The Fresh Prince of Persia
Published in The Student, University of Edinburgh’s oldest student newspaper
The current vogue among game developers is to resurrect old franchises with a shiny lick of high-definition paint. Some are successful like Tomb Raider and Fallout, while the less said about Turok the better. Now it’s the turn of 20-year old stalwart Prince of Persia, although the politically incorrect name has survived intact.
Rather than continuing the story of the arguably stale Sands of Time trilogy, Ubisoft have gone back to the drawing board. Gone are the emo Prince and his collection of My Chemical Romance records, replaced with a more cocky and carefree adventurer. The contrast is jarring for fans of the series, while newcomers might be equally insulted by his crass Americanisation, but somehow he grows on you.
The heart of the game is a carefully constructed ballet of platforms, plinths and hazards. Each area of the game’s open world has been ‘corrupted’ with black slime that eats through careless Princes faster than a starving tiger. Luckily the Prince has some incredible acrobatics at his disposal, swinging off poles and scaling walls with the greatest of ease. Equally impressive is the presentation with its bold art design and peerless animation.
Elika, a princess with convenient magic abilities, accompanies the Prince. Her powers can be used to save the Prince from plummeting to a painful death, boost his jumps and attack enemies. However, these aren’t nearly as interesting as the interaction between her and the Prince. Their relationship brings to mind that of Yorda and Ico in the PS2 classic Ico. They cooperate to navigate the environment, filling the downtime with some witty and often sexually charged banter.
It’s worrying, then, that all of the brilliant writing and most of the plot exposition is entirely optional. Players must actively interact with Elika to talk about her back-story. I suspect many will not bother, since it breaks the flow of the action, which is not the level of attention the story deserves. Simply allowing the main characters to chat while you play seems an obvious suggestion.
Your task is to head to the centre of each stage and use Elika’s power to heal the land. As you progress Elika attains new powers, allowing the Prince to run up walls and bounce between plates over long distances. The levels are well designed and feel rewarding, if a little light on challenge at times.
The surprisingly relaxing platforming is juxtaposed with some combat sequences, which are pretty dull indeed. While the infrequent fights against generic soldiers of death are short-lived, encounters with the four unique boss characters are much more drawn-out. This would be acceptable if only you didn’t have to fight each boss on five separate occasions, using the same strategy each time.
Other aspects of the game seem included for bragging purposes, rather than because they fundamentally improve the experience. Once an area has been cleansed of corruption it becomes populated with collectable ‘light seeds’ which, you guessed it, must be collected arbitrarily to progress further. Although the Prince is free to tackle stages in any order, I can’t help but feel that a tighter and more linear adventure would have been preferred.
Prince of Persia marks a successful new era for the franchise, even if there’s plenty of room for improvement in the inevitable sequel. Often thrilling, if never spectacular, it’s definitely more Fresh Prince than Emperor’s New Clothes.