Beauty and Brains
The re-imagining of the Prince of Persia franchise for the PS2 and Xbox were in the eyes of many as one of the best games available in the last five years. The game took the puzzles of the original series and offered a great addition with the inclusion of the Sands of Time, an in-game function which allowed you to rewind portions of the game to fix a mistake you had, such as dying or missing a key jump. For the HD Prince of Persia, the same idea is brought into the mix and in the end, determines how much you will actually enjoy playing this game.
For this branch of the PoP series, you play as a crook rather than prince. Very little of your back-story is given to you except for the fact that you just obtained some loot and have lost your donkey, who is carry your cash. As you walk through the desert looking for said donkey, you stumble upon a beautiful young girl who is being chased by some armed guards. Your character intrigued, quickly follows her. You find out the girl is a princess and by accident, her father has released the imprisoned God. By releasing the God Ahriman, it begins to devourer the land. In order to stop Ahriman's corruption, you along with the Princess, Elika, must travel to various locations and restore the fertile land.
Your progression through the game revolves around you and Elika traveling from location to location in search of key spots where Elika can restore the area. In order to get to each location, you will have to run, jump, climb and perform other various manoeuvres to get to certain spots on the map. Where in Sand in Time, the key feature was the ability to rewind time when a mistake was made; this time around Elika acts as your saving grace. Since she possesses magical powers, if you make a mistake, such as fall off a ledge or miss a jump, she can quickly grab you and bring you back so you can try again. This mechanic is a key feature in the game and will ultimately determine your enjoyment of the game. Those who might find games like this a bit demanding will enjoy the fact that her assistance will make things easier for you. You won't actually die, so if you make a mistake, it's simply try and try again. But those who want a challenge may end up finding this as a crutch and will be put off by the easiness it makes the game feel like.
Thankfully, this key feature of Prince of Persia is a great addition to the game and for the most part, Elika is a great character that it doesn't feel like a cheap-game-play mechanic. Elika is a key part to the game and in fact, she is the more important character of the two.
The game focuses solely on the puzzles of each locale. For the most part, once you get to a location, there is really one way to get to the main point, but the game doesn't force you into playing the game in sequential order. Upon restoring fertile land, special 'orbs' will appear that must be collected to help Elika's strength which are then used to unlock additional abilities and progression through the game.
The first few levels are basic, but as you unlock plates, each with special functions to them that acts as the key to completing the game. You can select whichever plate you want to unlock first and that will open up parts of the area for you to complete. Some levels require only one plate to complete, but later on in the game, you will encounter spots where two or more of the plates will be used to reach key spots. The four plates are each significantly different. One acts a teleportation plate which takes you automatically to another point. Another one turns your character into a speed demon, where you will literally run along a path to reach your destination. If you hit a wall or an obstacle, you'll have to start again.
The game's actual combat more or less only occurs during stage battles. With each of the fertile lands contains a boss that must be defeated numerous times, once per each of the four sub-sections and then once more to rid them of Ahriman's possession. The combat in game is a bit hit or miss. In the beginning, the combat is simple and taking care of your enemies is a breeze, but that quickly changes and boss battles end up becoming a long series of quick-time events. This is the weakest part of the game as the combat feels out of place from the great platforming you do throughout the rest of the game. Often, you will be spending a good chunk of your time deflecting attacks before you actually manage to strike your opponent. There also seems to be a problem with the sensitivity of the controls, where you will be certain that a button was pressed, but nothing occurs.
This touchiness with the controls also occurs during the platform puzzle portions of the game. Because you essentially use only one button for majority of your actions, depending on the camera angle and the position of your character, he might end up doing an incorrect action forcing you to restart a long series of moves. It's not too bad, but it happens enough that it will frustrate most people.
Because of Elika's saving ability, the game is easy, but not easy enough that you can breeze through this in one sitting. The game does take a long time and even with the saving and assistance she gives you, you will be playing this for a while. There is plenty to collect and admire that you could end up spending a lot longer than you'd think.
Prince of Persia contains some of the best looking graphics I have ever seen in a long time. The game uses the once popular cell-shading art style exceptionally well and everything from the characters to the environments are breathtaking. The animations of both Elika and the 'Prince' are very fluid with almost no noticeable hiccups. Yes, I did encounter some weird graphically glitches, including once in which my Prince ended up running on air which forced me to restart from my last save. Other than that minor malfunction, I often would stop playing only to admire the art design. Some might feel that cell-shading should have been stopped years ago, but Prince of Persia shows that it can still be done effectively.
The sound is nearly on par with the game's graphics. All the voice-work, be it Elika, the 'Prince' or even the enemy characters are very convincing. The game's score is also one of my favourites in recent years. The music during points in the game where you unlock the plates is something I will surely not forget for a very long time.
Outside of the rare control issues and the weird combat mechanics, this is an absolutely incredible game that will appeal to fans of the Prince of Persia series, especially those of the Sands of Time series, and fans of adventure games. I can't stress enough that this is one fantastic game that should be played by even those who might not be attracted to this type of game.