environments have a somewhat realistic look. Not sure how best to describe it but the game looks beautiful, featuring good draw-distance and a framerate that never dipped once. All the acrobatic animations also look very nice, something that has been true of the series for awhile.
However the games story and some elements of the games structure really bothered me. It really feels derivative of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus in a lot of respects, but it doesn't inspire the same sense of wonder and awe that either of those games achieved. Throughout the game you have a female partner with magic powers that enable her to remove barriers (just like ICO), you face creatures now and then that look like living shadows (just like ICO), you face very few enemies over the course of the game, instead focusing on a few key boss characters (just like Shadow of the Colossus) and the end...well, don't want to ruin it but lets just say its more or less just like Shadow of the Colossus.
Unfortunatlely these comparisons do not help "Prince of Persia" as those other two games masterfully presented their storylines with very little understandable dialogue, instead utlizing atmosphere and visual techniques to tell the story while "Prince of Persia" is filled with cheesy dialogue. The Prince is constantly joking around, which is fine, but it kind of clashes with the visual style and somewhat serious tone of the story. It also just comes across as an imitator in a lot of cases, not really utilizing any of the elements it borrowed in an interesting new way. In particular, it is clear that the player is supposed to form some kind of emotional attachment to Elika, the game's magical female but I really didn't care about her at all, certainly much less than Yorda in ICO or even your horse Argo from Shadow of the Colossus.
Still, it may be somewhat unfair to compare this game to two of the best games from the last decade, but it clearly aspires to be like those games, therefore inviting the comparison. Aside from that, its a decent adventure game but it really doesn't last to long and there is no compelling reason to play through it again. The visual style is nice, the platforming is about as interesting as its been in the past, and the combat is fine but is somewhat hindered by the game's easy-going attitude towards failure.
Again though, when compared with its obvious inspirations this game just cannot compare. It is about as short as ICO and Shadow of the Colossus but it lacks the incredible quality in storytelling and atmosphere those games provided to keep you coming back. Hopefully the next entry in the series will better distinguish itself from these games and explore some new territory.