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

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

"“...but I have seen the face of time, and I can tell you. They are wrong.” "

“...but I have seen the face of time, and I can tell you. They are wrong.”

A smooth, suave voice addresses you, as you gaze in wonder at the sleeping form of a young woman. Her face is calm and composed, unaware of the battle to come. She is richly dressed and secure, accustomed to safety. She is a Maharajah's daughter, and her father's palace is about to be pillaged.

The young man's voice continues, telling you his story. It is a tale of war, of treachery. A nefarious vizier betrays the Indian lord and sells the kingdom to a king of Persia. It is the Persian prince who tells his story now. He tells of the nighttime raid on the Maharajah's palace, of the swift and destructive force of the Persians as they tear the fortress stone from stone in search of fabled treasure vaults. He tells of his own pride, seeking the greatest treasure of India: the Dagger of Time. He describes the ride of the victorious Persian armies to the land of Azad, where their ally, the Sultan, is presented with a magnificent gift: a mammoth hourglass containing the legendary Sands of Time. It is at Azad that the twice-treacherous Vizier appeals to the vanity of the young Prince, convincing him to unlock the hourglass releasing the glowing sand inside. The Sands unleash a horrific wave of destruction, transforming the Sultan's once beautiful palace into a ruin, and all the people inside into twisted unliving beings—malevolent zombies made of sand.

As all he knows disintegrates into ruin, the Prince grips his dagger and prepares to undo the damage he has done. As he wonders what will become of him, he sees the slight figure of a girl dressed in red darting along the corridors. Sheathing his weapons, he follows her. So begins our adventure.

The Prince pursues and encounters Farah, the Maharajah's daughter and only other survivor of the disaster. The two soon realize that the Vizier has transported the empty hourglass to a remote tower in the ruined palace, and with Farah's help, the Prince sets himself the task of scaling the tower and resealing the Sands of Time inside their hourglass. To do this, the pair will have to traverse the crumbling palace, even as it turns to rubble beneath their feet. Though the castle is filled with sand-creatures, it is the ruins themselves that pose the greatest obstacle to the Prince and Farah.

Walls and ledges crumble, pillars fall, doorways collapse, and bridges give way. The only way for the Prince to navigate through this maze of a castle is to scratch and claw his way over, around, and through the environmental obstacles that confront him. Fortunately, he is a conditioned athlete (and even Farah's no slouch). He boasts an amazing repertoire of acrobatic feats that let him pass through some very sticky situations unharmed. Running horizontally along walls allows him to cross gaps wider than a man can leap. Jumping repeatedly between two parallel vertical walls lets him scale surfaces with no visible handhold. He can swing from ropes, shimmy along ledges, vault from horizontal bars, and balance on rafters. If all this seems too risky, the Prince also has one ace up his sleeve: the Dagger of Time. After a particularly disastrous misstep, while plunging to his death, the Prince can press a button on his dagger's hilt and turn back time. The air blurs and shimmers and the Prince's actions reverse to a point just before his deadly loss of footing. A second chance.

The palace's decay isn't the only obstacle that lies between the Prince and his enemy. The Sultan was guarded not only by his skilled soldiers, but also by an elaborate system of traps. These traps now lie in wait for the unwary adventurers. The Prince will leap pits lined with spikes, dodge moving blades, roll under whirling scimitars, and dash past heavy swinging logs. As he progresses toward the resting place of the hourglass, he'll also encounter the Sultan's other deterrent system: most of the doorways that haven't been filled with rubble are blocked by ornate iron gates. To raise the gates the Prince must find and activate certain switches. Some switches are time limited: the gate remains open only for a moment as the Prince dashes along walls and ledges to reach it. Others can only be opened from another room. Farah can slide under partially opened doors and ease through narrow gaps or cracks to push switches that the Prince couldn't otherwise reach.

The scenery the two travel through is panoramic and breathtaking. There are no dark and featureless passages to be found in this palace. Instead they'll visit vast underground caves filled with stalactites and the glimmering trickle of streams, an elaborate (but empty) menagerie, a luxurious yet labyrinthine harem and magnificent stone bath-houses where the perfumed water still ripples softly in its basins. They'll scale the crumbling battlements where tattered banners flutter gently hundreds of feet above the courtyards, bathe in the beams of sunlight reflected from many mirrors in the book-lined Hall of Learning, and swing from model planets in a lofty observatory tower. Each room is subtly detailed and rich with color and sound. At each fountain and pool the Prince can stop to take a long drink and refresh his strength and vigor.

The Prince must preserve his strength for the frequent encounters with the castle's other inhabitants. The sand-creatures appear in nearly every room, the former inhabitants of the Sultan's palace warped and twisted into these ominous beings, golden eyes alight with hatred. Their types are varied: the harem girls have become limber female zombies wielding duel daggers, while the soldiers have become lurching turbaned swordsmen and pikemen. Despite their different appearances, the Prince must fight them in the only way he knows, sword arm held high above his head to deflect their hail of blows while he waits for an opportunity to strike. One cautious swipe at a time he cuts them down, while his hand goes numb on the sword hilt from the force of repeated impact. Each attack, each encounter is the same: block, wait, strike, block. When the creature is down he slashes quickly with his dagger to absorb the Sand that animated it, as it vanishes in a swirl of glowing dust.

Wave after wave of the creatures come, and the Prince will find himself surrounded. In a tight spot the Dagger of Time can again assist him, as he can use its powers to freeze an enemy or slow down time. Nor do his acrobatic abilities desert him in combat; he can leap over enemies to deliver a quick slash to their unprotected backs, or rebound off walls to thrust his sword home. However, once he's dispatched an easy few this way, it's back to the cautious pattern of block, wait, strike, wait, block.

Lithe and athletic in her own right, Farah is a worthy partner for our hero. She takes the initiative to jump through closing doorways and find and pull levers without assistance. She wields her bow admirably in self defense, and only needs protection from foes that get too close. She is an invaluable assistance in combat, incapacitating sand-creatures until the Prince can finish them with his dagger. Her quick wit, stubbornness, and charm slowly convince the hesitant prince that here is a woman he can trust, not only with his quest, but also with his life.

Though it seems impossible, Farah and the Prince reach their destination quickly; there is always a single way left open to them, a single path that leads them closer to their goal. A few brief hours of struggle bring them to the confrontation they have sought. Unfortunately for the player, the sense of wonder and discovery that accompanies a first playthough disappears quickly. The hours that pass during their journey are too few and too fleeting, and revisiting the adventure only reinforces the linearity we were too enthralled to notice the first time.

Ubisoft's Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time tells a grand tale, and it tells it magnificently. Every sound and shadow is in place, every fluttering curtain and drop of water add something to the experience. The Prince's smooth movements and graceful acrobatics feel natural and effortless, even exhilirating. And ultimately the characters succeed as well: the Prince, arrogant and urbane yet somehow naïve, and Farah, headstrong and reckless but gentle. The events may be fantastic, but the characters are believable. Like any good fairy tale, we want to believe it.

A crowd of sand creatures presses around the pair on a narrow bridge. The Prince fends off a burly swordsman, his arm shaking with the exertion as sweat drips down his face. He hears Farah cry out for help, but is unable to get to her. He stares in horror as a squat lifeless creature swings a heavy mallet toward her. She gasps and falls as the Prince twists away from his attacker, lunging toward her. Then the air goes blurry as time halts. A cultured voice interrupts:

"No, no... she didn't die. I saved her. Let me start again..."

sophina's avatar
Community review by sophina (September 26, 2006)

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