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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (GameCube) artwork

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (GameCube) review

"Prince of Persia is one of those games in which the plot is created around the necessities of gameplay. You've got yourself a linear action adventure game that involves a ton of environmental puzzles. In other words, the majority of this game is figuring out how to get from here to there. And that's kind of boring if there's no danger, right? But if you're trying to cross a giant chasm, what happens if you fall? There has to be some balance between the danger and giving the player a chance...."

Prince of Persia is one of those games in which the plot is created around the necessities of gameplay. You've got yourself a linear action adventure game that involves a ton of environmental puzzles. In other words, the majority of this game is figuring out how to get from here to there. And that's kind of boring if there's no danger, right? But if you're trying to cross a giant chasm, what happens if you fall? There has to be some balance between the danger and giving the player a chance. You don't want to go all the way back to the beginning of the level just because of a poorly executed jump, right? Especially since there's some trial and error involved. Enter sands of time.

Basically, the Prince picks up a spiffy dagger as a spoil of war. However, a traitorous vizier tricks him into opening up an hourglass of time, unleashing the sands of time and, even worse, sand zombies. But thankfully, the Prince learns that he can use this sand to control (*gasp*) time. So go back to the gameplay. Suppose you tried to wall run around that pit, but didn't realize there was a crack in the wall. As you fall to your doom, just press L. Suddenly, time is going backward, and you're flying back onto the ledge, safe and sound. Of course, that requires the use of sand, and you can only carry so much. And you can only rewind time about 30 seconds, so it's not a complete free ride. Got it? It's a brilliant concept, and executed quite nicely. From the few areas of the game when you have to go platforming without your life-saving sands, the game would have been mind-bogglingly frustrating without this safety net. In other words, controlling time serves to enhance the platforming, rather than distract from it.

And what a thrill that platforming is. There's just so many different moves the Prince can perform, from wall running to wall jumping to shimmying down poles to flipping on bars to, well, anything you can imagine. And there's a nice progression, too. After you learn all your tricks, the game will start to throw some rather fun combos at you. Now you'll have to flip off of that bar towards the wall and quickly do a wall jump to reach the next bar. Or run along a crumbling bridge, run up the wall, and jump over to grab the hanging ladder. Just when you've mastered all these possibilities, the game tosses a few new moves your way, such as balancing on a tiny beam or swinging on ropes. Now you'll have to swing over deadly spikes, jump onto the wall to hit a switch and quickly jump back before you fall, switch directions, jump onto another wall to hit a different switch and jump back again, and finally make it to the now reachable door. Phew. Needless to say, the progression in challenge from these platforming events and the sheer variety available is the best aspect of the game. You'll come to enjoy the Prince's natural agility, and you'll want to progress, not to finish the game, but rather to see what new obstacles await you.

However, I do find myself wondering if the linear nature of the game best suits this delightful enterprise. So you have to figure out how to get from here to there. And there's a line of flagpoles sitting right in front of you. Gee, care to guess what you need to do? And then you find some pits you need to wall run past, then swing on some ropes, then climb up that pillar, etc, etc. There's not much thinking involved; just go in the one possible direction you can go in. I love environmental puzzles, trying to figure out how to reach that shiny object way up there or get to that tantalizing doorway is great fun. Yet here, no such luck. Sure, there are a few exceptions, such as a giant library that requires you to reach several floors to align a bunch of mirrors, where the correct route is not immediately obvious. But is jumping from stalactite to stalactite really fun when the stalactites are all lined up nicely in a row and equally spaced? Takes some of the excitement out of it, doesn't it?

Still, this isn't exactly a complaint about the game per se, but rather about the design choice. There's only a few places where it's as blatantly obvious as the stalactite example; generally Ubisoft managed to cover up the linearity fairly well. Trial and error is still present, and it's not always perfectly clear where you need to go. There are hidden secrets that require some observation skills, and some wickedly dangerous stunts required elsewhere. If they were going to make a linear platformer rather than a Metroid style exploration game, then they managed to pull it off rather well.

The platforming aspect is helped by an absolutely wonderful atmosphere. For one, there's almost no music (yes, you heard that right). Instead, there's water drops, wind, and the plodding of footsteps. This perfectly enhances the despondent loneliness in the game, emphasizing that there's a whopping three people alive in a massive palace that was full mere moments ago. Said palace is also beautifully rendered as a quickly decaying wonder, with massive rooms and beautiful scenery, yet cracks, fallen pillars, ripped flags, and crumbling ledges are everywhere. Atmosphere can be quite important in an adventure game, and thankfully Prince of Persia manages to evoke a haunting enough feeling to go along with the plot. At the very least, you'll be enjoying the scenery while flipping on flagpoles and stabbing zombies.

That last part, though, may not be as fun as you think. The sand demons that peruse the land must be sliced up with the Prince's sword before finally being absorbed by the dagger of time. You can block, dodge, and do pretty sword swingin' combos as well as several special moves, like vaulting over a zombie and slicing him in the back. Of course, you can still rewind time if you make a mistake, and you can use the dagger for several special moves like freezing an enemy (allowing you to wipe him out in a single stroke) or moving in super-speed. These moves require sand, however, so you'll have to replenish it by killing zombies. Oh yes, and you'll have to protect the princess as well. But she'll be protecting you too, as she'll be raining arrows among the enemies as cover. Hey, this is starting to sound pretty cool, isn't it?

Nope. For the most part, enemies will merely look at you and watch you slaughter them, only occasionally making a half-hearted swipe with their sword. Yep, real challenging there. Their defense isn't much better, as these special moves will always work on some enemies and never work on others. Which means the extent of the "depth" of combat is knowing which enemies to vault, which ones to tackle, and which one must be disposed of the old fashioned way. It'ss simply a war of attrition, as these zombies come in huge waves (20-30 or so) dragging battles on seemingly forever. Even worse, you can't use space to your advantage. Zombies can teleport, so even if you run around to try to gain the upper hand, you'll be surrounded in moments. It's not enough to kill the game, of course, but you'll definitely be relieved when the combat's over and you can get back to the platforming fun.

Hopefully the picture is clear. They tried to make the combat flashy, but ended up with repetitive. Perhaps the problem is that it's so segregated from the platforming and puzzles. The game ends up feeling like a series of events, rather than one smooth game. Perhaps if enemies would spawn in fewer quantities, but more often? Mix it up with the platforming more? That would eliminate some of the tediousness of long battles, while also allowing the zombies to be harder. And battling in treacherous environments might make it more exciting. Alas, what could've been...

But in the end, what you see is what you get. You're promised a short (6-10 hours), linear action/adventure game with lots of agile platforming stunts, as well as some fighting because, well, that's kinda required for action games or something. And if that's what you're expecting out of the game, you'll enjoy it. Sure, it had its frustrating moments, but it was fun while it lasted and kept me interested throughout. And now it'll go back on the shelf and be forgotten for a couple years since it really wasn't anything special. But hey, it was cheap (heck, you can download it (legally) for free on the PC if you want) and provided all I asked it to. I can't complain.

mariner's avatar
Community review by mariner (January 08, 2008)

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