Breaking Down the Backlog: Prince of Persia (2008)
In this week’s Breaking Down the Backlog, I tried to save a decaying civilisation whilst flirting with a flying magic lady.
Prince of Persia is a game that has a lot of great things about it but it left me quite cold in the end. I enjoyed a fair amount of the things in this game, even if some weren’t as good as the previous entries in the series, but it has major problems that really detracted from the experience.
The biggest problem, generally speaking, was the actual game play. On the surface the traversal mechanics work fine. It is very easy to jump from platform to platform, swing, wall run, grab rings to extend your wall run and climb up walls. All you have to do is press the jump button in a direction and the Prince will generally jump in that direction. If you need an extra boost, your companion Elika will give you a magical pseudo-double jump. It is all smooth and looks very good thanks to the brilliant animation in both characters have, courtesy of the Assassin’s Creed engine. You can really feel the power and agility of The Prince whenever you combine all the moves together. These powers are enhanced by special plates that Elika can use to make you teleport from one to another, fly or have a magical extended wall run. The problems arrive when you need to time your jumps and wall runs (especially evident in the Epilogue). Turns out, the Assassin’s Creed engine just isn’t tight enough because it gives priority to the animations. You press the jump button and a second or so later he jumps and Elika has to save you. It created several annoyingly difficult moments that felt completely unearned. It was a complete departure from the snappy platforming in the previous Prince of Persia games.
You don’t only jump from platform to platform, however. The Prince of Persia also has sword fighting. It is pretty interesting, at least to begin with as the game transforms into a pseudo-fighting game in the style of Tekken when you face off against a boss or one of the grunts. Each button on the controller does something different; one will dodge, another will use Elika’s magic, another will grab, one will parry etc. By tapping buttons in a sequence you create a combo that can do a lot of damage. It feels very stiff as, much like everything in Prince of Persia, it prioritises animations over button presses. The combat is inoffensive for the most part right up until it throws Quick-Time Events at you mid-fight. They almost come out of nowhere and maybe my reflexes are not what they once were after twenty three years but I failed an awful lot of them. They don’t necessarily punish you for failing them, with some exceptions, but it felt unfair whenever I happened. A couple of other minor things irked me: The range of Elika’s magic attack was ridiculously short which made dealing enemies who were immune to physical attacks a real pain and you could sometimes get caught in seemingly endless parry cycles. You would parry an attack and the enemy would parry then you would parry that parry repeat ad nauseam. It brought the whole experience down.
Which is a shame, because there is an awful lot to like about Prince of Persia and it makes a great first impression. The colourful cell-shaded graphics are gorgeous. It gives the game a very water coloured look, reminiscent of Okami, that I really liked. The highlight being the transformation that occurs when you ‘heal’ it. Watching all the colour return to the dark grey land was always impressive. The writing was, overall, superb. The story was pretty basic, but the way it was told through conversations between Elika and The Prince was unique and kept me surprisingly engaged. The couple happen upon one another when she is running away from her dominating father. They then join forces to try and stop him after he unleashes an evil god. The two have great chemistry and Elika gives some context to the land you explore. You can almost see their relationship develop from staid almost awkward acknowledgement of one another to playful/flirtatious banter, heartfelt emotional conversations and the way help one another when platform-ing. I just WISH Prince of Persia had a proper ending. The game ends with the duo walking away from the land being absolutely annihilated. It wasn’t a bad ending per se, I liked how dour it was, but the Epilogue – which you actually have to pay for – basically ends on a “you do what you want, I am going to find my people…PEACE OUT.” It was incredibly un-fulfilling.
Prince of Persia has its ups and downs. Once again I find the game-mechanics to not be the best part of the game or at least overshadowed by the excellent visuals and animations. The lack of any closure really angered me, especially since there is NO chance Ubisoft will make a sequel after eight years of waiting. Oh well. C’est la vie.
Next time on Breaking Down the Backlog: Dark Souls 2 (Yes, really)