Name: Prince of Persia
Genre: Adventure, Platform
Platforms: XBox 360, PlayStation 3, PC (Reviewed on Xbox 360)
During the last generation of consoles, the Prince of Persia trilogy reinvigorated a dying PC franchise, and thanks to Ubisoft, reintroduced the character to an entirely new era of gamers. Publically and critically acclaimed, the franchise hasn’t even been dormant for three years, but Ubisoft decided to give the Prince another makeover. Instead of the gritty, somewhat real world the previous games took place in, the new Prince of Persia relies on impressive cel-shaded graphics, and a more fantastic world to explore. Those features, along with a more simplified control scheme, had me wondering if this new Prince of Persia could possibly live up to the previous regime.
The newest Prince of Persia not only introduces us to a new prince, but also places us in the middle of a desert region fueled by incredible imagination. We meet the prince as he wanders out of a sandstorm, and stumbles into Elika, a magical princess who needs his help reaching the Tree of Life temple. It isn’t really clear why you need to get there until you arrive and run across Elika’s father. It appears he intends to release the evil being, Ahriman, from his prison inside the tree. The Prince engages Elika’s father in a fight, but ultimately, her father still is able to cut the tree, thereby releasing Ahriman. As darkness enshrouds the world, the vast dunes turn to waste, plant life withers, and night rules the skies. Elika enlists the Prince’s help in restoring the lands’ fertile grounds, which once saved, will restore power to the Tree of Life, and help in imprisoning Ahirman once more. The story may not be the freshest concept, but that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable. On the outside, the tale may seem very basic, but thanks to an interesting dialogue mechanic, players are given the option to enrich their experience in conversations with Elika.
During the 8-12 hours it should take to complete the game, the Prince is prompted to engage Elika in conversations that run the gamut from casual, to flirting, to learning more about the enemy they’re about to fight and the land they’re trying to restore. Ubisoft put a lot into the complex relationship between Elika and the Prince, and both end up as fully fleshed out characters if you choose to follow most, if not all of the conversation prompts. Ubisoft takes a bit of a gamble with the concept, taking the chance that the player will want to explore the story more completely, rather than forcing players to partake. While nowhere near as dynamic as the conversation wheel in Mass Effect, what they have implemented here, along with impressive voice-over work, helps in setting this game apart from those with a similar plot. Of course, the biggest thing setting this game apart from likeminded games is the impeccable presentation.
Unique would only barely begin to describe the style of the latest Prince of Persia. Instead of the cartoon animation feel usually likened to cel-shaded graphics, the game looks more like a moving canvas. Both the Prince and Elika are highly detailed, from engravings on the Prince’s gauntlet and sword, to the intricacies of Elika’s attire, the designers went to great lengths to not only separate the look and feel of this game from other entries in the series, but also from other games with cel-shaded graphics. Enemies are creatively designed as well. The minions of Ahriman all have distinct personalities, and their corrupted design suits them well. The Warrior King and Alchemist, particularly, have unique attributes that come through during combat. Many of the lower minions you come across all share the same look, but are elaborate in design in spite of the lack of variation. Even enemy movement has a specific style to it, and you’ll notice as they slide across platforms to attack you, an intricate pattern of corruption is left in their wake.
The Prince’s movement also has a particular style to it. His animations are among the most impressive in any game to date, and do a wonderful job showing off the capabilities of the Scimitar engine. As players make their way across the darkened world, restoring the fertile grounds from the deep blues, blacks, and purples associated with Ahriman’s corruption, the Prince and Elika show a range of acrobatic maneuvers that would make Cirque de Soleil jealous. Fluidity is important in a game like this, and Ubisoft’s time with Assassin’s Creed pays off in spades. Not once did I find animations to be glitchy, nor did I find them to be improbable. Even though the Prince and Elika pull off some impressive moves, the developer took the time to make sure their athleticism looked possible. Once the corruption is expelled from an area, the darkness breaks, revealing incredible landscapes with crystalline waters, amazing architecture, and a color palette full of life. This is enhanced even more by the score, which along with the look, changes to reflect the feel of the world. The game is blessed with a wonderful soundtrack, and at times I found myself humming it when not playing. While the level design is sometimes not as creative as the rest of the presentation, the outstanding visuals make up for it, and enrich the gameplay experience.
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Prince of Persia has a very simple, but deep, control scheme. Both new and longtime gamers should delight in having a game that’s easy to get into, and should have no issue with the guiding hand the AI initially provides. Using just the most basic button presses, the Prince is prompted to jump, climb, slide, fly, and swing across the different locales presented. Wall running is handled by simply jumping towards a wall. The computer then takes over the running, and at the end of the run, players are asked to jump off the wall. Likewise most climbing and flying requires only the tiniest bit of input from the player. Eventually, there will be long runs combing all the acrobatic abilities the Prince has in his repertoire, and getting a chance to enjoy the animations instead of worrying about controlling the character is a nice change of pace. Combat is just as easy, with four types of attacks (magic, gauntlet, acrobatic, sword) linked to the four face buttons. Any one attack is just fine, but chaining the right attacks together can allow for some pretty lengthy combos. If you’re willing to experiment, the fighting system can get pretty complex. Combining the Prince’s swordplay with Elika’s magic is also impressive to watch, despite the minimal amount of control. Battles do tend to get a bit repetitive though, especially Boss fights. You’ll fight each of the bosses five times, and you’ll be asked to defeat them the exact same way, just in a different location. It’s repetitive, and slightly disappointing, but forgivable when weighing the rest of the positives.
After defeating a boss, and restoring one of the fertile lands, the path you followed to get to the boss is filled with Seeds of Light. Acquiring these allows the Prince to unlock more magic for Elika. By returning to the Tree of Life with a certain amount of Seeds, new abilities like gravity-defying wall running and long-distance jumping, open previously closed paths. There are over 1000 Seeds of Light, but players only need to collect around 550 to open all the worlds. While there’s an air of repetitiveness to running back through a world you just explored, it’s worth the trip to see not only how different the level is since you got rid of the corruption, but to see more of the Prince and Elika in action.
While traversing the world of Prince of Persia, there will be times you accidentally fall to your death. No matter how great the gamer you are, it will happen. Though, instead of giving you a game over screen, Ubisoft created an intriguing checkpoint system. The moment the Prince falls, Elika rescues him, flinging him back to the last platform he passed before falling. While in battle, Elika will also resuscitate the Prince, should he take too much damage, at the cost of the enemy regaining some health back. When you’re character never really dies, the controller stays in your hand, and it’s an interesting technique to keep gamers playing. While it may seem like the game is being too lenient at the outset, you’ll be thankful for this method of play after a few hours. Nothing kills momentum like having to reload a save, and this feature prevents exactly that.
There’s quite a bit to enjoy when it comes to the latest Prince of Persia. Intuitive and easy to master gameplay, coupled with production values that put many contemporaries to shame, makes Prince of Persia a standout title. It’s been a slow year for adventure titles, but Prince of Persia is able to claim the top spot of the list at the last possible moment. While it may not be the game of the year, it arrives just in time to at least contend for it. Who would’ve thought a fresh start on a new console was what this series needed?