History is a key word when discussing a franchise like Prince of Persia. The series, which made its debut way back in 1989, had a profound impact on the videogames industry, influencing much in the way games are both made and looked at to this very day. While the Sands of Time is worthy of the praise and merit it’s received over time, a lot of gamers have expressed doubt in regards to the new direction the series has taken with this latest instalment. Luckily, Ubisoft Montreal did not drop the ball with this title and the developers have created a winning formula with great voice acting in order to deliver a truly entertaining experience.
Prince of Persia starts off like you’d expect any action-adventure, platformer to begin. The noble, yet selfish hero meets up, or in the Prince’s case, gets landed on by the girl before aiding her in achieving her goals while realizing his own self-worth. Upon first meeting, our two main characters go back and forth in dialog in regards to moralities while fleeing from the princess’s pursuers. Once they arrive at the Temple, which keeps the world in a state of light, the Prince quickly realizes what exactly he’s gotten himself into. Apparently, Elika’s father feels the need to unleash the Dark God Ahriman unto the world once more covering it in darkness and corruption. As expected, it’s up to you and Elika to return the world into its proper state by visiting fertile grounds and releasing the light back into the world.
Elika seems to be the focal point to every gamer’s quandary when discussing Prince of Persia. This is in large part due to the abilities she possesses and lends to your character. A couple examples of these abilities include the inability to truly die or lose a fight. While both of these ‘issues’ are true to the fullest extent, they don’t completely overlap the frustration one experiences when continually missing a jump due to poor timing or misdirection. Sure, Elika picks you up and returns you safely to a platform, but the frustration of needing to be saved is on par with the same frustration that comes with dieing. As for the battlegrounds, Elika steps in front of you in order to prevent the final blow that sends the Prince to his resting place. Fortunately for your opponent, if Elika needs to get involved, his entire life bar is rejuvenated and you must essentially restart the fight.
On top of these two potential complaints, Elika is everything a gamer could want out of an AI-based partner within this setting. She never gets lost, obstructs your view or causes you to backtrack to find her. Like a lost puppy, Elika follows you to the ends of each fertile ground with the same determination that flows within you. Not only does the young princess prevent you from pushing up daisies, but also she enables you to clear large distances that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach, as well as supplementing battles with various magical abilities against troublesome enemies. This only helps further the solid combat design recreated inside the walls of Ubisoft.
In order for Prince of Persia to be successful at engaging the player through its fighting mechanics, the developers and designers needed to take a second and realize what they were trying to achieve. Even though titles of the past have included an open fighting style similar to that of God of War, Ben Mattes and his team decided to step back one pace and then take three steps forward in creating a unique combat template found only in the Prince’s latest adventure. What you end up with is a one-on-one system in which each battle feels a tad more significant than your standard one-on-30 duel.
The system is also very user-accessible and any casual gamer can sit down and benefit from its simplicity even though there is an underlying combo system to be discovered. While fighting, there are five buttons that you utilize in order to be successful and chain together some impressive combos. Square allows you to slash with your sword, circle gives you the ability to use your gauntlet, X performs aerial assaults, R2 allows you to block and triangle gets Elika involved in some high-flying magical attacks.
Combining any of these buttons into a combo is a simple process and results in the game displaying impressive sequences of combat. Stringing together a simple button score can end up with your sword sliding straight through your opponent, which has the ability to end a battle much quicker than usual. On top of this, if you have solid momentum while platforming, you can get to enemies before they materialize in order to strike them before they even exist. Of course, this is easier said than done.
The aforementioned platform elements in Prince of Persia are exactly what you’d expect them to be. You’re able to jump, wall run, climb, pole-slide and combine any of these maneuvers to form a seamless pattern of movement. A lot of people may see the animation on screen as a masked QTE, but they’re greatly misinformed. The reason the animation looks the way it does is due to how many additional branch animations were included in-between each button press. This allows the game to achieve the fluidity experience while performing such maneuvres. As such, acrobatics such as wall all runs move seamlessly into wall slides and everything fits together like a perfect puzzle.
Something that does come in handy during your platforming endeavors is the compass that Elika provides. By pressing Triangle, Elika releases a small glowing orb that shows you the way you need to travel. Sadly, while this is a good addition, it sometimes leads you in circles. I’m unsure why it does this, but it can lead to frustration once you realize you’ve gone in circle two to three times.
The main objective to each region of platforming is to reach the cure well, which allows you to remove the darkness from the area. Unfortunately for you, the cure wells are guarded by bosses that Ahriman has unleashed from within the darkness. Of course, each boss has their own history as to why they’ve come under Ahrimans control and you learn these stories as you progress. Once you’ve defeated each one, you’re able to walk to a cure well and tap triangle to unleash the light and suck in the darkness.
Once the region has been cured, Light Seeds make themselves visible throughout the land. These scattered balls of light help rejuvenate Elika and enable her to power up some of her abilities. While there are four abilities in total, our favorite is the wall running ability that is related to a green launch pad. In order to unlock each of these abilities, a certain amount of Light Seeds designate what is required to attain them. This also prolongs the story because certain areas of the game can only be reached when you have unlocked the corresponding ability. Further expanding the game’s longevity is the ability to play through the title as Altair, the protagonist of Ubisoft Montreal’s hot-seller, Assassin’s Creed.
As I’m sure many of you have noticed Prince of Persia is as visually appealing as any game out there. The creatively dubbed “illustrative” art style has allowed a fresh look into the world of Elika and our Prince. With refined details to each piece of clothing and powerful backdrops, Prince of Persia can go toe-to-toe with any title on the market in terms of sheer brilliance in the art department. Quite simply, we rank it up there with Valkyria Chronicles as one of the best looking games this year.
All of these elements come together and synchronize perfectly with the chosen voice cast behind the game. Nolan North and real-life buddy, Kari Wahlgren, share genuine chemistry between them that isn’t found in many other titles today, further adding to the immersive qualities of the title. North has taken his work as Uncharted’s Nathan Drake and transformed into a rugged performance as the Prince, while Wahlgren, who has lent her voice to many titles over the years, fits in perfectly as the princess of our story, Elika.
Baring some quibbles regarding Elika’s compass functionality, Prince of Persia is otherwise a flawless title that offers up an unparalleled experience to anything we’ve seen this year. While this holiday season played host to a solid variety of role-playing games, shooters and racing titles, this action-adventure should be at the top of your list in the traditionally quiet December period. In conclusion, old school fans and newcomers alike simply can’t go wrong by forking out for Ubisoft’s latest entry in this venerable franchise.