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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (PlayStation 2) artwork

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (PlayStation 2) review

"Nostalgia has this way of playing tricks on you. Things that you remember as being an official ''good thing'' are not always so when viewed through older (and possibly less easily impressed) eyes. Things that completely blew you away upon first viewing can often seem mundane, and even ugly when revisited 14 years later. Reunions are not always all they are cracked up to be, and you may well find that your one-time best friend is now a shambling mess. In a nutshell, sometimes the past is best lef..."

Nostalgia has this way of playing tricks on you. Things that you remember as being an official ''good thing'' are not always so when viewed through older (and possibly less easily impressed) eyes. Things that completely blew you away upon first viewing can often seem mundane, and even ugly when revisited 14 years later. Reunions are not always all they are cracked up to be, and you may well find that your one-time best friend is now a shambling mess. In a nutshell, sometimes the past is best left in the past.

But games developers know the draw of memory lane. They realise that many of us will happily fork over huge wads of our hard-earned cash in order to feel the way we did back in those good-old days. After all, most of us filter life through rose-tinted spectacles. You fondly remember the good times you had with your partner, the holidays and the parties, and conveniently cast aside the fact that they ANNOYED THE LIVING FUCK OUT OF YOU thus requiring that you dump them. Just as you recall the games that made you fall in love with gaming as being ''so much better than anything else that has been out since.''

There is an option in Prince of Persia : Sands of Time that fills you with excitement the first time you see it. Right there on the main menu screen you are able to select the original Prince of Persia, and the very thought has you quaking in your mocassins. Only, it turns out that you have to unlock the old game by playing the new game. And so, you start on your new adventure, as the titular Prince recounts the tale of the unusual events that befell him. (At this point, I do feel a need to point out just how much of a Ponce the Prince sounds. In fact, for the rest of this review I shall refer to the Prince by this new moniker.)

Almost immediately upon starting the game, you feel right at home. Which is strange, because this is almost completely unlike the first time you played the original game. (In fact, even if you never played the original game, you will still feel at home. More on that later.) The Ponce has learned some rather nifty new tricks in the 14 years since we last saw him. He has gotten extremely agile, clearly not one to rest on his laurels. Chief amongst his new abilities is the ability to run along walls. While this looks undoubtedly cool, and gives a sweet adrenaline rush, it also allows the game designers the scope to add a new level of complexity into the puzzles. Make no mistake about it, all the puzzles comprise the same elements as the ones that had you baffled back in 1990. Only now, the saws, spikes, and cutting blades are not limited to a 2D plane, and may appear all around you, below you, or along the wall from you.

And, the original game was not JUST about puzzles, either. Enemies often blocked your way, and the only way past was via swordplay. Well, this still exists too. Only now.....

There are no two ways to say it : Prince of Persia : Sands of Time will have you open mouthed and shouting ''WEEEEEEEEEEEEE!'' when you first get into a fight. The control method has been kept as simple as possible, and the Ponce does some frankly amazing things while surrounded by enemies. Always fluid, always smooth, always feeling exactly like you planned it. And, the ability to control time itself makes the fights a jo ..... oh, um, yeah. I should probably tell you about that.

See, the title of the game refers to the 'Sands of Time'. These being grains from a mystical hourglass that some idiot opened by plunging the 'Dagger of Time' into it. Ooops, BAD Ponce! Anyway, it is this very dagger that allows the Ponce to do all manner of clever stuff. Things ranging from slowing time around him so as to get an advantage in a fight (or to help time running past a sawblade from a side wall), to the rather extreme reversing of time itself so as to bring yourself (or your obligatory NPC charge) back to life, to one of videogamings finest ever smartbombs. (I promise you, when you see the mega-freeze for the first time, you will literally roar with laughter.)

It is actually to the game desingers credit that this gimmick never feels like a mere gimmick. Sure, as you get more skilled at controlling Poncey you will also feel the need to call upon the dagger's powers less and less often. But, the mere fact that they are there gives you a kind of freedom, allowing you to try risky manouveres safe in the knowledge you can just rewind the last 10 seconds if you plummet to your doom. And, since anything more than a fall of a few feet proves fatal, you WILL plummet to your doom quite often. Yet the safety net is not infinite, and therefore you find yourself reluctant to rely on it. Something that could have easily unbalanced the entire game is handled really well, and is a most welcome addition. It really comes into it's own in some of the longer fights, allowing you to reverse a particulalrly damaging blow, and hopefully blocking or avoiding it next time it comes.

To be fair, these fights do start to get in the way after a while. Especially in the sections where you are leading your obligatory NPC charge around. Much in the way Yorda was reliant on you in Ico, Farah is reliant on you in this game. The similarity with Ico does not end there, either. At several times in the game you will be thinking ''This is so familiar.'' The reason is that you saw a lot of this in Ico, and in Tomb Raider before that. Now, this is not a bad thing, as those 2 games are 2 of the greatest games of all time in this reviewers humble opinion. Both those game captivated you, immersed you in their own world. Prince of Persia : Sands of Time does the same job, and does it quite exceedingly well.

What really turns Prince of Persia : Sands of Time into such an enjoyable experience is the control system. While there are occassional parts where the camera gets in the way, on the whole you always know not only where you are, but where you are going. (Usually the game shows you beforehand, and sometimes will even show you how to do it by way of a vision.) And, the getting there is made all the more enjoyable by the way the game handles Ponce's movement. For the most part, you just point the analogue stick in the vague direction of where you want to go, and Ponce sort of gets there. This has the effect of concentrating your mind on the puzzles, and not wondering just how your fingers will cope. You see the door, and rather than being careful about the fall you just find yourself wondering what part of the scenery you get to swing from. Pixel-perfect jumps are exceedingly thin on the ground. And yet you never feel too much like you are being held by the hand ; Pulling off a sequence of jumps, wall-runs and swings as required is always rewarding.

The game is of course not without faults. The cinematics that at first impress you quickly get intrusive. Often you will be watching a cut-scene and just waiting for the chance to get back on with the game. At other times the game will turn you around to where you just came from, which leads to some confusion. And, as I stated before, there is sometimes just too much fighting. The biggest joys in this game are from solving the puzzles, not from beating up on 20 enemies in groups of 3 at a time. These are not huge problems, just annoyances. Of a bigger problem is the way that sometimes your obligatory NPC charge literally DOES NOT DO HER FUCKING JOB! Usually a slap around the head sorts her out, (seemingly slave girl enjoys the rough treatment), but there is at least one instance where her inaction prevents the game from moving on. Unforgiveable in these days. A word of warning - keep mulitple saves.

So, we have what is quite possibly the best ever update of an old classic. Not since Pong was so succesfully remixed for the PlayStation has this reviewer enjoyed a stroll down amnesia lane so. You will have heard a lot of kudos being thrown this games way, and it deserves a huge percentage of it. The hype is justified. All the best bits of retro gaming have been poured into the pot, along with the finest of modern gaming. The resulting brew is gloriously playable in the way games used to be, with the added bonus of the polished technical qualities that most games have these days. The perfect fusion of retro and modern, in much the same way Metroid Prime was ; Looking like a new game, but feeling like the game you loved all those years ago.

Overall, Prince of Persia : Sands of Time almost certainly deserves a place in your collection. What it does, it does well, with a sense of style that not many other games posess. Never less than enjoyable, and often exhilarating. Your old high-school crush went and grew up to be a big girl! Just don't get too upset when you see the photos of how she was back then...

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Community review by cheekylee (May 09, 2004)

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