Series reboots are wonderful things. What else can fill a fanbase with such a peculiar mixture of optimistic glee and cynical dread as the promise of new storyline, new characters, and a new canon for one’s beloved franchise? Today on Emmori’s Prince of Persia Spectaculariffic Game Reviewing Time for Great Justice, this reviewer will look at the penultimate case study as an example of how high expectations temper poorly with Ubisoft’s new direction of a classic franchise. Today, the next-gen remake of Prince of Persia is on the chopping block.
Released for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 by Ubisoft in late 2008, Prince of Persia follows the story of the “Prince” of Persia: a nameless adventurer (with no relation to the protagonist of the Sands to Time trilogy) who becomes entangled in an ancient struggle when he helps to save a princess named Elika. The Prince and Elika team up in order to stop an ancient god of Darkness–refered to as Arhiman–from emerging from an ancient prison and devastating the world, which they intend to accomplish by reclaiming and purifying key sites of the game world. The narrative of Prince of Persia is surprisingly well-executed in terms of the expectations of the game; harkening back to its predecessor and fellow reboot of The Sands of Time, Prince of Persia‘s story focuses almost entirely on two elements: the ever-present threat of Arhiman’s escape, and the relationship between the Prince and Elika. While the former drives the story and gameplay, the latter is easily one of the best elements of the game, as we see the relationship between the two main characters grow and change. Elika and the Prince play off of each other as opposites: Elika is a bookish, optimistic, altruistic dreamer, while the Prince is a world-weary, sarcastic tomb-robbing adventurer. The game features an surprising amount of dialogue between them that is activated by the press of a button, so players who take the time will be rewarded with lore, discussions of things such and altruism and faith, as well as some truly hilarious banter between the two.
While the story and dialogue of Prince of Persia is a step in the right direction, the the same cannot be said about its gameplay. While the traditional wall-running, jumping, and climbing of the previous incarnation of the series is still present, the game’s platforming has been significantly simplified to encompass a more cinematic presentation. All acrobatics are now done with a single button, in combination with using grabs and Elika’s magic. And while some challenges in the game can be difficult, the game features a trend this reviewer was horrified to realize: you cannot die in Prince of Persia. It is impossible. Whenever the player would die–fall, be beaten to death, get eaten by oozing darkness, etc.–Elika swoops in the save the Prince. While it might be understandable for the game to give the player some other means to save themselves from a fatal blunder in the absence of the plot-centric Sands of the last series, the game goes too far and makes no challenge tense or worrisome, since there is no potential for failure, but merely a prolonging of a fight or course run. The game ends up being too easy, yet frustrating.
The game’s combat is watered down as well, shifting from strategy and combo-based fighting to a pretty, yet boring QTE-filled mess. In every combat, you fight a single enemy (usually a boss character), utilizing combos invovling grabs, swrodplay, and magic. At times, enemies can only be affected by certain attacks, and at others the player is given an opportunity to react to a combatant’s attacks. While it is fun to air-juggle enemies and slam them into the stage with grabs and magical blasts, combat suffers from the repetition of not only utilizing a limited number of combos, but from fighting the same bosses over and over again, as well as the game’s reliance on quick-time events mid-combat.
While the combat and platforming of the game are not up to par with previous games, the environment is beautifully rendered, utilizing a great deal of what this generation’s graphical capabilities can showcase. The look of Prince of Persia in done in a sort of cel-shaded, watercolor art style, and the characters and levels are fantastic to look at and explore. The levels are open and can be revisited and explored. This exploration is necessary in order to gather collectibles called ‘Light Seeds’, which allow the Prince and Elika to access new areas.
Prince of Persia is a very pretty game, and leaves its unique mark on the series with its design aesthetic. But all of this begs the question: is the game worth playing? With a heavy heart, this reviewer cannot recommend it to anyone but hardcore fans of the series, or younger gamers who want a simplistic platformer. The game’s narrative, characters, and visual design are all excellent, but these are all overshadowed by the Ubisoft’s choice to entirely rid the game of the tension of failure, and to so drastically simplify the gameplay.