"An inviting oasis"

Ubi Soft has wonderfully decided to revisit a series of old, reinventing it in a genre that is somewhat lacking on our Xbox. While there are action titles and some platformers, crafted from both, this is a wonderfully developed action-platformer.

I never expected to be so captivated by this game as I eventually became. This new Prince of Persia reminded me about what I absolutely enjoyed about Sony's brilliant ICO. Now before you run off, or continue reading, I'll explain. The titles share similarities that I just couldn't help but notice. Both games have an immersible world (here in the desert) with a fantastic presentation that helps to give a sense of beauty and brilliance that few games are able to achieve. Both games also have two protagonists working together to get through areas filled with dangers. And while both games don't last very long, they are both elegantly crafted.

I will say though, the dual partner system and combat found within this game are a bit more fleshed out than in ICO. Your partner, a beautiful princess, can slide underneath crevices and through them to get to switches, and she can also help you in battle shooting her arrows from her bow. In other words, she is more...lively than Yorda was in ICO. Although, it can be a pain sometimes to have to defend her as she too is susceptible to damage (more so than Yorda), and if she goes so does your game.

As far as your moves are concerned, the prince is far more agile than her majesty. As his majesty, you are able to run on walls, jump from ledges and bars, swing on ropes, climb, balance walk on tight ledges, as well as jump from wall to wall to get to higher areas. Imagine doing multiple actions such as these to reach a destination and it's just plain stylish and challenging to watch and play. If you are a veteran of platforming games, you'll absolutely have a great time here.

After the story set up where you start out as a pillaging handsome prince alongside your father fighting human enemies, you then move to become a determined betrayed prince who must seek out the evil one who tricked you into unleashing the "Sands of Time" turning everything into undead or mutant beings. In consequence of this, you must recover a dagger that lets you stop time, slow time, speed time up, and rewind time. When you acquire the dagger, the fighting comes in and you're then on the path of revenge. Your agility even remains here, as you can vault over enemies and slash them from behind, run of walls to attack, block and attack, and implement your new time controlling powers.

When you manipulate time, as in speeding up time, you can instantly jump to an enemy and obliterate them. When you slow time, it can give you an advantage to move to a safer position to attack. You can also freeze an enemy if you stab them with the dagger. Finally, when you rewind time you can move back some ways to avoid a painful hit or mistake. The rewinding feature basically works like lives, in that if you die you can just rewind to before you died and start fresh again.

To use these powers of time, you must use sand to enable them. Represented, along with your health meter, are sand tanks that must be refilled. To do so, you must finish an enemy off by thrusting the dagger into them, as a finishing move, and have their residue swirl into your blade. Or, you can find sand clouds that can not only refill your tanks but also lead the way for more tanks to be added when you find a certain number of clouds. Likewise, your health can also be lengthened by breaking down weak walls to reveal secret pathways that lead to a cool looking hub-like area where you can drink special water from a sacred pool. Water is your life, and conveniently fountains and pools are spread all about so you can drink and replenish your health.

Aside from the awesome swirling finishing move, the combat is fresh, fun, and also just plain cool to watch and perform. Having the prince jump around and dispatch enemies in various cool ways is a sight to behold. It can also be a bit problematic in that sometimes you can become overwhelmed and be hit rather cheaply. It can be hard to recover when the prince is lying on his back and is continuously being hit by multiple enemies making it difficult to get up.

While the combat is cool, it can also get rather repetitive with mowing down enemy after re-spawning enemy, then moving on to puzzle elements. I would have liked boss battles as well, as there's only one in the game and it's at the end. Even so, I can say I still enjoyed battling enemies, as I did the puzzle elements.

The puzzles are used as a means to progress. One such puzzle has you manipulating mirrors to reflect light, a la Zelda, in a massively beautiful room. You must use your moves to make it to the top and around this huge room to reflect the light to other mirrors. Some other means of puzzle solving can have you using the tired method of pushing crates to open areas. From a buxom tomb raider to a soul sucking vampire, to a horned boy and a planet hopping fox, and now a prince, I can definitely say I'm tired of pushing crates in games. Thankfully, though, these parts don't tarnish the overall experience.

From combat to puzzles, it's all easy to do thanks to great handling. I was a little worried when I found out you have to use the face buttons to attack, instead of the right trigger as in some games for the Xbox. I am happy to report my worries were dispersed when I first ran along a wall with said trigger. It just felt natural. From jumping, to rolling, to pulling off spectacular moves, in combat or progressing further, you really won't be having a problem maneuvering the prince here.

Easy on the eyes, as I stated before, the presentation is really well done. I hardly put visuals on the top of my absolute must care list when it comes to games, but when it feels as though you could actually feel the balmy night air as wind lightly sweeps through the desert trees, then something remarkable has been accomplished. The swirling pools of sand in both the environment and dispatched enemies, along with beautiful architecture, also add to the elegance of the game. I spent some time just gazing, in first-person, at the marvelous environments. Waterfalls beautifully cascading down beneath a bridge I was on, and a gorgeous sunset with dark clouds swirling above leading to an ominous destination were two more instances where the developer's artistry really shined. Nice little touches like having the the prince shed parts of his clothing, or have them get dirty when you roll about, also add to the nice detail of the visuals the developers put in.

The majesty continues in the audio with just the sounds of your surroundings that you hear sometimes with a bit of music acknowledging an accomplishment you pulled off, like finding a secret, drinking water, or it can just play for the hell of it. When battle ensues, though, the beautiful mixtures of Middle Eastern and Rock music make the battle scenes become blood pumping events. The voice actors do an excellent job as well with the prince sounding regal, yet boyish, with his offending remarks, and the princess bitter and biting with hers. Our two protagonists don't like each other at the start, but soon find themselves looking at each other with affection, and their dialogue goes along with that: some of their humorous banter lightens up their dark journey. The princess can even help you out with her comments. While on a platform I heard the princess say there was a ledge below, so I adjusted the camera and was able to find my way off. I would have liked for there to be subtitles, though, as the voices can be faint.

I must also speak of save points that are also strewn about. When you step into a beam of light, not only can you save, but you are also treated to a foreshadow of what's to come. It's a little help that you can view multiple times in case you need direction - very nice and very helpful.

While I was totally blown away with most of this game, there are some other, more problematic annoyances to be found than the ones I've stated. The camera has to be manipulated quite often, and other times a bad angle will obstruct your view. Another is the presence of some bugs. One in particular has the ability to make progression impossible: it has to do with a save point in the observatory area about 71% in. I know this has already plagued the adventures of some gamers, but if you keep multiple save files it shouldn't be a problem; I personally never experienced it. I did, however, encounter a glitch where I could not kill an enemy and therefore was unable to progress, as I had to intentionally die so the enemies would reset. To help you out, there are invisible checkpoints, so you won't have to repeat too many sections of an area if you die. Those are extremely welcome, especially later in the game.

When, or if, you decide to play this game I recommend becoming familiar with it and its elements then checking a FAQ for the known bugs, as I believe they should be easy to avoid/fix. And I do hope you at least try this game, even with its faults, because it's one that has both engrossing gameplay and wonderful elegance. Sands of Time stands out as an enjoyable play in refuge from many others in the genre, and as a unique offering on the Xbox that definitely deserves to be in your collection for all time.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 06/10/04, Updated 07/03/08

Game Release: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (US, 11/12/03)


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