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

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

"At this point, you have two options. Either you can mash buttons like crazy and hope for the best, or you can press the 'L1' button. Go with the second choice and the game will stutter. You'll relive the last few seconds you played... backwards. In this manner, fatal dives into a sea of spikes and even poorly-timed jumps that would otherwise lead to frustrating backtracking can be avoided."

The thing a crappy player like me tends to appreciate about your average platform title is the ability to rewind things if he or she falls into a pit of spikes, all without losing a life. No, scratch that. Let's try again: "What I like about Prince of Persia is the way it really lets you control the hero's fate." There, that looks much better. I think I'll keep that version and use it for the introduction to my review. And just how is it that I can go back and draft a better version, all without you noticing or caring? It's simple. I just operate on the theory that if it works for the prince, it can work for me.

Someone out there no doubt wishes to point out that I don't have a dagger that was born of the eponymous sands of time. This is quite true. I also don't have a neat little Persian vest, or the ability to swing around on rods or run along the walls of crumbling ruins like my tail is on fire (think Shinobi). Every time I feel depressed about my lack of acrobatic finesse, though, I remember one very important thing: nobody I know of really wants me dead.

That's most definitely not the case for the protagonist in Prince of Persia, who has managed to screw things up quite badly. Since you're the gamer and this is a game, the task of fixing things falls squarely on your shoulders. When he dashes into a new room and finds a swarm of soldiers skittering toward him, the prince will expect you to press the buttons that bring him to victory. And if you fail, there are no second chan-- dammit, yes there are!

Therein lies the game's charm, as I hinted at in this review's introduction. Suppose, just as an example, that you come through a winding hallway after jumping over a series of spikes and perhaps swinging from a few oddly-positioned poles. Out of breath and entirely unaware, you stumble right into a hornet's nest of guards. They start slashing at you before you're even close to prepared. One or two of them get in a lucky hit, and just like that the battle is swayed against you and you're wishing you could do something to turn the tide.

At this point, you have two options. Either you can mash buttons like crazy and hope for the best, or you can press the 'L1' button. Go with the second choice and the game will stutter. You'll relive the last few seconds you played... backwards. In this manner, fatal dives into a sea of spikes and even poorly-timed jumps that would otherwise lead to frustrating backtracking can be avoided. In the case I mentioned above, a few seconds might be just the time you need to come back into that room, sword swinging.

Of course, the 'rewind' feature can't be relied upon entirely. It's a fragile crutch that is no substitute for actual skill, as you'll find almost immediately. When you set back time, you lose sand from your meter. While it's true that you can refill your gauge by defeating monsters with flair or by chasing sand clouds, the fact remains that you should only rewind as necessary. It's like other games where you hit the magical block and get a 1-up mushroom, only better.

Part of what makes the experience 'better' is the wonderful world you're exploring. It's fun to truly laugh in the face of danger. If you were riding along on fluffy clouds, the feel wouldn't be anywhere close. Here, there's none of that. Instead, you're swinging and wall-running your way through dank dungeons and colossal corridors that would make even the most intrepid of adventurers think twice about saving the day.

The thing is, the prince is sort of obligated. The one mistake he couldn't take back was his decision to remove the mystical dagger from those pesky sands of time. People haven't forgiven him for that particular blunder and the ensuing chaos. Now he has to stop the evil vizier who so ably tricked him. His only real ally on this venture, an archer girl named Farah, blames him for the whole mess. Sometimes, it's not good to be an Indian prince. At least his reluctant companion is dressed skimpily and makes for some sweet eye candy.

Hrm, that probably won't go over well with any ladies who might read this. Forget I said that, please.

And while we're on the topic of forgetting, I got so caught up in praising the game that I almost forgot to tell you about its one true flaw, the limited combat engine. What I really want you to understand here is that for all his agility, for all his grace and beautiful frames of animation, the prince just isn't that great of a fighter. The result is that combat sometimes comes off as more of a chore than a pleasure it should be. You can swing your sword all over the place. You can block attacks like a champ (until late in the game) and bounce from walls like something straight out of The Matrix. Even still, when enough enemies fill a room they can corner you so that you're grappling superior numbers and a camera, unsure of where that wall is that could allow you to rebound to safety.

At such moments, your enemies may well overwhelm you once and for all, forcing you either to head back to the last save point or to find yourself caught in a tedious loop of small rewinds that never really get you anywhere. As much as I liked the game, the occasionally-tedious combat impacted my enjoyment more negatively than I care to admit. In fact, scratch that last comment. I-- oh, crap! I'm out of sand.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (March 02, 2005)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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