If Prince of Persia is anything to go by, today’s gamer can be found cowering behind a giant boulder praying to whatever God he offers credence, that anything remotely challenging doesn’t discover him. Our Prince evades trial and tribulation much like you or I might avoid voluntarily jumping into a pit of ravenous wolves. Which doesn’t make for a compelling twelve hours.
Just as well then that Prince of Persia looks so stylish. Cel-shaded sprawling environments make for a mesmerising playground, at least for the first hours during which the Prince threatens to make an impact, before feebly stumbling from his high perch to the pits of tedium.
Because once you’ve played through the first hour of leisurely platforming and sluggish combat, all the exhibits have been paraded. Continuing means accepting robbery and revisiting the tour. Saving one region of the map is no different to saving any of the twenty or so similar areas. Exclamation marks begin to rise.
Gameplay is a blend of platforming and combat, the former being by far the more enjoyable yet rarely warrants such praise. The Prince navigates a world designed to allow only the parkour virtuoso survival, leaping from walls to columns, scuttling across ceilings and vaulting through the air with the ground nowhere in sight. He never feels fluent like Ryu Hayabusa does in Ninja Gaiden, but it’s slick enough. It’s also undemanding to the point of insult. Most actions are a case of pressing either A or B at the right moment (though considering the leniency, the right moment extends to several right moments). Failing that and falling, Elika grasps the Prince placing him at the last point of stable ground. Unrewarding is a fitting description and by the time the hour mark is reached questions will begin to arise as to how much of a videogame this is over one long interactive cut scene.
Combat fares worse. Rather than allowing experimentation, again as in Ninja Gaiden with Ryu’s acrobatics and wall running prowess put to equal parts stunning and rewarding use, the Prince enters a combat mode where stringing combos together becomes as necessary as an ideas board must have been at Ubisoft HQ. Enemies come in one disguise and bashing ‘x’ is as effective as any of the combos the game tries to push. And as if difficulty wasn’t enough of a rarity time slows and prompts appear urging you to block whenever necessary. Not that you can die, Elika is ready at all times to prevent the blade ever reaching the Prince, and that’s if you miss the block prompt and a further generous quick time event.
This all hints, rather shamelessly, towards the question; why play Prince of Persia? The characters, particularly the Prince, are grating, haunted by Americanisms horribly out of place for a Persian sword wielding prince, and the same brand of careless writing burdening most games of this standard is present whilst the plot is quickly lost in the repetitious gameplay. The art direction is fantastic and makes the platforming more pleasing but if a challenge is to be so feverishly avoided there are subtler means to reduce the frustration of repetition, Bioshock’s Vita-Chamber system or Far Cry’s buddy assistance for example. As it stands Prince of Persia is another misstep after the success of Sands of Time. The toughest challenge will be seeing it through to the end.