"Almost 20 years ago (1989 to be precise), Prince of Persia blazed onto the gaming scene and was successful enough to create an entire subgenre of games, the Cinematic Platformer. Besides featuring fun puzzle and combat gameplay, Prince of Persia was notable for its precise controls and fluid animations, with each movement of the Prince and his various short-lived adversaries compared extensively with filmed footage to ensure the most realistic possible animations. To put it another way, Prince o..."
Almost 20 years ago (1989 to be precise), Prince of Persia blazed onto the gaming scene and was successful enough to create an entire subgenre of games, the Cinematic Platformer. Besides featuring fun puzzle and combat gameplay, Prince of Persia was notable for its precise controls and fluid animations, with each movement of the Prince and his various short-lived adversaries compared extensively with filmed footage to ensure the most realistic possible animations. To put it another way, Prince of Persia was, at the time, a bastion of graphical splendour, not to mention a not-half-bad game.
So, nearly 20 years on, after two sequels, an entire spin off series that surprised the gaming world (again) during a time when the Prince had disappeared off the gaming radar (and let's not forget the movie in the works), is the original Prince of Persia still worth your time? Gamers got plenty of enjoyment in the not-so-surprise re-release that was "hidden" in Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and apparently, someone got to thinking that maybe this all time classic had another release left in it, and so, we come to this. If the hype is to be believed, Prince of Persia has arrived for the new generation.
Let's get one thing completely clear up front. This release is completely faithful to the original Prince of Persia. If you've played the original Prince of Persia in any of its numerous incarnations, you'll notice that nothing has changed in terms of gameplay, controls, or level design. Each level is precisely recreated based on the original game, with the same gates, and the same loose floortiles, and enemies in the same places with the same size healthbars as before. Everything that made PoP into the game it was has been preserved. However, recognizing opportunities to add to the game in places, some of the Prince's animations and moves have been expanded upon. As an example of the kind of extremely cool but still completely un-sacrilegious alterations we're dealing with, where in the original, the Prince could turn around on the spot and make a leap, he can now launch straight into a backflip. For all intents and purposes, it is the same move - it will carry you the same distance at the same speed, but it just looks so much cooler, is in keeping with the Prince that the new "Sands of Time" generation is used to. It's fitting, given the way in which the original Prince of Persia introduced levels of fluidity previously unknown to animation. Of course, fanatical purists can choose to still turn around on the spot and leap, but despite not actually saving any time, the backflip flows so much more naturally and feels like something Jordan Mechner would have included in the original, had he only been able.
Control wise - the basic controls are the same as the originals, so if you're fresh off the Sands of Time games, be warned - things are a little different. You always have a choice of controls for walking, running, jumping and grabbing, with each action tending to be mapped to a face button, shoulder button, and sometimes to the analogue sticks. When swordfighting, the Prince, as before, can attack, parry or move with sword drawn. Unlike in the Sands games, which feature combo-intensive fights, the original games, and this one, uses a simplistic but effective timing based system in which you attack, block, counter attack and repeat. As before, the Prince can, with the proper timing, switch positions with a foe and pass them that way, if you can find a gap to run away in. Fighting is tricky, especially in later levels, and takes a while to properly learn, but this won't detract much from the fun.
The Prince's aforementioned new "moves" are intuitive and integrate effortlessly into the existing control scheme. He can rebound off of walls (useful for grabbing ledges opposite walls), swing off ledges if there's a gap below (to get a running start without having to turn around), the aforementioned backflip, and he has an emergency grab for ledges you don't see coming. These moves create a marked increase in the fluidity of gameplay by allowing the Prince to quickly progress in places where he would otherwise need to stop and turn around. The only completely new move available is in combat - if you and a foe attack at the same time, your swords might lock and you will engage in the tried and tested process of mashing the attack button quickly to overpower your opponent to deliver a hilarious sounding punch to the face and a few free hits. Other than that, everything you do in this game, you did at some point in the original.
One quick note on difficulty - as expected, the one hour time limit has been included. You can keep playing after you run out of time, but you can't get the "ending" until you finish the game within an hour. Helpfully, you can replay earlier levels at will, shortening your time taken, until your times for each level collectively total less than 60 minutes. The developers have also added a checkpoint system to ease frustration without sacrificing difficulty. The difficulty is high, but ultimately the game is forgiving.
There's a plot behind the game, one that explains the Prince being where he is and why there's a time limit. It's not particularly important, but it's nice. If you've any interest in the game, you'll probably already know all about the youth who illegally scaled the walls of the Sultan's palace, laid eyes upon the beautiful princess and instantly fell in love (and, just for a change, had his feelings reciprocated), before suddenly realizing he'd been thrown in prison by a power hungry Vizier intent on marrying the princess himself. Yes, it's pretty much straight out of the One Thousand and One Nights, but is anyone really going to hold that against them? Anyway, the would be Prince of Persia has an hour to escape the dungeons and settle things with the Vizier before the Princess is forced into either marriage or death.
With regard to the game's graphical facelift; there's no two ways about this. POP Classic is a beautiful, beautiful game. The faithfully recreated levels are presented as beautiful 3D environments (with 2D controls) that are, in places, wonderful to behold and in keeping with the graphical standards of the new gaming generation. Little details have been added to make the game more interesting - cages hang from the ceilings in the dungeons, water flows from the fountains in the palace courtyard and the windows of high towers offer exceptional views of Persia. Whereas the original featured two graphical "styles" that the levels alternated between (ie, dungeon and palace), Classic features a slightly but still very noticeably different look for each level. Of course, you still alternate between dungeon and palace as before, but with more polygons this time.
The other thing you might notice is that cutscenes are now shown in 3D. Cutscenes are sadly limited to the Princess sulking in her room with only a diminishing hourglass and a strangely obedient white mouse for company, occasionally pestered by Jaffar, the Vizier. There's also a nice but very short one when the Prince has a run in with an inconveniently placed mirror.
Other minor graphical changes: The enemy models are all new, some guards are plain-clothes, some kitted out in full armour, and so on. Everyone's swords shimmer for some reason, floor plates now have yellow and red signs on them (though some are hidden), poison potions are now vividly blue (whereas they used to look very similar to healing potions to add surprise), and health extension potions are no longer kept in corked bottles. The Prince himself is notably without his characteristic turban, presumably to keep with the Sands of Time image. None of these changes should bug you, except the turban, if you're a purist.
To go along with the visual overhaul, the games audio has been redone to match. The new sound effects, tap-tapping of feet, swish and clang of swords, and occasional dying gurgles (impalement is a serious speech impediment) are all present and correct. The music from the original, including the title music, the potion jingles and all the other fan favourites are back, re-recorded, and sounding great.
By way of bonuses and extra stuff, the game provides a Time Attack mode, in which you play the game quickly, and Survival, in which you, presumably in your insanity, attempt to complete the entire game without ever dying. Your performances in these modes are translated into scores and are ranked along with times on a leaderboard, so you can see who's been practicing all these years. You can compare your scores and times on each level with those of anyone else on the leaderboard so you know exactly where you stand.
One extremely cool feature is the ability to have a "ghost" perform your previous best timed run through a level, so you can see as you're going how well you're doing compared with your personal best. But that's not the best part - as well as racing your own times, you can also load ghosts from anyone on the leaderboard on any level, so you can race head to head with the very best in the world if you feel like a challenge.
+Faithful recreation of the Jordan Mechner original
+Still just as fun to play, and satisfyingly difficult too
+Game benefits from new animations
+Ability to replay levels to gain more time on later levels
+Leaderboards and Achievements to brag over
+Race head to head with anyone in the world
-There's no way around the fact that it's an old game with no new content as such
-There's only so much to do
-The combat learning curve is steep and may be offputting
-Prince wants his turban back
Like a fine wine, Prince of Persia has only gotten better during these years. The next gen overhaul fixes most to all of the small problems that might have bugged this faithfully recreated classic, leaving only minor complaints. POP Classic is by no means a large title, but for the price they ask, it's certainly a worthwhile buy.
Community review by Fedule (December 06, 2008)
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