Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
“Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” is a children’s story beefed up to appeal to young teens. It’s based on a video game, but don’t make me play it, let me guess: The push-button magic dagger is used in the game to let you rewind and try something again, right? Since anything in the story (any death, for example) can be reversed, the stakes are several degrees below urgent. And there’s a romance in which the boy and girl spend endless moments about to kiss for every nanosecond they actually do. If I were the Prince of Persia, I’d push the button, go back in time and plant a wet one on Tamina’s luscious lips.
The movie is set in ancient Persia, which is now named Iran. This is a land with truly astonishing landscapes: deserts, canyons, craggy monument valleys and a mountain range that resembles the Himalayas. Fair enough, since Persia reaches “from the steppes of China to the shores of the Mediterranean,” but it’s even more impressive since it’s all within a day’s journey from the capital city.
This ease of use makes each individual action seem relatively meaningless as you string moves together. For many, this will translate to a diminished feeling of reward; aside from a few exceptions, there is no sequence that feels remotely challenging, certainly not for players familiar with the old-school difficulties wrought by the early games in the series. Yet while the unique satisfaction of overcoming hurdles is missing, it is tempered by other kinds of rewards. The platforming is fluid, and seamlessly chaining a number of moves together is simple but visually appealing, making for some silky-smooth motion that you’ll get a kick out of. To get the most out of it, however, you will want to use a controller. While the keyboard controls work surprisingly well for platforming, the numerous quicktime events aren’t well suited to a keyboard, and the key prompts are more confusing when you aren’t using a gamepad.
As you progress through the game and explore some of the more intricate environments, you’ll find some truly impressive level design. Each area flows organically into the next, and while the overall design appears a bit more synthetic than it did in Assassin’s Creed, platform placement and other architectural features don’t seem overtly artificial. This becomes even more apparent when you begin to unlock Elika’s various powers–though calling them powers is a bit of a stretch. As you unlock new explorable areas by collecting glowing orbs called light seeds, you will be able to utilize the various colored plates that dot walls and ceilings. There are four types of plates, and each kind initiates a high-flying feat. Red and blue plates are functionally the same (though visually unique), propelling you automatically toward the next plate or platform. Green plates turn you into a sort of Persian Spider-Man, causing you to quickly scale up walls and ceilings while avoiding obstacles. Finally, yellow plates initiate on-rails flight sequences that give you limited room to maneuver around obstructions, sort of like a 3D version of Nights Into Dreams, the Saturn platformer. Many of the sequences combining plate jumps and standard platforming are exhilarating, and the manner in which some of them utilize all three dimensions make the level design all the more impressive. And amazingly, the camera is rarely a liability, which is quite an achievement. Unfortunately, the flying initiated by leaping from yellow plates is a clear weakness. The constant camera movement and overwhelming visual effect used here make for a few annoying sections, and it is never clear whether you need to go left or right, up or down to avoid certain objects. Given that most of the plate-initiated bits are terrific fun, it’s a shame these particular flights of fancy were so poorly crafted.
There is some combat, and while it’s hardly Prince of Persia’s focus, it looks mightily spectacular. You fight only a single enemy at a time, including the four main bosses, which you’ll take on multiple times. Battles are on the simple side: you have four main attacks–sword, gauntlet, Elika’s magic, and acrobatic vault–that you can string into various combos. Enemies can change states, making certain attacks ineffective, and there are some other occasional twists. Yet like the platforming, it is on the easy side; even if Elika is bound by corrupted tentacles or rendered unconscious, she’s always there to pluck you from death’s cold embrace should you miss an important quicktime event (of which there are many). But battles are still uniquely satisfying and look fantastic. The prince throws Elika into the air with ease, stringing throws, slices, and magic attacks together as the camera zooms in and out to showcase the slashes and backflips. The stringent enemy-focused camera and odd scuttling motions of the prince feel confining but work just fine in most of these battles, though they’re a bit less successful during certain boss fights that require some environmental manipulation.
Combat’s not the only thing that looks spectacular. Prince of Persia is beautiful to look at, thanks to vibrant cel-shading and some sumptuous environments. Tendrils of corruption reach toward you as you navigate the cold, colorless caverns of infertile regions. The contrast between these areas and the beautifully lit vistas and thriving vegetation of healed locales is palpable, and the transformation of a fertile ground from darkness to light may remind you of similarly impressive moments in Okami. There are a few rough spots here and there, in the way of glitched animations and tiny frame rate stutters, but they barely detract from the lovely visual design. While there are some minor differences, all three versions look great and well represent the capabilities of their respective platforms. And all three feature the same lovely ambient music, which sounds more Persian than the very American-sounding prince.
Most will be able to finish Prince of Persia in around a dozen hours, though if you want to collect every scattered light seed and avoid quick travel (you can teleport from one healed ground to another instantly), you could add a few more hours to the total. But while a few unlockable skins may not seem like enough reason to return, this game is so enjoyable and delightful that you may want to return to it as you would return to a favorite fantasy novel or film. While its lack of challenge may lull fans, its ease of use will delight newcomers and draw in anyone who appreciates a touch of magic.