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We Review Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (Xbox 360)

It seems that the world is currently going through a Prince-mania phase, with the “Prince of Persia” movie doing reasonably well for itself at the box office. So if you were hoping for a movie review, you’re going to be a tad bit on the disappointed end of things. On the other hand, what you ARE reading is a review for the new Prince of Persia video game, subtitled “The Forgotten Sands”. So if you were hoping for one of those, well done! It’s your lucky day! Either way, it’s an entertaining review. If you’re already familiar with the Prince of Persia franchise (as any decent gamer should be), feel free to gloss, bleary-eyed, over the next two or so paragraphs, because what follows is a short history lesson. You’re welcome to stay for the entertaining read, though. It continues after the jump.

The first Prince of Persia game—suitably called “Prince of Persia”—was written in the dark ages (back in 1989, to be precise) by a nice chap named Jordan Mechner, and was published by Brøderbund Software (go ahead…I dare you to try pronouncing that properly). Mr. Mechner did something that, at the time, was revolutionary: he took advantage of the fact that he had a sibling, and filmed his brother performing acts such as running, jumping, and killing squirrels. He then converted the film to digital images, and thus the (at the time) lifelike Prince was born. He was a man on a mission! He was going to leap over tall buildings in a single bound! He was going to fly faster than a speeding bulle…no, hold on. That’s some other guy. Either way, he was going to do some pretty heroic stuff, because that’s what heroes do. They’re not given the option of whether they want to save the princess of not. And what if she’s ugly?

Almost fifteen years later, the game had gone through a quarter of a dozen developers, publishers, and incarnations, and Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was released in 2003 by Ubisoft to great acclaim. The game itself was, like its predecessor, revolutionary in many ways, and achieved a small avalanche of awards. By this time, the mythos of the game had changed, and the Prince was now a Le Parkour expert, leaping from wall to wall like a certain costumed hero we know of; a hero who should technically have eight legs, but I digress. Parkour aside, the core mechanic of the game was the ability to turn back time, undoing mistimed jumps and thrusts, amongst other things. This ability took the idiot ball aggressively from the hands of the player, and made for a far more impressive game than if it had not been included.

Two sequels were later released for Sands of Time: Warrior Within and The Two Thrones, and this is where I start becoming relevant again, because the new game, The Forgotten Sands, sits firmly between Sands and Warrior in the story chronology. This is also the last time I’ll be mentioning those sequels: I keep them in the same locked mental compartment as I do the latter two Matrix movies.

For the PS3 and Xbox360 versions, the story goes something like this: the still unnamed Prince is visiting the citadel of his older brother, Malik. Turns out that, in a turn of overwhelming plot-deviceness, the citadel is being attacked by…well, it’s never made clear who the attacking army actually is, but it soon becomes a moot point, anyhow, since everyone other than the Prince and Malik are turned to sand when Malik tries to resurrect the army of King Solomon. The Prince and Malik are separated, and make their own ways through the palace, and the Prince eventually runs into Razia, a djinn who starts infusing the Prince with all sorts of powers such as the ability to solidify water. Thus equipped, the Prince sets off to fight the Big Bad of this edition, and to reunite with his brother. I’m assured that the Wii and DS versions have different storylines. While playing The Forgotten Sands, I had a moment of wondering whether they’d confirm in-game that this was a direct sequel to Sands of Time, but then the Prince mentions Farah in passing and everything was ok.

Like its sandy, timey precursor, Forgotten Sands uses the time rewind mechanism to allow the player to correct mistimed falls and leaps of faith. It’s also a return to what made the first game such a wonderful experience, and the fighting takes a back seat to the improbable flouncing from wall to wall. The game once again is imbued with that sense of “how in all the seven hells do I get from here to there??” as you leap from pillar to…well…pillar. Or in some cases, from pillar to waterfall to water jet to insubstantial ground to wall. The button timing and pressing can get downright fiddly at times, and in the trickier sections, it feels more as if you’re playing a musical instrument than a controller. Maybe there’s hope for Guitar Hero: Prince of Persia. Still, there’s nothing quite like the feeling of achievement you’ll get after successfully negotiating a troublesome, timey-rewindy section of platform.

An image of the Prince performing a mid-air leap

One of the biggest issues with the game is the combat, sparse as it is. Certainly, this game isn’t positioned as a fighting game, but a platformer, but the fights do occur, and by and large, you can get by almost every fight in the game with the mash of a single button. It makes the battles repetitive and a bit of a chore, especially when I can count the number of enemy types on one hand, bosses notwithstanding. I will say this much in the game’s defence, however: impressive numbers of enemies are rendered onscreen at once without significant slowdown or loss of performance. It’s a great feeling to be able to dispatch such quantities of foes, and if you haven’t picked up on the Prince’s heroic tendencies by now, perhaps you need to have your paradigm checked.

I’m glad that they managed to retain voice actor Yuri Lowethal as the Prince (given his busy schedule as the voice of Ben*10), but did they have to babify the Prince’s face? It’s jarring to have the memory of the Prince in Sands of Time and seeing this version looking younger. The scenery is lurid, almost lush in its detail. Initially I complained about how brown the whole place was, but a few levels in you eventually start seeing some color variations. It’s all suitably deserty, and you can almost taste the sand in your teeth and feel it between your toes. The music of the game is also suitably dramatic and impressive without the horrible emo undertones so evident in The Sequel That Will Not Be Named. Still, I feel that the music was more….Persia-y in the first game, more enjoyable to listen to.

All in all, it’s a highly enjoyable game with some brainless action, and no romantic tension to spoil the plot with kisses at inopportune moments–I’m looking at you, Prince of Persia movie! Like some people I know, the game is a little on the short and easy side. There’s no higher difficulty than “normal”, and even the challenge modes are mind-numbingly simple and over with in less time than it takes you to light the average fire. I feel that the Ubisoft have also missed a great opportunity here for some co-op multiplayer action, but it would mean a minor rehash of the story. There’s also a missed opportunity to make the challenge modes as fun as Arkham Asylum’s. In fact, the less said about the Challenge modes, the better. I do get the impression that they’re saving some of the fun for the inevitable DLC, but as it is, I don’t think this game is worth the full price.

6/10 for length, depth, and lack of longevity and replayability.