It was a happy day way back when my parents first decided that they might need a computer for the house. I remember it was a 386, and I was in awe of the machine – mind, nowadays people have MP3 players that are more powerful. Obviously, the first thing I did was scour the machine for pre-installed games, and I did not go unrewarded. Sopwith and Alley Cat were good for many a session, but the jewel in the crown was undoubtedly Prince of Persia.
Jordan Mechner’s castle platformer had so many elements that elevated it to a class above. The silky smooth rotoscopic animation was very easy on the eyes, and helped to sell the adventure movie feel of the game. As for the look of the levels, they did a great job of marking your progress, from the dungeons to the palace rooms to the high towers.
Not to mention the awesome gameplay elements — the drama with the mirror image splitting from your body and then messing with your progress in the later levels, the leap of faith, even the scripted events (fans of the game might remember the elation at the scene with the mouse and the pressure plate).
After a decent second game and a horrible third game, the Prince and his series was put on ice for a while but returned in a big way with 2003’s Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Perhaps it was in part thanks to the fact that Mechner was involved in an advisory role, but this game succeeded in capturing the magic of the original, with a great mix of daredevil platforming and tight melee combat, set in a beautiful palace that spanned verdant gardens and dizzying spires. The awesome Sand Rewind feature was just the icing on a delicious cake. Warrior Within and The Two Thrones were subsequently released and rounded off a trilogy with its share of ups and downs, but one which had definitely salvaged the Prince’s image.
2008’s Prince of Persia game had a beautiful cel-shaded treatment and an engaging chemistry between the two leads, but seemed to be weighted heavily in favour of exploration, and combat was made completely boring as a result.
Diminishing returns seems to be the trend, since I’ve just had a go at Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, and found it a bit wanting.
It is a perfectly competent action platformer, but firmly rooted in the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ school of thought. Normally, that would be fine, but I get the feeling that all these things have been done better before, albeit in a lower resolution.
There are a few new elements introduced, but while some look great visually, they don’t smack of greatness like the Sand Rewind or the Dark Prince sections from the Sands of Time trilogy.
Also, none of the puzzles seem particularly challenging on a cerebral level — so far, they’ve been mostly about identifying the exit (which the preceding cutscene clearly establishes) and then timing your runs and jumps.
The camera seems to be in line with this linearity, since it frequently locks in place to highlight the view for a particular puzzle, effectively herding you forward. I mean, you could backtrack if you wanted to, but that would mean jumping blind right into the camera – not what I’d call great design.
And I haven’t even mentioned the boss fights — I’ve had to fight the exact same boss twice thanks to a narrative twist, and it turns out that both he and the next boss have an Achilles heel. Quite literally. See, they’re huge monsters, and apparently they can’t hit guys who are hiding between their legs and swatting at their ankles.
I was hoping for an Arabian Nights feel to the game, and this Looney Tunes comedy is putting a dent in that. I can imagine that it’s hard to put a special touch to a series that regularly keeps pumping out titles, so for the good of the Prince, I suggest one more enforced vacation for an indefinite period.