Games I Own: The Prince of Persia Series

Written by Joe Martin

September 15, 2009 | 14:05

Tags: #best-game-ever #classic #console #games-i-own #jordan-mechner #platformer #pop #prince-of-persia #sands-of-time #third-person #time #trivia #warrior-within

Companies: #ubisoft

The Prince of Persia series – by which I mean the Sands of Time trilogy and not either the older or newer games – are a run of games that I have a serious ambivalence with. Like the Monkey Island games, the Sands of Time saga includes both some of my favourite and some of my most hated games.

The Monkey Island game I hate is Escape from Monkey Island, by the way. That game is about as likable as Satan’s mother in law and just thinking about it makes me angry. Likewise, I hate one of the Prince of Persia games so much that I practice thinking about it in the early morning when I can’t be bothered to get out of bed – I hate it so much it gives me energy.

Let’s start with the good news though – The Sands of Time. The first game in the revitalised trilogy, SoT was the one which had the most input from franchise creator, Jordan Mechner – and it shows. Mechner is a truly interesting guy and is currently publishing his old journals from the time when he developed the older PoP games online, which makes for some good lunchtime reading.
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The Sands of Time is one of my favourite games ever, it’s that simple. It isn’t a perfect game and the arena-like combat is a definite weakpoint, especially late in the game, but it doesn’t matter. There are some moments where the experiences you can have in the game can absolutely transcend anything you’d ever expect to feel in a game. The tension of wall-running your way out of a collapsing dungeon is enough to make your sphincter swallow your chair, while the twists and turns of the story will take you from the edge of your seat, to the floor, and back again.

Games I Own: The Prince of Persia Series
The Prince of Persia

The story is the biggest highlight of the game, though it’s the time-control mechanic that gets all the attention. You play the nameless Prince, who unwittingly enables an evil Vizier into unleashing the cursed sands of time and turning everyone into monstrous sandmonsters – leaving only you, he and the slave-princess of your most recently conquered territory left behind. Luckily, through the use of your enchanted dagger you can control time a little, slowing enemies down or even rewinding your way out certain death. Using the power of the dagger the Prince and his distrusting ally, Farah, have to reclaim their kingdoms.

What brings the story to a whole other level though is the sheer quality of the dialogue and the believability of the cast. The Prince, oddly accented and dandy at the start of the game, is arrogant, self-righteous and immature. He talks to himself about how Farah should be grateful for whatever he gives her, while she is perfectly pitched as a uniquely capable and strong young woman who is mercifully without the need to prove that fact. Both of them are deeply interesting people, with flaws and weaknesses that the game always skims over but never drowns in – and since they form the entirety of the cast, that’s pretty important.

I won’t lecture on about that game anymore – I’ll just give it my recommendation and leave it at that. You can get it very cheap, so consider picking it up if you haven’t tried it. It’s only of the few truly clever and cinematic action games out there.

Games I Own: The Prince of Persia Series
The Goth of Persia

All that changed when the next game, Warrior Within came around though. It was an obvious attempt on Ubisoft’s part to capitalise on the success of the previous game. Mechner wasn’t heavily involved, the voice actors were swapped over for more punky alternatives and the soundtrack switched from lilting orchestras befitting the fable-like tone of the original to…Godsmack. Farah was swapped out for a sexy villainess with more cleavage than dialogue, while the Prince inexplicably became a fan of grunge music and a one-man-army.

Still, while it does get some well-deserved stick, I’ve never really hated Warrior Within. The predictable, shallow attempt at a darker tone may have been about as subtle as a beard made of razor blades, but the gameplay hits the right points and the combat has been massively improved even if it is inappropriately bloody. The levels too are much more challenging than ever before, moving the Prince from the enclosed single rooms of the original’s palace to an expansive fortress. The introduction of new gameplay mechanics, like when you flee from time’s executioner, the Dahaka, are good too.

Ubisoft paid close attention to the claims that the darker tone didn’t totally work though, so when the third game came around it was quick to take the game back a notch – which unfortunately resulted in the absolutely bland The Two Thrones. The consistent highlight of the series until this point had been the story, but TTT ruined that through a ridiculous ‘dark prince’ mechanic and the return of the Vizier. It was utter pap.

Games I Own: The Prince of Persia Series
Just so we don't have to stare at more muscle-bound men

The gameplay was a dismal affair too, with the Prince now able to make superhuman leaps to stupid, conveniently placed metal grates in the walls that appear to be otherwise purposeless. Switching to the Dark Prince felt boring and forced too, with his inane whip-swords wildly at odds with the setting. Free-running through the city of Babylon should have been a dream come true, but other than when you have to scale the eponymous Tower it’s a forgettable affair.

Worst of all was the Stealth Kill feature, which bought quicktime events into the series and made them an obligatory and utterly aggravating aspect of all the boss fights. It’s something the new chariot races and the return of a Farah couldn’t compensate for.

Oh, and don’t even talk to me about the battle with The Dark Prince at the end of the game.

Number of Times Completed: I’ve done the first games numerous times, the second game three times and the last game once. Once was enough.

Random Trivia: If you’re going to play any version of Sands of Time, play it on Xbox or PS2 – it has a hidden version of the original classic in it which was cut from the PC version.
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