Review by AK_the_Twilight

"Prince or Pauper?"

The Prince of Persia series has evolved beyond cult-following thanks to the revival trilogy, the Sands of Time. The original Sands of Time was a superb mix of platforming and storytelling, describing a powerful storybook struggle of the Prince and the Sands of Time themselves. Equipped with the time-shifting Dagger of Time, the Prince held an adventure that rivaled few. After getting a bit angrier and earning himself an alter-ego, the Prince closed out the trilogy with the praised Warrior Within and Two Thrones games. Ultimately, the Sands of Time trilogy closed, with a brand-new adventure in the works from Ubisoft. Does the new Prince of Persia have the skills and style to surpass his Sands of Time counterpart?

While many modern gamers are familiar with the Sands of Time trilogy in the Prince of Persia universe, the 2008 Prince of Persia installment features a brand-new world with a brand-new protagonist. The new Prince is a wise-cracking treasure hunter whose dreams include riches, adventure, and most importantly, finding his lost donkey Farah. In an empty land, the Prince encounters a stern, barefoot woman named Elika, who also happens to be a princess. After saving Elika from a group of random enemies, the Prince learns of Elika's true goal: to heal the lands of the kingdom from a shadowy corruption and seal away an ancient demon called Ahriman, the cause of the corruption. The Prince, in an act of good will, becomes the protector of Elika and assists in her efforts to recover Light Seeds, which have the power to seal away Ahriman for good. While the new Prince of Persia doesn't have the storybook style of the Sands of Time, the isolated world of the new kingdom is surprisingly expressive. The new Prince's attitude is a stark contrast from the youthful spirit of the Sands of Time Prince, but his conversations with Elika reveal both his and her emotional ties to their cause. It's different, but it captures a good identity for itself.

While Prince of Persia presents a few trappings from its Sands of Time cousins, this is a very different game from the past trilogy. Instead of following linear exploration, the world is divided into different regions, like a citadel or a garden. The Prince and Elika must travel through these different areas, seal away the corruption, and finally collect the Light Seeds scattered throughout. The Light Seeds, when enough are collected, allow for the activation of power plates, special emblems that let the Prince and Elika explore new areas. Usually, multiple areas are open for exploration, so the player can pick and choose which regions to explore or which powers to unlock. The ability to teleport from healed land to healed land also makes progressing through the kingdom easier than otherwise. Finding Light Seeds will require some backtracking, and the collecting can get tiresome after a while but overall, the world is vast and doesn't put too many boundaries on how the player can explore.

The Prince and Elika have plenty of moves at their disposal when exploring the kingdom. The Prince possesses many of the abilities of his Sands of Time counterpart, including running along walls, swinging on poles, and balancing on beams. This is great; it's a streamlined affair. The Prince's motions from technique to technique are smooth. The problem, unbelievably, is that it's TOO streamlined. Take leaping from a beam to running along a wall. You press A to jump, the Prince instantly runs along the wall, and after pressing A again, will jump off to the next platform. Now considering the intricacies of the environments, this can help at times, but the lack of any serious input from the player, the game doesn't capture the stellar platforming from the Sands of Time in its essence. It feels like one big quick-time event. Even more so is Elika. Elika has the ability to show the way to the next area, offer a double-jump, and most importantly, saving the Prince's butt from certain death. And she will do it every time you fail. Each time you miss a jump, she'll lend a hand and place you right back on the last sturdy platform you stood on. This essentially makes the game very, very easy. The implementation of an overly-streamlined exploration system and the lack of a serious penalty for failing change the Prince of Persia formula considerably, and it severely hurts an otherwise great continuation of the franchise.

The combat is another serious issue. The Prince will encounter a time that one of the surprisingly few enemies will attack. Each of the face buttons on the controller offers a specific combat skill, like slashing with a sword, grabbing with the gauntlet, and such. There is an intricate combo system that is surprisingly robust, and mixing up the combos with different abilities is pretty cool. The problem is that you'll rarely need such intricate combos, because simply parrying attacks using well-timed blocks can fatigue an enemy, where a powerful combo using Elika's magic will usually suffice afterward. The Prince can also eliminate minor battles altogether with a pre-empted speed kill, making the battles even less significant, and like in exploration, Elika is always there to save the Prince from a dangerous demise. Admittedly, the combat looks cool and has plenty of depth, but the game rarely gives you incentive to experiment, which is a disappointment.

If there's one thing that Prince of Persia masters, it's the presentation, which is a rich combination of the fantastic realism of the Sands of Time with creative cel-shading echoing games like Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. The detailed graphics mimic that of an ancient tapestry, appropriate enough for a game with such a historical trapping. The Prince and Elika's movements possess weight and present realistic interpretations of their otherwise otherworldly acrobatics. Grabbing ledges, running along walls, sliding down slopes; they all possess a degree of naturalistic beauty, even when the Prince does presumably insane stunts, like sliding down a tower with his gauntlet or climbing along ceilings. The environments take a little while to present variety, but once they do, prepare to be awed by excellent lighting, beautiful vistas, and breathtaking worlds. Viewing a level from its peak presents an undeniably expansive world, and as the game progresses, the levels become more intricate and twisted. The corrupted areas have their own degrees of graphical style, though they essentially are the same as the healed worlds. The tinge of darkness and the shadowy creatures both make use of the ambiance of the corrupted regions. The combat, despite its lack of serious variety, is stylized, even more so than the Sands of Time trilogy. Seeing the Prince and Elika team up for some over-the-top acrobatic battles is incredible, especially when the combos rack up and more intricate abilities are used.

The sound design has some excellent scores that switch up depending on whether the area is healed or corrupted. New to the mix is some interesting new voice acting. The Prince's smart-aleck attitude is presented well in his new voice acting, and Elika's seriousness can be wisely broken after hearing the Prince's wise-cracks. The relationship between the two heroes is superbly shown in the excellent voice acting. The scope of the world is amplified with the epic scores, altogether creating sound design to rival even the original Sands of Time trilogy.

Pros
+ Gorgeous graphics
+ Attacks and acrobatics animate fluidly
+ Stellar level design
+ New story and dialogue makes for a fresh experience

Cons
- Very little penalty for dying, both in combat and exploration
- Little reason to experiment with combat techniques
- Collecting and backtracking feel repetitive
- The new Prince's “wise-guy” attitude may bother some

Prince of Persia is a solid enough action platformer for the 360, but it seems to take the fluidity of the Prince's famous acrobatics and combat too far down the road of simplicity. Exploring the different areas in the kingdom is fun, but you'll most likely find yourself cringe at watching the Prince fail a jump, repeatedly being saved by Elika. It just makes the game too easy. Going through some of the most intricate and creatively-designed levels and nail-bitingly close combat with only some simple button presses is a serious disappointment. However, the 2008 Prince of Persia has some of the best production values ever seen in the series and it isn't afraid to flaunt them with gorgeous environments and acrobatic combat sequences. Those who've stuck with the Sands of Time games will find this Prince of Persia to have some serious issues worth ironing out, but the exploration is still beautiful and expansive, and it's pretty difficult to hate a game after seeing a tremendous vista of an ancient temple or valley. Ultimately, if you're looking for a good action game with cinematic flair through the roof, Prince of Persia will satisfy, despite its tendency to simplify almost everything in the game. It's a fun game, but fans of the Prince's other console adventures may want to rent this one before adding it to their collection.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 07/06/09

Game Release: Prince of Persia (US, 12/02/08)


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