The original Prince of Persia, released for the PC way back in 1989, raised the bar for platform adventures. This latest chapter in the Prince’s tale wraps all the original’s drama and adventure with today’s technology, and a ton of style. The story begins with the Prince being deceived by his father’s Vizier into releasing the powerful Sands of Time. The sands have corrupted every living thing they have touched, with the notable exceptions of the Prince, the mysterious Princess Farah, and the evil Vizier. With the help of the princess, the Prince must correct his mistake. Wow! The Arabian surroundings depicted in the game are gorgeous. Although you are treated mostly to a crumbling palace, it is a fantastic place indeed. The architecture is detailed and authentic looking. Beautifully rendered cutscenes tell the story almost seamlessly, and the story meshes well with the gameplay.
Character animation is very well done. The Prince, especially, shows off a large number of acrobatic moves, including rolls, jumps, vaults, wall runs, etc. The moves flow well together, making battle sequences beautiful to watch — although taking time to enjoy watching them will most likely result in your death.
One of the nice touches in the game is the blur effect used when switching view modes (third-person, first-person, landscape). The effects of time slowing, speeding, and reversing are also well done.
I can’t recall a more beautifully presented game on the GameCube yet. If you’re a graphics whore, you’ll find plenty here to satisfy your desires.
As with the graphics, there are really no flaws to be found with the game’s music. The score sounds authentic to the culture although not necessarily in its orchestration. Voice acting is excellent and not overdone. While I’ve read that the GameCube version features compressed voice recording, presumably to reduce memory requirements, I heard nothing to indicate a loss of potential quality.
The tale is narrated by the Prince himself, as though he is retelling it to you. Therefore, you are actually reenacting what the Prince has already accomplished. This leads to the Prince saying “No, no, that didn’t happen…” when you are killed. A small, but nice touch. Control is often the downfall of a 3rd-person action game, and while it’s not quite perfect here, it’s pretty darn good. The Prince is controlled using the left thumbstick while the camera is moved using the C stick on the right. The A button takes care of jumping/rolling actions while the B button handles sword attacks. The Dagger of Time, a critical weapon, is controlled using the Y button – it is used to attack, retrieve sand, and freeze enemies. The X button can be used to cancel an action: sheath sword & dagger, or let go of a ledge. The L button allows using retrieved sand to rewind time or temporarily slow down time to give the Prince an edge in battle. The R button is used for all sorts of special actions, such as running/climbing on walls, pushing/pulling objects, swinging, drinking, and blocking an opponent’s attack. Finally, the Z button allows temporary use of a first-person view, while the control pad can be used to toggle a landscape view, where the camera is set further from the action, on or off.
Button combinations are used to achieve special attacks, some of which cannot be accomplished until a certain amount of sand has been gathered. Attacks include vaults and wall rebounds that can be combined with retrieve actions which allow an enemy to be knocked down and destroyed in one combo.
When controlling the Prince through a sequence of wall runs, swings, and jumps, the control allows for less than perfect timing. For instance, it is not necessary to perfectly time a release from a bar while swinging. The game knows your intention and takes the appropriate action. This allows the control not to get in the way of puzzle solving more than it should.
While the control itself is excellent, the Prince will occasionally get caught in a spot where the camera just can’t navigate to a useful angle. It would have been nice to see Ubisoft adopt the method of making walls in the way become transparent when they interfere, but this is one of the only parts of the game lacking polish. Luckily, the landscape camera mode can be used to get a good picture of a situation. True to the original game, gameplay consists of puzzle solving, acrobatic moves through trap-laden rooms, and a good amount of swordplay. There is a limited number of attack/defend options during battles, so the difficulty is ramped up by an increase in the number of enemies, as well as their power, as the game progresses. The same attacks are not effective against all enemies, and the battles definitely get more challenging as the Prince nears his goal.
The Prince’s one ally, the princess Farah, is a double-edged sword herself. While she can attack enemies with her bow and quiver, she must also be protected, for her life is as important as the Prince’s own.
At it’s heart, however, Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is a magnificent 3D platform game. As you enter a new area the camera will pan through the environment, showing you all the obstacles standing between you and the exit. It sometimes takes several minutes before you even have a clue as to where to go and how to get there. Combinations of wall runs, climbs, wall jumps, and rolls are often required. Unlike many jumping puzzles, the timing is not as critical as the combining moves in the right sequence. That’s not to say that timing isn’t important – it is. Many times you will be forced to run a gauntlet of obstacles, drops, and traps while having to beat the clock in order to make it through a slowly closing door somewhere ahead. Such sequences usually feature the mechanical sounds of clockwork ticking down reminding you not to dilly dally.
As I mentioned before, the Dagger of Time is a weapon critical to the game. In addition to its use as a weapon, the dagger is used to retrieve the sand from a fallen enemy – an act that must be completed to prevent the enemy from coming back to attack again. In addition, the dagger is used to retrieve sand from sand clouds that are encountered occasionally. As the game progresses, the Prince will gain additional ‘sand tanks’ and may therefore store more recovered sand.
Once the Prince’s life bar is empty, he is dead, but not necessarily for good. As long as the Prince has Sand stored in at least one sand tank, he has the ability to rewind time using the power of the sands. This means that you can sometimes experiment when solving a tough puzzle without being forced to return to the previous save point or checkpoint. It also allows the Prince to rethink an attack in battle and give himself a chance to do a better job. Once all the sand tanks and the life bar are depleted, you will be returned to the most recent check point.
Saving may be done only at save points (‘sand vortexes’) throughout the game, but the game includes checkpoints in between save points, at which the Prince is restored after dying. The average gamer will probably require 15-20 hours to complete the game, which I consider just the right amount. Some people would prefer a 40-hour quest, but I like to think I will actually finish a game I start, and this is a game you will very much want to finish. The GameCube version, like that for the PS2, includes an unlockable version of the original Prince of Persia game. In addition, the game features Game Boy Advance connectivity for additional content, but this is something I didn’t try.