This game has many intangibles that make it special.
Prince of Persia : …you know how it’s become trendy in Hollywood to “reboot” franchises, throw away all the backstory from the previous (and usually bad) sequels and start fresh? Batman did it, James Bond did it, Star Trek is going to do it, The Incredible Hulk did it after only one bad movie, and now we have a video game in Prince of Persia, which ignores the Sands of Time trilogy or all of the quick death traps of the original game and starts anew. Oh, it’s an action platformer by the way.
Story : The ever mystical “Prince” character gets lost in the desert and winds up in a mystical land with a mystical woman who is trying to stop a mystical god from unleashing his mystical corruption set out by the mystical woman’s mystical dad and along the way stop the mystical god’s four mystical henchmen. The actual details about all this…mystery, gradually unfolds in a methodical manner. The Prince is a charming little jerk and mystical woman Elika plays off his arrogance quite nicely. It’s a change of pace to have a subtly-building chemistry that makes the player want to see them get hitched instead of the two characters in question spontaneously making out like in every Hollywood product. There’s a surprising twist in the end and yes, there will be a sequel. We are talking about a next-generation game after all, so of course there will be two more games.
If a fantasy setting spectrum exists out there, this new Prince of Persia would be leaning more towards Chronicles of Narnia than Aladdin, as opposed to all of this game’s predecessors. Just glancing the opening flourishes of magic energy that embrace the title screen, there’s a bit of a jarring disconnection that went through my mind as I found myself having to reluctantly drop any previous expectations set by the Sands of Time. Even entering a code that transforms Elika and the Prince into Farah and Sands of Time-Prince (I guess that’s his name) wasn’t enough, as even these skins seemed too well-nourished to resemble their previous generation.
Actually, the “unlearning” process does take a good deal of time to put up with. This new Prince is an advocate of good fitness and proper nutrition as opposed to his skinny cousin, as he has a much easier time latching on to ledges and platforms. Rather than struggle to make it across a single wooden pole, the new Prince leaps from cliff to cliff with the greatest of ease, with Elika there to offer an almost always successful double-jump maneuver.
And there’s death, or lack thereof. The sense of peril that came with the previous games, let alone Prince of Persia games in general, is lost when you know that Elika will be able to catch you and pull you to safety. The same thing happens in combat when you’re about to meet your (no doubt-mysterious) Maker when Elika flashes a light and helps you recover. Once again, Ubi Soft Montreal displays their disdain at the notion of their main character dying (like with Assassin’s Creed and Sands of Time.) by coming up with a needlessly flashy system of death. But don’t mistake that to mean you’ll just be able to beat the game through attrition over skill. Elika will only take you to the last safe platform, and some areas will have you navigating large cliffs, slides and so forth before you ever find solid ground. Also, enemies recover health when you die, so the game is at least smart in disguising its punishment for failure. Likewise, being able to jump and plummet anywhere knowing full well that a superpowered-supermodel will save you does at least open up some room for taking chances.
Bear with me as I try to describe the format of this adventure. Instead of a linear path from start to finish, the game throws at you a somewhat-open world with a series of fountains that need to be activated to purify the land of its corruption. Along the way, you’ll jump, climb, shimmy, shuffle and fall down a lot throughout the many elaborate platform sequences that the past games were known for, expect the path doesn’t feel as linear and forced as in those games. The other difference is that there’s a bit of a thrill in traversing large stretches of otherwise seemingly-impassible territory as supposed to the slower, more meticulous struggle of past games. In a fairly intuitive twist, the four face buttons are divided based on these basic utilities; sword, jump, claw, woman. So, for example, you’ll press the jump button to swing from poles, or the woman button to tell Elika to save you.
Once you reach a fountain, you fight one of four bosses that guard the region, followed by you purifying the land and moving on to the next fountain.
Now, in order to open up the number of fountains you can access, you’re going to need revisit the newly “purified” lands, which will have these blue orbs (light seeds, if you will) floating around for you to collect in what’s very much a cheap way to lengthen the gameplay. And you’ll subsequently need to use these orbs to unlock new and flashy but lame “powers”. These powers only trigger when you approach certain pads and consist of two “run real fast and avoid obstacle” mini-games and two powers that are pretty much “you teleporting to other parts of the area in an otherwise forced attempt to make the player gradually unlock the game world.
And the combat is more flash than substance. Enemies appear on an infrequent and sometimes avoidable basis, and the fundamentals of each one-on-one encounter is the same. You time your blocks to avoid taking damage, and likewise time your attacks accordingly. The sword/jump/glove/woman format takes form here in the form of attack combinations and it’s admittedly very satisfying when you can juggle your enemy in the air with sword and Elika attacks and just conveniently have the combo end with a quick-time event…speaking of, there sure are a ton of quick-time events within a single fight and these can sometimes get bothersome when you frequently get too close to a cliff and have to mash a button to stay alive. But being that fights are infrequent, you’ll rarely find yourself frustrated, especially once you’ve picked up on the ebb and flow of battle.
Which is a recurring theme for my play time with Prince of Persia, actually. In any other game, a play time-lengthening fetch quest and the same battles over and over again would be a score killer in my books. But somehow, someway, Prince of Persia not only keeps things interesting but kept me enthralled. Once I stopped mashing buttons and adapted to the pace, I allowed myself to get pulled into the excited tug-of-war like struggle to deplete the enemy’s health bar while avoiding many, many close call quick time events. The light seed collecting suddenly became interesting instead of monotonous, as it involved pulling off more of the game’s dynamic platforming. Most of the light seeds are in plain sight and you’ll often find yourself collecting a bunch, only to see more in the distance and talk yourself into gathering some more and exploring this beautiful new landscape that was only recently bleak and desolate.
Prince of Persia has that certain “it” factor to it. In fact it might actually have several “it” factors. There’s an “it” factor where you keep telling yourself “okay, I’ll just play one more level.” There’s an “it” factor where you find yourself pulled in as the Prince and Elika discuss the backstory of each area, villain, proverb or likewise. There’s an “it” factor where the worlds around you, along with the beautiful music, conspire to immerse you into the experience. And there’s an “it” factor where you walk away from the shocking conclusion, completely blown away at what you’ve just experienced.
The game has flaws but they’re cleverly disguised. This is the rare game that you’ll want to savor rather than plow through for the sake of moving on to the next game. There’s about 10-12 hours of solid gameplay to be had here, and I can guarantee you’ll want to revisit this game later on. This Prince of Persia redux is a keeper, folks. I can’t think of the last game that truly hypnotized me, and it’s one of the few games this year where I didn’t find myself disappointed in any aspect of the game from beginning to end. If you want mindless twitch action, there are a hundred other games waiting for you, but if you want a game that’ll leave an impression on you for years to come, well here you go.
Pros : In the absence of anything else to say, I guess I’ll bring up again the fact that there are unlockable skins based on personas from Sands of Time, as well as Beyond Good and Evil and Assassin’s Creed.
Cons: Unlocking them seems to require some kind of promotional code. I guess some of the Xbox achievements are a bit frivolous in a way. You’ll seem to be rewarded with 5 of them within the opening level.
5 stars. The only release from 2008 to get it.