Prince…

Well, sorry I haven’t been updating much recently or anything. I haven’t had much time lately to do really anything of this sort. Also I don’t have internet at home, so it’s a bit hard to just get out and post things on here all the time. But for this post, I’ve got something fairly decent prepared. I just quit my job so I can start working on Fij full time, meaning I will hopefully get the game finished or at least in some working order. But I will go ahead and get on with the rest of this post, which is a review of the new Prince of Persia.

Prince of Persia

Prince of Persia is one of the oldest gaming franchises there is, with the entries spanning nearly two decades. The original Prince of Persia is somehow considered a classic, and appreciated for its astonishingly smooth animation for the time. Even despite its horrid laggy controls, which are caused mostly as part of the “smooth” animation. It’s somewhat surprising that such a flawed game has spawned so many sequels. I mean, there’s the first sequel, which was basically like the original, only different levels, then there’s a remake… At one point, someone decided that the franchise was worth bringing into the 3d era, and the god-awful “Prince of Persia 3D” was born. Not surprisingly, after such a flop, and with the Nintendo 64 and Playstation already in their waning years, the idea of a 3d Prince sat stagnant for a while.

But then, an idea was born.

The primary appeal of the original game was the atmosphere of a heroic Persian prince who was a master at acrobatic feats. The only problem was, in the original game, in order to perform these acrobatic feats, you had to spend hours getting used to the strange laggy timing of the game. When the original came out, this wasn’t really an issue. Nobody knew how games were “supposed” to be, so there weren’t any real pre-concieved notions about how a game should behave. However, by the Playstation 2 era, gamers, and especially reviewers weren’t willing to put up with “control lag.” So, in Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time, the controls were fine tuned and acrobatic feats were made as easy as possible. Everything seemed good, the game came out with a nifty rewind mechanic and people wanted more.

Unfortunately, in the two sequels that followed, they had missed something. The fact of the matter was, Prince of Persia has always been an unfair game, including the stellar Sands of Time. What with all the spikes coming out of the ground and killing you when you walk too fast across them. Most of the dangerous traps in the dungeons require the player to “learn by dying.” This practice was of course quite common back in the era the original Prince was released. But today is generally considered a design “no-no.” Sands of Time relieved the unfair feeling by allowing the player to rewind time when he died. Although the rewind mechanic itself was somewhat gimmicky and didn’t add much gameplay, it was still a key point of the games design.

Luckily, someone at Ubisoft realized that the unfairness of the later Playstation 2 Era Princes was a problem, and set to remedy it by once again re-inventing the franchise. And thus, “Prince of Persia” was released.

Now I guess I can get to the real review, now that I’ve ranted on about something you probably already know about.

Prince of Persia succeeds in creating a smooth easy-to-control and acrobatic Prince. Suprisingly, he’s even easier to control and more acrobatic than Sands of Time. The controls in Sands of Time were quite specific and although not difficult, were somewhat complex. This meant that as the game progressed, you learned new things and were accquianted with new gadgetry at a reasonable pace. However, this new Prince manages to cram in all of the controls and the major environmental obstacles into less than an hour of gameplay. Now, this isn’t bad because it’s confusing, because it’s anything but. In fact, the controls are so simple, most actions are performed automatically or with one button. This is bad because the rest of the game is set up as a non-linear experience. Now, I know the big buzzwords in gaming right now are all about “non-linearity” and “sandbox gameplay” and “emergent behavior”. But the issue is that these things just don’t really work in Prince of Persia’s puzzling platform universe. It’s sad to see that the game had to make it to full production before anyone truly realized just how much it doesn’t work.

The problem is that the game lacks a real sense of progression due to it’s “Go anywhere” approach. There are four different worlds with 5 stages in each, and each stage ends with a boss. So, there’s twenty stages in total. Now, this would seem like a decent amount of content if this game had followed the linear style of it’s predecessors. Unfortunately, the freedom the game offers you in allowing you to pick which worlds and levels you want to tackle in which order makes all of them kinda taste like beans.

The fundamental controls are introduced in the intro part of the game, and after that, there are really few additions. With the major ones being these “plates” which require you to press the “Y” button when you land on them. There are four plates, which are each unlocked after collecting a large number of “light seeds.” The light seeds themselves are basically just an incentive to re-explore areas that you’ve already been to, as they are only available after you have completed the stage by defeating the boss and “healing the land” by rapidly pressing the “Y” button. The plates offer several different “moves” which will be performed upon activation. Two of the plates require interaction from the player to avoid hitting obstacles while on a sort of spiritual train-ride against the laws of physics. And the other two basically just play an animation which takes you somewhere else in the level. Unfortunately, none of the plates add anything really interesting to the puzzles in the game, and they all require the press of the same button. So they eventually just add up with the rest of the elements in the game into what feels like an elaborate Simon Says game. When I see the grappling ring, I should press “B”, when I see the plate, “Y”, Press “A” before you get to the edge, “Y” if it’s really far.

The way I put it, the game may sound boring. And I’m sad to say, the truth is that the game is rather boring. The choice of non-linearity allows nothing in the game to build upon anything else, and so it never gets more complex than the first stage you play. Sure, they throw in a few new baddies that you must avoid, and each of the bosses has a slightly different weakness. Unfortunately, these aren’t really enough to add interest, because all of the fighting in the game follows the same sort of Simon says feel with many “Press A to not die” events that pop up if you get too close to the enemy. Although the combat in the game, like almost everything else, is more forgiving than Sands of Time. It’s not really as satisfying or interesting. At the beginning of the game, we are introduced to the novel aspect of combat that we will be controlling two characters during combat. With the Princess’s magic attacks being assigned to the “Y” button. However, as the game progress, we realize that you will never fight more than one opponent at a time, and that all of your opponents will basically be proxies for one another. Sure, one of the bosses you have to push off the cliff because they’re too big to actually feel your sword. And the wierd feral cat-chick thing has some interesting “illusion” battles. But overall, most of the battles involve the same sort of back-and-forth “Simon says” feel as the rest of the game. Oh, now I have to start with an “A” attack, now I have to start with “Y” attack. Uh-oh, he’s charging, better press the buttons on screen so I don’t die.

Of course, as I’ve said earlier, the game is quite forgiving. Almost too forgiving, you can’t even die. Every time you fall to your doom the Princess magically teleports over to you and saves you. (Kinda makes you wonder why you go through all the trouble of helping her out when she can fly the whole time.) Every time you might die in battle, or get sucked in the black “corruption” you get saved by Princess Elika. There are some penalties, if you fall while on a series of acrobatic moves, you get moved back to the last solid ground. If you “die” in battle then the boss regains some health. But overall, the game is easy to an almost ridiculous level. There was a certain joy to being able to let my Prince smack into the ground and die in Sands of Time. There was a certain other joy in being able to just rewind it back when I felt like it. (or didn’t, you bastard prince. *smacks into ground repeatedly*)

Well, anyways. The non-linearity is obviously a problem. And the most interesting bits are the start and the end of the game, where the designers could actually have some idea of what you’ve experienced up to that point.

The story of the game reminds me of a Super Nintendo era game, such as Zelda 3, with the majority of the real backstory and lore being contained solely in the games instruction manual. (Which of course, is entirely in black and while, because no gamer would ever consider reading the instruction manual.) The story in the game is primarily conveyed through conversations between the prince and Elika. Unfortunately, these conversations are completely optional, and only activated when you press the left trigger button. So, you can play through the whole game without actually knowing anything about what’s going on. Many of the conversations pop up at inopportune moments, such as in the middle of a daring escape sequence from a crumbling tower. And due to their disposable nature, all of the conversations feature the same camera angles. This is sad, considering the interactions in Sands of Time worked quite well with conversations that continued regardless of what the player was doing. Although this sometimes created strange situations which didn’t quite match up to the writers intentions, the game didn’t suffer from the same feeling of having a big back-story crammed into a tiny game that the new Prince has.

The game’s ending leaves the story open for a sequel, and is perhaps the highlight of the entire game. If there is a direct sequel to this Prince, I hope the fine folks at Ubisoft will see their mistake and make the next one a linear experience.

But maybe they won’t. After all, the series must be making some good money, for them to be making a Disney movie of the thing. Jerry Bruckhiemer is even jumping on that cash cow. Let’s just hope that movie has a deeper story than this game, and it might just turn out to be watchable.

Overall Score: 6/10

The game is very playable. There are a few interesting moments, but the game as a whole is rather forgettable. Sad, because the art style of this game was a positive direction for the series.

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