Prince of Persia Review

To take an already critically acclaimed videogame franchise and entirely re-envision it for a new generation is some feat. What’s an even greater achievement is to stray from the original formula and still come away with something spectacular. While Ubisoft Montreal’s Prince of Persia for the Xbox 360 and PS3 may not definitively improve upon, nor fall drastically short of the older entries in the franchise, the game is a solid, enjoyable experience that, despite design flaws, is indeed spectacular.

This Prince of Persia is the tale of a new “prince” — a vagrant tomb raider who loses his latest bounty, stumbles into a sandstorm, and finds himself mixed up with a beautiful woman in the middle of a battle between gods. The story seems heavy, albeit a bit standard, but the narrative is actually light, and the focus is squarely on gameplay. The problem with this, however, is that the gameplay itself also happens to be surprisingly dainty.

On their quest to seal away the evil god Ahriman forever, the Prince and companion Elika must locate and restore a number of formerly pristine “fertile grounds” that have been corrupted by the dark deity. Much of the storytelling comes in the form of optional dialog between the two protagonists. Unfortunately, the way these segments are delivered to the audience involve a break in the action, when they just as easily could have been voiced over the platforming gameplay. Tapping L to make the two chat does little more than take the controller out of the player’s hands in favor of a perspective shift, and make the somewhat interesting, yet visually unimportant conversations a chore to sit through, thus encouraging players to skip them altogether. Only at a few key junctures in the adventure does the game really work to advance the plot. Combined with an inevitably monotonous my-first-platformer control setup, this offers little motivation for players to press forward.

The platforming action is not immediately intuitive, as there is a delay between controller input and on-screen action. The idea seems to be to allow players to string together lengthy acrobatic combinations across long stretches of obstacles with relative ease, and for the most part it is effective. The slight delay between controller command and equivalent on-screen action is somewhat jolting at first, and fluid traverses across the many platforms, columns, rings, bars, walls, fissures, and more that fill the environments take some time to realize, but once the control style is practiced for but a short while, it does become second nature. Players will find themselves skating through the Prince’s world more fantastically than in any other Prince of Persia game to date. This isn’t to say that the acrobatic gameplay is superior to prior games, but that the moves available are simply more wildly unrealistic. The fact of the matter is that as complex and incredible as the Prince’s moves may be, the corresponding player input boils down to very simple and borderline leisurely button taps that require little skill to accurately perform. At times, “second nature” can end up meaning “mildly boring,” as if the game is playing itself, but newcomers to the hobby, genre, or franchise may just find the pace to be ideal.

Being set in such an expansive (and visually stunning) world, there are certain areas in the game that are far more satisfying to play through than others. The locales appearing to pay homage to the older, arguably more engrossing Sands of Time trilogy are in fact some of the most bland parts of the game, but navigating the complex architecture constructed by Ahriman’s Alchemist (one of the four sub-bosses) allows players to partake in simultaneously beautiful and practical level design on a truly grand scale. The game is at its best when whisking the player quickly from one obstacle to the next through this sort of environment, the Prince avoiding corruption and performing long and varied sequences of jumps, swings, slides, wall-runs, etc. Action such as this takes up about a third of the game, the rest being divided among travel, combat, and…orb-collecting.

Light orbs are the keys to the city, so to speak. Collecting these liberally sprinkled balls of joy opens up four types of Prince-flinging, glyphic plates placed on walls throughout the game world that must be utilized in order to move forward. Herein lies another problem. Despite the lack of challenging gameplay, running through the game world can still be very enjoyable as long as the player is actively progressing toward the goal of the moment. After purifying each of the 20 fertile grounds, however, extensive orb-collection adversely affects forward momentum, backing the game up into N64-era platforming a la Banjo-Kazooie and Donkey Kong 64. Either game type, on its own, is perfectly fine, but in Prince of Persia, the reliance on orb collection to advance feels like fly-in-my-soup syndrome. Ideally, players would be able to ignore the orbs altogether, but still pick up enough of them via normal exploration to unlock subsequent areas and advance through the game. This is not quite the case; players can almost get away with that strategy, but dedicated orb-hunting is unavoidable.

Players are granted plenty of freedom in the path they take to the game’s conclusion, however. Like those platformers of the 90s, Prince of Persia is characterized by a type of non-linear, hub- and sub-world design, wherein the players, rather than the designers, determine the order in which they visit and complete the game’s many areas. Because there are no boundaries between these places, it is possible to easily jump (run, swing, climb) from one to the next, all the while observing magnificent watercolor vistas that illustrate the immense scope of the land.

Each of the fertile grounds is protected by a single enemy. It may seem odd that players fight these foes prior to exploring the area they guard, but in a way, the setup makes far more sense than the more common boss-at-the-end style that most games employ. Instead of basically having their way with an area before seeing any real opposition, Prince of Persia makes players earn the right to explore each one. The Prince and Elika battle each of the guardians in rhythmic combo- and counter-based two-on-one combat that combines real-time control with quick time events (QTE). These sequences are easily the most intense and adrenaline-pumping portions of the game, but because there are only so many possible combinations of sword, gauntlet, and Elika attacks available, these fights can turn into cases of deja vu as players advance further into the game.

As a work of art, Prince of Persia is a nearly unmitigated success. The unique graphical style is crisp, colorful, and beautiful, especially as applied to the epic landscapes and structural design within the game world. The score is a bit more subtle and less impressive, but the compositions definitely contribute to each area’s overall mood and serve to better the gameplay experience.

Prince of Persia may not be the absolute pinnacle in princely acrobatic gaming, but it is certainly an enjoyable game. Marred by some inconsistent pacing and less-than-engaging action, it still manages to deliver a wondrous and open world through which players fight and fly to the game’s exciting conclusion.


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Author: Eddie Inzauto View all posts by
Eddie has been writing about games on the interwebz for over ten years. You can find him Editor-in-Chiefing around these parts, or talking nonsense on Twitter @eddieinzauto.

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