Release Date: April 3, 2007
When a classic 2-D game franchise makes its way to the realm of 3-D gaming, whether the game will be excellent or terrible always feels a bit like a coin toss. Some franchises, like Mario or Ninja Gaiden, made the jump perfectly, while others, like Megaman X or Contra, didn't come across so well. However, I am hard-pressed to think of a single franchise that was so revitalized by the leap to three dimensions as the Prince of Persia series. The original games, released for the PC, Genesis, Super Nintendo and other systems, were platformers that played more like puzzle games. You had to navigate your way through difficult trap-filled dungeons using only your wits and a sword.
Ubisoft took a real risk bringing this rather obscure franchise back from the dead with a next-generation remake, but they succeeded with flying colors. Combining an engrossing plot with amazing acrobatics, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time won rave reviews from critics and fans alike. While the sequel Prince of Persia: Warrior Within was lambasted for being too dark, violent and focused on combat, it still had a dedicated fan base eager for the Prince's next adventure. The new trilogy wrapped up with Prince of Persia: The Twin Thrones, which ended the Prince's adventure right back where it began.
Be wary: Despite the different name, Prince of Persia: Rival Swords isn't a new title in the franchise, but rather a modified version of The Twin Thrones, with new features and plot elements.
If you haven't played the first two games in the new Prince of Persia series, I advise giving them a shot. However, for those eager to jump right into the latest adventure, the story of Prince of Persia: Rival Swords is as follows: The unnamed Prince of Persia, while in the midst of a battle against an enemy country, came upon a magic dagger with the power to control time. The King's evil Vizier tricks him into using the dagger to unleash the Sands of Time, granting the Vizier amazing power and turning everything nearby into a horrible monster. Eventually, with the aid of the foreign princess Farah, the Prince manages to reverse time and kill the Vizier, although at the cost of his blossoming relationship with Farah. However, the Prince's meddling with time was not without cost, and he was forced to abandon his home and find a way to avoid a monster that was seeking to kill him to set time right.
By destroying the Sands of Time, the Prince prevented his original adventure from ever happening and freed himself from fate once again. With that complete, the Prince returns home with his new love, the Empress of Time. Naturally, life can't be that easy for the Prince. As he returns home, he discovers his city under attack by the forces of the Vizier, the Prince having accidentally resurrected him by destroying the Sands of Time. Unknown to the Prince, the Empress of Time now contained the Sands of Time within her, and as the Vizier quickly kidnaps and kills her, freeing the Sands once again.
On the surface, not much has changed from the first two Prince of Persia titles. The Prince is as acrobatic as ever, capable of dashing across walls, sliding down curtains and performing daredevil feats that would make Spider-Man jealous. As with the other titles, these acrobatics are the best part of Rival Swords by far. Discovering the exact way to make your way across a rubble-filled room and then pulling off the amazing tricks necessary to do so is a feeling few games can match.
The biggest change in Rival Swords is the addition of the Dark Prince. As the Sands of Time are released, the Prince is bound, helpless, by a barbed and spiked chain. Although he manages to escape being infected by the Sands, he doesn't leave the encounter unscathed. The chain's barbs are stuck deep in his arm and give off an odd glow. Shortly thereafter, the Prince undergoes a starting transformation, changing into a Sand Monster version of himself. This "Dark Prince" represents the evil and greedy side of the Prince's personality, but the two have to work together to survive the Vizier's machinations. The Dark Prince, being made of sand, has the ability to pull the chain from his arm with minimal damage, allowing him to use it as a tool and weapon. He can swing from poles, pull distant blocks, or just lop the heads off nearby enemies. The downside is that the Prince, besides being quite evil, is also fairly fragile. He requires constant contact with the Sands of Time to remain alive, and so his health bar drains rapidly. The only way for The Prince to regain his normal form is to come in contact with water, which instantly transforms him back into his human self.
To those who played Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, everything is going to be pretty familiar here. Very little has changed from the console versions to the PSP. A few new areas exist which add a tiny bit to the backstory and plot, but they are few and far between, and feel rather forced. Other than that, the only real additions are the multiplayer modes, which allow the players to race against one another, either on foot or in chariots, through a few areas. These modes are nice extras and are fun once or twice but quickly lose their luster. If you've already played the game on another system, the multiplayer modes don't really make the game worth buying again. If you're playing Rival Swords, the biggest appeal is in the Prince's adventure, but unfortunately, unlike its console counterparts, Rival Swords is not a smooth ride.
Without a doubt, the biggest issue in Rival Swords is the control scheme. For the most part, the controls are actually quite good; the Analog nub moves your character around, the face buttons are used for combat and jumping, and the right trigger performs acrobatic moves. The real problem comes from fighting the game's camera. It is impossible to move and turn the camera at the same time, and I don't mean that it is difficult — it is actually impossible. There are two ways to turn the camera; pressing the d-pad to the left centers the camera behind the Prince, while manual control of the camera is done by holding down the left trigger and then moving the analog nub around. Fighting with the camera removes any sense of fluidity from the gameplay. Every time you move in a new direction, you have to stop to adjust the camera. Frustratingly, if pressing the left stick just instantly centered the camera, this problem would be minor, instead of the frustrating problem it is. While you can eventually get used to adjusting the camera, it never feels natural, and it makes combat extra annoying as you struggle to keep enemies onscreen while avoiding their blades.
Rival Swords takes the basic graphics from Two Thrones and changes them to fit on the PlayStation Portable. While some games can handle this well, Rival Swords isn't one of them. In still shots, Rival Swords looks fairly good. The textures are a bit low-res, but considering it is a port of a PlayStation 2 and Xbox title, this is a minor complaint at best. The real problem comes when you see the game up close. The models all look very poor, with almost nothing done to make them more fitting for the PSP. The Prince's clothes look like masses of brown pixels, and clipping errors are constant. More than once, I would watch a cut scene and see the Prince's hair actually go through his own face. The animations are jerky and awkward for every character in the game.
The Prince's basic moments are fairly smooth, but combat just doesn't work well at all. Enemies barely react to being hit, and the only time you get a solid sense of impact from fighting an enemy is throwing them against a wall. Sword slashes cause almost no reaction, so it feels like you're fighting shadows. One animation that shows this off particularly is the "stab the enemy while they're knocked down" movement. Despite the Prince shoving a foot-long dagger into their ribs, the enemy doesn't even twitch. Stealth Kills, one of the defining features of the original version, are rendered sterile by poor animations as well. The Prince simply stabs or slashes an enemy, who barely reacts to the hit at all. A lot of this animation difficulty comes from the bizarre censorship that the PSP version has. Almost all of the blood has been removed from the game, and what little is remaining is replaced by a strange yellow fluid. Combat has never been one of the Persia series' strongest points, but this toned-down and uninteresting fighting just makes things worse.
The problems with the audio in Rival Swords are numerous. The actual voice acting is of the same high quality as its console counterparts — rather unsurprising, as, except for a few new scenes, it's the exact same thing. However, that is about the only thing that can be praised about Rival Sword's aural component. The biggest problem comes from when the in-game voiceovers activate. They jump, lag, cut off in the middle, and sometimes just flat out don't activate. Since most of the plot is told through these voiceovers, that means a player is going to miss out on a lot of the story just because it wouldn't activate.
Cut scenes are no better, either; although not as terrible as the in-game speech, they also suffer from very noticeable lag. More than once, I would see The Prince moving his lips, and then a full five seconds later, he would start saying something, long after the scene had moved on. Even ignoring these problems — and it is very difficult to do so — the game's sound effects are just terrible. They are tinny, poorly sampled and rarely do a good job of matching up with what is going on. In particular, the "crackling" of flames sounded so bizarrely out of place and unrealistic that it took me a moment to figure out what exactly the sound was!
If you've never played Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones before, don't let Rival Swords be your first foray into the final chapter of the Prince's adventure. The addition of a few extra areas does not make up for the massive amount of flaws, both gameplay and graphical, that turns a fun game into a chore. There is very little here to recommend this title over any other version. It does feature multiplayer, but even that is marred by the unwieldy controls and unappealing graphics. Unless you have no other choice, pick up Two Thrones on a console instead of the PSP. You'll be much happier in the end.
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