Looking for My Donkey: Prince of Persia
This week I have been playing Prince of Persia, the latest game in the Prince of Persia series. It is a game where you run around, climbing walls, jumping around, and pretty much doing all sorts and kinds of gravity-defying parkour moves. It is a “platformer’s platformer” game and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.
I haven’t finished it yet – I’m guessing I’m about 2/3rds to 3/4ths through – but I’ve gotten enough of what the game has to give me that I feel I can write about it.
You can skip this next bit if you’ve played a Prince of Persia game in the past decade.
The PoP games have always been platformers – pure and simple. 1989’s original game was a bit of a revolution for its time, both in graphics and gameplay. It was a 2D side-scroller (like, say, Super Mario Bros.) but deeper and more magical in every way.
The franchise’s first “reboot”, 2003’s The Sands of Time is one of my favorite games of all time in history ever, which is quite a weighty honor. It was a wondrous experience to play and to watch.
(I say “first reboot” because the current offering in the series, is also a reboot.)
The Prince had a companion, Farah, who was a princess, and the dialog between the two of them was some of the best I’ve ever heard in a game. I will say that Sands of Time had a Charisma score of 25 because of this and its compelling, consistent story. This is to say nothing of the gameplay: SoT introduced a time “rewind” mechanic, so if you fell of a ledge to your death, you could just turn time around for a bit and try again. Where in the past, you were expected to restart a level after death, this game was very forgiving.
Sands of Time was the first part of a trilogy. The second, Warrior Within, had improved gameplay but was missing its soul – the Prince was no longer funny; he had become a brooding anti-hero. With the absence of Farah, the game lost a lot of charm.
(The third game in the trilogy, The Two Thrones, managed to recapture a lot of the missing charisma but by then the damage was done.)
(I hate using that word, “reboot”, with regards to anything but computers, but it appears that it has entered the common vernacular to mean “restart” and I have made a recent resolution to stop being a language snob. Not that I ever was, mind you, except when I said something snide at you that one time when you used “architect” as a verb. Carry on.)
So. Prince of Persia. This is a game series with a legacy. The name carries with it the memory of hours of amazing platforming gameplay. Let’s get into the good, the bad, and the ugly.
First, the gameplay is excellent. The parkour mechanics are improved over the previous trilogy, in as much as that could be possible to do. There are some new tricks (such as a kind of magical “double jump” or a series of unlockable movement powers). The puzzles are excellent.
You really can’t die. The “time” mechanic is gone, but that’s okay: if you fall to your death, or are killed by a sword, your companion, Elika, will save you. It is even more forgiving than Sands of Time. Some people don’t like this, but I do: I’m more of an explorer than a fighter in games like this, so situations where I get frustrated easily make me put down games quickly.
The game is simply gorgeous. It isn’t striving for photo-realism; everything looks like it was painted with watercolors. It’s fluid and moving. There are many nice touches (like butterflies and the way the wind blows Elika’s hair).
The game is mostly an “explore and collect” system. The goal is to go to a region, fight the boss, cleanse it of “corruption”, and then collect a bunch of “light seed” orbs that float around the place. When you have enough of them, new powers unlock. This is fun for me.
It’s an “open” world, but areas need to be unlocked with movement powers. This has you going back through previously visited areas in order to collect “light seeds” (you need a lot of them) with your new powers.
The story, as it is revealed to me thus far, is interesting and compelling. Many times I simply ignore the story because it’s poorly written or impenetrable, but this one has me. The background religion is pretty much old Zoroastrian but with some name changes and it plays well (especially since, you know, Persia).
These are really minor gripes. Seriously, minor, but I have to put them in.
First, I dislike the “dialog” mechanic. From time to time, Elika or the Prince will have something to say, and you’re given a little icon in the corner that tells you to press the left trigger. This initiates a small dialog cutscene – about three or four seconds long – where they talk or flirt or whatever. During this time, you’re locked.
It is frustrating because they come in chains of like, 10 or 12 mini-conversations. So you have to keep pressing the damned button. STOP THAT. If you are going to make me press the button to start conversation, don’t make me keep doing it.
(In fact, why initiate cut scenes at all? Sands of Time did the conversations brilliantly – they just happened as you were moving along. Farah would be telling me about her father while I was climbing a pillar, or I’d flirt with her while wall-running. It worked fine that way.)
Second, I find the combat tedious. As far as I know, it’s a series of mini-bosses and bosses. There aren’t any goons to fight (well, there are like, three, in the very beginning, and you never see any after that). There are supposed to be “soldiers” of the bad guy, but there’s only ever one per ‘region’ and they’re more like “mini-bosses” than goons.
Since you can’t die in combat, it’s mostly just a tedious button pressing timing game. Now, I know I said I liked that you can’t die – but my question is why make combat tedious or difficult if so? It breaks the rhythm of the game for me.
This may have to do with enemy variety. The “soldiers” are the same, and then there are only four bosses (well, six, if you count a “half-boss” you see at the beginning, and the final boss). You’ll end up fighting each of the four bosses five times. This gets a bit boring, and points to the aforementioned “why bother” bit.
Of course, there isn’t much combat, so that kind of keeps down my irritation level. They’re mostly speed bumps in the road of me running along the walls.
Finally, the voice actors both pronounce the word “fertile” like “fur-tile”. It is stupid to be irritated about it, and I said I wasn’t going to be a language snob, but I find it grating.
Uh. There really isn’t any. Seriously.
If you’re a fan of exploring and platforming and jumping and wall running and such, this game is well worth your time and ducets. However, if you’re looking for more combat and less jumping, then you should pick up last year’s Assassin’s Creed, which is the same engine but has about ten gallons more irritating combat, about five gallons less cool climbing and exploring, and about six gallons more impenetrable, pointless story.