Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time

Wait, didn’t I just review this a couple weeks ago? Yes, now that I have watched the terrible new movie, I have finally decided to play the non-terrible game, aided in part by my Persian friend Shana getting it for me for Christmas. I’m rather glad I did, in fact, as despite it having a few of the same problems as Rogue Galaxy (mainly involving the camera), it was a much more fun and exciting game to play.

Just like in the movie, the game follows the exploits of (wait for it) a Persian prince, who, during an invasion of an enemy city, acquires a magical dagger capable of briefly turning back time. Of course, you and your father are soon betrayed by the evil vizier (he’s never named, but I think we can safely assume he’s named Jafar), who manages to unleash the dark time powers in a way that alters the entire palace so that it’s crumbling into ruins and turning all the people into demonic sand figures -- all, that is, but the prince, the vizier, and the Maharajah’s daughter (whose city you attacked), who accompanies you in your quest to stop the vizier and save Persia.

The game is largely a combination of platforming and puzzle solving, as you generally spend your time figuring out how to get from point A to point B by way of leaping off ledges, swinging from poles and ropes, and dangling from just about every last nook and cranny you can get a grip on, while avoiding the perils of spinning swords, saw blades, and the like. You also frequently find yourself fighting enemies made from the sands, so you need to brush up on your sword fighting/button mashing skills as well. This may all sound a bit daunting, but at least you’re aided through the use of your magic dagger, so when you fall into a pit or take too much damage, you can just turn back the clock a little bit so you can save yourself.

This was a pretty revolutionary effort when it first came out in 2003, and unfortunately that frequently showed in the problems with the camera, which will often “helpfully” try to give you the best possible view of the action by way of completely shifting location while you’re in the middle of a jump, or sometimes will simply get caught on something so you can’t see a damn thing. It’s a problem that really makes you like that dagger, since there were quite a few occasions where it was needed to avoid a cheap death at the hands of the magical unhelpful camera.

To the game’s credit, though (unlike with the makers of Rogue Galaxy), the developers understood the camera had problems, and figured out every way they could to help alleviate the problem. There’s the dagger, frequent save points, and the fact that there are only four directions you can jump off a rope, pole, or stalactite, so that you always know if one direction turns out wrong, there’s only a couple other possibilities available. The camera, when it’s working properly, also tries to show you the direction you need to go so there’s a bit less confusion than I may be making things sound. The controls are also pretty fluid, though there are occasional problems with buttons that are being used for multiple tasks getting confused as to which task you are trying to use them for. For instance, the Triangle button is for the dagger, which either finishes off a downed opponent or freezes a standing one, and in more than a few fights I found myself trying to finish off an enemy that was on the ground, only to watch my character repeatedly lunging with the dagger at an enemy that’s too far away to hit, giving the guy on the ground time to get back up. In general, though, it’s a pretty smooth, intuitive effort.

The gameplay mainly sticks to the platforming/fighting angle, though there are a few instances where it tries to change things up, either in the case of the occasional puzzle that needs to be solved (seriously, those mirror puzzles in the library were aggravating as all get out), or trying to protect the Maharajah’s daughter during some of the fights, which gets especially frustrating when you go to take out an enemy that she’s fighting with only to have her accidentally shoot you with an arrow. Typical woman, right guys?

Hardcore gamers may find that the frequent save points and dagger make the game a little too easy (plus the end boss is kind of a chump), but speaking as a fairly rusty gamer, I thought it was pretty well balanced. There were a couple times when I got stumped by a puzzle, which is of course what Gamefaqs is for, and I was not particularly a fan of how you lose the dagger near the end to ratchet up the difficulty some more, but overall it was a pretty fluid increase in overall difficulty.

Put simply, while it has its flaws, this was a pretty fun and fast-paced game. It looks pretty damn nice, even when I was making myself dizzy looking down in first person view while on a high ledge (Seriously, you can see quite a bit farther than you would ever need). While the game is pretty linear, there’s still some exploration available in trying to find all of the upgrades to your health and dagger, and at one point you can even unlock the original 1989 Prince of Persia. After beating the game, I decided to play the original for about five minutes before remembering why I hated it, but I know a lot of people out there have somewhat fonder memories of it. You ask me, if they were going to do a sequel more than a decade after the original, they should have gone with something like Super Mario Bros. I always thought that game had some real potential, don’t know why it never went anywhere.

Rating: ***

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