Xbox | GameCube | Game Boy Advance | PlayStation 2[/c]
Prince of Persia busted out onto the PC gaming scene over 15 years ago, and with its release was introduced an entirely higher watermark for what gamers would expect from their platforming experience. Using ultra-smooth animation mixed with incredibly intuitive controls and dastardly traps and obstacles for the Prince to surmount, Jordan Mechner's creation was an irrefutable hit. A sequel was released sometime thereafter and while it was every bit as impressive as the first game, and even more so in some ways, it didn't manage to garner the same wildly enthusiastic response from players or critics.
As time passed and the franchise idly matured, Prince of Persia faded into history, living only as a sweet nugget of nostalgia for anyone who played the original game when it came out. But things just couldn't be left alone, well enough as they were. Prince of Persia was developed for the PlayStation and N64, it was now in 3D and pelted with problems ranging from piss-poor camera control to downright shoddy gameplay. The Prince's reputation was defamed. But not destroyed, apparently. Original creator of the game, Jordan Mechner, agreed to try his hand at a new Prince of Persia game under one condition: that it be truly revolutionary. So, is it? Well, they made the game didn't they?
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time follows loyally in the footsteps of the original game, in terms of style, control, and story. The story takes place in a numinous and magical version of the Middle East. The titular Prince of the game will be taken through numerable obstacles and traps at the hands of the player, bending and reacting gracefully to your every touch. In an effort to make his father proud the Prince steals a magical dagger from the clutches of a rival nation. It isn't long before this dagger is used to unlock the Sands of Time, a terrible substance that corrupts every living thing it touches. So now the kingdom and all its inhabitants are mutated zombies, the sands are spreading quickly, and the Prince is to blame. Only through the power of the dagger of time can the sands of time be harnessed and the inadvertent perpetrations be repaired. There is one nice side effect to being the holder of the dagger, however: the power to control time itself.
Using the dagger of time (or the L1 button to be precise), the Prince can rewind time, reverting any mistakes that would have otherwise led to his untimely demise, as it were. For example, say you attempt a risky jump across a bottomless chasm and instead of reaching the other side you fall, and fall, and fall. Well, hit the rewind button and reverse time to a point prior to his unfortunate accident. This must be the "truly revolutionary" thing Jordan was referring to when he agreed to make this game. Of course, there are limitations to the time-distorting effect of the dagger, each time you reverse time you'll use up one sand tank. You begin the game with three sand tanks and as you progress you'll earn more, allowing the Prince more chances to defy destiny.
The ability to control time may be the Prince's most notable ability and the one most people will initially latch onto, but the gameplay in Sands of Time is by no means defined by it. If Shinobi and Jet Li had a kid, chances are their offspring would be hard-pressed to compare with the Prince's impressive assortment of deft-defying maneuvers. Holding the R1 button and running towards a wall will allow the Prince to run up it vertically or horizontally, depending on the angle you approach it. Every area in the game is a puzzle of sorts, challenging you to use the Prince's athletic maneuvers, your noodle, and a little bit of experimentation to complete.
It's hard to deny that Prince of Persia: Sands of Times has more than a passing resemblance to the underappreciated PS2 game Ico. In fact, a few hours into the game you'll hook up with a female partner who will help you to overcome obstacles and offer interesting in-game banter. However, unlike Ico, whose female counterpart was about as useless as a bag of nails, the Prince's leading lady is more than capable of fending for herself and is not afraid to attempt risky jumps.
Another interesting feature of Sands of Time is the ability for the Prince to witness the events that will happen in the near future. This gives the player an idea of what to expect in the next leg of the game via ominous flashbacks. Or forwardbacks, I guess. These light pillars that summon a vision of future obstacles are actually a very intuitive hint system, as you'll find yourself returning to them quite frequently in areas that you're having trouble with in order to scope out the solution.
The gameplay is a perfect mix of Ico-like observation and mystique and Eternal Darkness-esque adventure epicness. But the combat system in Sands of Time is unlike either of those games, blazing a trail all its own and thus further defining the title as a breakthrough achievement. On paper, the combat in Prince of Persia sounds a tad simplistic and derivative, but the reality couldn't be further from the truth. When the Prince whips out his scimitar and trusty dagger the hordes of evil dead best better back that ass up, because the Prince is out for penetration and blood. Hitting the square button executes a standard scimitar attack while tapping the triangle button makes the Prince lash out with his dagger of time. Most enemies in the game have the foresight to at least attempt to block your frontal attacks, so you'll need a bit of tactical strategery to assure success in combat. This is where the Prince's vaulting attack comes into play. By pushing the left analog stick toward the opponent then pressing X, you'll vault over him. Then, as you begin your descent you can press the square or triangle button to perform one of two devastating attacks. While the vaulting technique is infinitely useful and easy to pull off, most players will find themselves relying on the tactic in nearly every confrontation.
Visually, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time looks stunning. The character models used throughout the game aren't the most polygon intensive creations, but the developers used what they had to work with to its fullest degree, sacrificing brute-force technical prowess for fluidity and grace. Everything in Sands of Time is coated with an immense level of detail, especially the environments and environmental objects, which feature beautiful Middle Eastern architecture and artwork, respectively. The sound presentation, too, is simply a joy to behold. Voice acting across the board is performed believably and professionally, right down to the terrified gasps that result from near-falls over bottomless pits. The soundtrack manages to retain traditional Middle Eastern styling while introducing contemporary guitar riffs and pounding bass drums.
Overall, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is an exceptional work of art from beginning to end, which should take most gamers a paltry 10 hours. There is also plenty of unlockable goodies and extra features for those who have the gumption. A single level from the original Prince of Persia rendered in all the three-dimensional beauty of the rest of the game, a behind-the-scenes making-of featurette, and the entirety of the original Prince of Persia in emulated form, recreated perfectly - are all included for your gaming pleasure. Everything about The Sands of Time comes together exquisitely: control, art direction, graphics, sound - this game is really a testament to what can be done with an aged franchise when infused with a little bit of originality and a lot of ingenuity.
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