Game Description: Prince of Persia is set in a land rooted in ancient Persian mythology, with the Prince finding himself caught in an epic battle between the primal forces of light and darkness—the god of Light, Ormazd versus his brother Ahriman, the destructive god of Darkness. The Prince arrives just in time to witness the destruction of the legendary Tree of Life, an act which threatens to plunge the entire world into eternal darkness. Manifested in the form of "the Corruption," a dark substance that physically contaminates the land and the skies, the Prince must partner with his new deadly companion Elika to heal the world from the evil Corruption.
HIGH The beautiful art style and incredible palate of color.
LOW Simplistic gameplay that fails to provide a challenge.
WTF Why is Elika encumbering this game?
I absolutely love the previous incarnations of Prince of Persia. Right the way back to that awful NES port of Prince of Persia 2, I’ve always felt that the series has defined some of the very core mechanics of platforming by subtly adapting sequels to suit different generations. The Sands of Time, for example, drew upon the ever-changing nature of gaming and incorporated more visceral and engaging combat to suit different audiences, but yet it still retained that sense of boundless platforming and wondrous animation that I have come to love about the series as a whole. After playing the new title (aptly named Prince of Persia) I can say that fans of the series will not be disappointed too much. It has indeed undergone nothing short of a dramatic overhaul and this will not please everyone, but Prince of Persia is a generational experience that mixes old and new to create a captivating, if substantially flawed, gem of a game.
Prince of Persia puts players in control of the lovable Prince himself. The story draws upon the archaic mythology of Persia, and as a result, comes out rather convoluted and pretty standard fair. After some tomfoolery in tracking down his donkey, the Prince stumbles across the enchanting Elika, who soon leads the Prince into all sorts of trouble. A quick background digression and fatal mistake by Elika’s father later, and it is up to you and your new sidekick/love interest to restore corrupted lands and save the world from the dark god known as Ahriman. Throw in some tidbits of information cobbled together about a Tree of Light and there is a loose, patchy story that was enough to keep me mildly entertained for a while. Still, despite its patchiness the narrative served to make sense of what I was doing whilst playing. Not only that, but I thoroughly enjoyed the quick-witted dialogue and the light-comic relief provided by the Prince, which endeared me into the story further. Elika is also a pleasant new addition to the series from a narrative standpoint, but provided me with some serious issues from a gameplay perspective. More on that later.
The biggest fundamental change to the series is the general art direction. Make no mistake, mind; for whatever flaws the narrative has, Prince of Persia makes up for them through appearance. It is a stunning game to look at. It catapults the creativeness of the mind and the power of the next generation of consoles to create something so truly special and so stunningly beautiful. But Prince of Persia is more than just a visual feast to the eyes. The picturesque setting drew me into the game instantly, and the lavish cell-shading (particularly the transition from darkness to light when restoring corrupted areas) is unbelievable. The jarring and uncompromising score used for corrupted areas juxtaposed with the soothing instrumental sounds used when I ousted the darkness provided an enthralling backdrop. I often wanted to progress through the story for the single aim of being able to appreciate the artistry and effort that has gone into making Prince of Persia such a beautiful game.
In a game such as this, it is obvious that platforming is everything. Without a truly intuitive mechanic, Prince of Persia would inevitably fail to deliver on its legacy of fun platforming. Thankfully, this incarnation passes with mostly flying colours. Unlike Ubisoft’s previous platforming escapade, Assassin's Creed, Prince of Persia does not strive for ultra-realism and complex animations when controlling the Prince, and instead provides seamless transition when climbing or jumping from one area to another. Thanks to the simplistic control scheme, it truly is "poetry in motion." I did feel, however, rather passive in my exploration with the Prince. Unlike Assassins Creed, one never feels fully in control of the character, and I often felt more like a shoddy puppeteer pulling on one string whilst the game did the rest for me. It certainly makes the game far more accessible to a casual gamer, but for me it took away from the intricate control of the series.
Combat also suffers from this same problem of being over-simplified to suit any gamer. Combos can be pulled off easily and the gamer can string together some rather impressive looking moves, but often these will be timed considerably slower than usual. As a result, even the most uncoordinated gamer can look like a seasoned pro when playing. Likewise, the battles themselves are only ever against a single enemy, which, apart from making combat incredibly easy, also makes it repetitive and dull. I can fully understand Ubisoft’s reasoning for simplifying the combat, but whilst the previous titles did an excellent job of making gamers feel a sense of accomplishment when they defeated a couple of enemies, Prince of Persia becomes a sort of anti-climax in battle. Whereas a game such as God of War provides gamers with visceral and brutally satisfying combat, and Assassin's Creed provides neat, intricate fencing, Prince of Persia provides a weak hybrid of the two and doesn’t deliver an engaging combat system.
We then come to the inclusion of the Prince’s companion, Elika. She is certainly a very useful addition to the series, and her ability to lead the gamer to different areas when lost is extremely handy, but the character destroys any type of challenge at all. If the gamer plummets down a cliff, instead of actually dying, they are merely hoisted back up to the nearest point by Elika. In combat, the Prince cannot be killed as Elika will save him time and time again. It was so profoundly irritating to me to know that if I simply stood still during a boss fight, I could never actually be killed. In the final fights, I wanted to feel the need to conserve my attacks and limit my enthusiasm for taking out the boss in fear of being killed and having to start again. I wanted to feel as though one wrong button press could be my undoing, and instead, all I felt was the trudging of the X button as I hacked away without a care for the character. Ninja Gaiden, for all of its soul-detroying boss fights, knew exactly how to make a gamer feel proud and worthy once they had defeated a boss. Suffice to say, Prince of Persia does not. Further still, there is no difficulty option included, which baffled me and will likely baffle other gamers seeking an actual challenge.
This issue with combat and Elika raises the single greatest issue I have with Prince of Persia: the accessibility. It is too easy and far too repetitive as a result. Essentially, the player travels from area to area solving rather tedious puzzles until coming up against a mini-boss. Once the player has restored an area, she can either choose to collect orbs (which unlock new areas) or wash, rinse and repeat until the game is completed. The stages themselves are nicely designed and have a number of routes through them, but often felt needlessly expansive and a waste of resources that could have been spent tightening up the combat mechanics. I often felt incredibly frustrated that there was never a digression into a side-quest, or even proper collectibles, as these could have done wonders to hold my interest further. Elika's abilities, although handy from time to time, eliminated any sense of accomplishment I felt once I had defeated the final boss.
All in all, I enjoyed my play through of Prince of Persia, but by the end I couldn’t help but feel that the series's evolution has come at a significant cost. The game's core mechanics are all still there, neatly created and presented stunningly. But underneath this evident beauty, Prince of Persia fails to deliver on any sort of a challenge, and instead of carrying on the proud tradition of the series, deviates to a considerable and damaging extent because of its simple gameplay and excessive accessibility.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 12 hours of play was devoted to single-player mode (completed 1 time).
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains Alcohol Reference, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes, Violence. I'd say that the game is certainly unsuitable for young children, but the language, violence and themes won't trouble any other age groups.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: All dialogue is subtitled without need to select the option from the option menus.
HIGH Effortlessly running, jumping, and climbing across the entire game world.
LOW Lightseed collection gets extremely monotonous.
WTF The final "battle" where your opponent is apparently a drunk Pokémon on steroids.
Since its resuscitation way back in 2003 with Sands of Time, the Prince of Persia series has been nothing short of brilliant, even counting The Prince's unfortunate emo phase. Its smooth, acrobatic platforming along with scintillating aesthetics (again, minus the Godsmack-driven Warrior Within) make it an absolute treat. With Prince of Persia, Ubisoft is again trying to reinvent The Prince, and without the help of any name changes or unpronounceable symbols. The results are a mixed bag; parts of the game are monotonous and severely lack challenge. However, they are outweighed by advancements that will ultimately make the series, and possibly games as a whole, better in the long run.
This installation of Prince of Persia features a brand-new story, completely separate from the Sands of Time trilogy. The player again takes on the role of The Prince, but a very different one. While walking through the desert searching for his lost donkey, he runs into Elika, who is in turn running from some guards, who.....well, if you want the details you'll have to play the game, or at least look it up on Wikipedia. In a nutshell, the story is mostly acceptable although it doesn't quite measure up to Sands of Time. In any case, Elika is The Prince's new best friend, and within her lays both the true marvel of Prince of Persia and one of its greatest flaws.
The trademark acrobatics that have made the series great make a return here. The Prince runs, jumps, climbs, and otherwise scales obstacles with ease. The control scheme is as intuitive and natural as the other games in the series, so I was wall-jumping with the best of them in no time. Elika always follows right behind The Prince (curious, since The Prince has never been here before and she has) and provides hints, directional assistance through her compass ability, and generally enjoyable back-and-forth dialogue. Oh, and then there's that whole life-saving thing. Anytime The Prince takes a bad step Elika will swoop in and save him, like his own personal super hero. A fall in any place results in being taken back to the last piece of solid ground before the current set of obstacles. In other words, Elika will save The Prince from any fall, anywhere, and at any time. At first, this was completely mind-boggling. Why on Earth would they make death literally impossible? As I played on, however, I began to understand what I was seeing—Elika's role in platforming is absolutely brilliant.
Let's take a step back for a second and ask a question—what is a death video game? In the simplest terms, a death is a failure. Failure always carries some kind of penalty, like being forced to go back to the beginning of a level, a loss of some kind of resource, or having to reload the game from the last save. With Elika, that annoying middleman is cut out of the process. When I fail, the penalty is to be taken back to the beginning of the obstacle set that I failed to get through, without any annoying reloading or being asked to continue. This removes a lot of unnecessary frustration while keeping the intended challenge intact. There were quite a few instances where I missed a jump or hit the wrong button during an obstacle sequence, and having to reload my game every time would have been maddening. In fact, in Ubisoft's other Prince of Persia games, the time-reversal power gave me the ability to go straight back to the post or wall overhang that I jumped from to my impending death. Elika, on the other hand, takes me to the last piece of flat ground I stood on regardless of where I fell, so in some ways the penalty for failure is greater than the previous games. In any case, Elika is a welcome method of streamlining the failure process to minimize the player's frustration.
While she is golden in platforming, Elika has to settle for a corroded bronze in combat. In fact, combat in general is an area where the game could have used a little more work. The controls work well, as I never had any problems using The Prince's and Elika's abilities; the problems lie in the nature of the battles themselves. One of Ubisoft's stated goals during development was to make each battle a memorable event rather than just another encounter, and thus The Prince never faces more than one opponent at any given time. This is a great idea, but unfortunately the battles just aren't all that memorable. There are four main enemies in the game, each of which players must defeat six times before they can face the final boss, and each battle with them is essentially the same. To top things off, they all have the same abilities and tactics with a few slight variations. Even the quicktime events that occur when fighting them are identical. Their connection to the plot is also minimal, as only one of them allows for any insight into The Prince's and Elika's characters.
Getting back to Elika, her role in combat is the same as the rest of the game: to save The Prince if he is about to die. A death event occurs whenever The Prince fails to execute a certain quicktime event during the battle—"Press X To Not Die" quite literally. If Elika is forced to step in and save the day, The Prince and his opponent are moved to separate sides of the arena, and the enemy regains a small to moderate amount of health. Thus there is virtually no penalty for failure. Missing a jump or failing to grab onto a ledge is appropriately punished by forcing the player to start that sequence of events over. Failing in battle, however, incurs almost no punishment whatsoever. The enemy regaining their full health would have been ideal, as it would have been the same as being killed, reloading the game, and beginning the battle again.
However, even with the combat problems the most annoying part of the game by far is the collection of lightseeds. When an area is cleared, lightseeds appear in all manner of locations in the level. The Prince must collect lightseeds in order for Elika to acquire new powers, which are needed to access more parts of the world. This extended fetch-quest became extremely tedious, as I was forced to go back over the level I had just completed to find them; going back through the same obstacle set again and again looking for those last two or three that I missed was especially taxing. Fortunately I wasn't required to collect more than the minimum amount of lightseeds needed to gain new powers, and after I had enough to complete every area the experience became much smoother.
The game is not without its share of problems. Yes, collecting lightseeds gets incredibly boring after a while. Yes, Elika removes a lot of the challenge from combat, although this problem could have been tempered by simply giving the enemy their full health back in the event of being saved by her. In platforming, however, Elika is a godsend. With her, Ubisoft has revamped the failure process so that it is almost completely devoid of needless frustration and redefined the concept of death in games. The most common initial reaction to her (including my own) is shock at the apparent lack of difficulty she brings, but Elika's role is what makes Prince of Persia brilliant, and quite possibly transcendent.
Disclosures: This game was obtained through retail purchase and reviewed on the Playstation 3. Approximately 12 hours were dedicated to completing the game once.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains violence, suggestive themes, mild language, and alcohol references. Young children might get the spooks from some of the monsters, but beyond that I didn't see anything to be concerned about.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing: All spoken lines are subtitled, and the audio is not a significant factor in gameplay.