Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Review

I scarcely know where to begin with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, but like the storyteller of this tale I’d best start at the beginning.

I’m new to the Prince of Persia universe. I’d grown up hearing the legend of the first game and its superior sequel, but never have I entered the Prince’s realm before now. I have now been so utterly blown away by The Sands of Time that I don’t know if I could play the originals. Fortunately, the original Prince of Persia is an unlockable on the PS2 version, so sooner or later I’ll get around to playing it.

The Sands of Time is an intricately woven tale, featuring love, betrayal, redemption, and revenge. All the things that make stories of this nature so much grander than life, but the Prince himself does not lose sight of this. He is upfront with you right from the start that while you might not believe some of the wilder details of his remembrance, he assures you that all he is about to share really happened. The beauty of this comes from the fact that you play the story the Prince is telling, from how he stole a glowing dagger for selfish reasons, and how he and his father were then tricked by an evil Vizier into unleashing the Sands of Time, an evil force that possess any whom they touch. Only the dagger could protect the Prince, and he used it to reclaim the Sands of Time by stabbing defeated monsters with it. His mission was to restore the kingdom as it once was, but the odds were stacked so heavily against him, he might never have survived, were it not for his athletic abilities and the aid of the mysterious Farah, daughter of the Sultan.

There are so many jaw-dropping moments I could not list them all if I tried. The sole reason this doesn’t get a perfect score is due to some clipping issues I’ve noticed here and there, but I chalk that up to the limitations of the PS2 hardware more than anything else. The simple beauty of a pool of water is stunning, as is the elegance of flowing tapestries and curtains blowing in the wind. The characters all look as realistic as one can get on the PS2, and the movements of the Prince are especially well done. When performing any of his innumerable acrobatic feats, the Prince moves like a cat and leaps like a gymnast. The way he catches himself makes it look like the force of the jump actually affected him.

Add to that the sheer size of the castle he’s in, and the way everything lives and breathes, and this is the best looking game I’ve seen this year on the PS2. The castle itself becomes a character in the game, and I couldn’t get enough of it. The rich colors, the lush backgrounds, and the smallest details like grains of sand covering everything are so magnificently done that UbiSoft’s artists need to step forward and take a bow. The true feel of an Arabian kingdom is vividly captured, and I half expect this tale to become one of the 1001 others chronicled in the famous book.

This is how music and sound should be used in every game ever made. Designers need to play through Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and listen to how the wind rustles curtains, or how the swords clank together, or how dust settles from one ledge to another, or how the outstanding score is used at just the right times. On and on I could go, but my story would become repetitive with praise, and while I have lavished plenty upon the men and women of UbiSoft, yet more is left to be spoken of. I have not yet mentioned the voice acting which is extraordinary.

I looked and looked but was unable to find the voice credits, otherwise I would single out the actor who played the Prince because he makes you care about his predicament. When you die (and you will), the game cuts to a retry screen and the Prince comments, “No, no, no, let me try this again.” He has a host of things he says to point out that he made a mistake in his tale, and that he will start again. This adds to the complete immersion of this game, and I loved it. I also got fired up whenever the music kicked in, as it’s a heavy-rock version of Arabian music that immediately grabs you and won’t let go especially in the heat of combat. This is a perfect job all around.

Dang near flawless is how I would describe the controls for Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. Combat is intricately done, but mastering the controls is very easy to do. The square button is your basic attack, while the X button jumps or performs an action. The triangle button is your dagger attack, which is used on enemies once their down to retrieve the Sands of Time. Once you get the dagger, you get control over a limited amount of time as well. Should you fall, hold down the L1 button and you will rewind time for up to 10 seconds. It saved my butt so many times I lost count. This is extremely handy in fights, as well as when you do something stupid and jump off a cliff (not that I know from experience). The L2 and the R2 buttons both alter your viewpoint, with R2 going to first-person mode, and L2 zooming way out for Landscape mode. The R1 button is for use near water, which will restore health. Practicing your fighting moves allows for various combos, and you need to hit X as well as the square button, because then you can run up enemies, jump off of the, then swing and hit them with your sword. Acrobatics come into play extensively during fights, and it’s best to know your moves because some fights are extremely hard.

This is some of the most fun I’ve had in a long while. The major knock against this is while you’re bringing along the Sultan’s daughter, Farah, she proves that her aim is extremely off. It’s not helpful fighting a horde of enemies, then getting hit in the back with an arrow only to hear, “Oh, sorry!” Thanks Robin Hood, now if I can deal with the Sheriff’s men without any more of your arrows in me, I’ll be in good shape. I’ve also found myself stuck in fights for a long, long time, but then it occurred to me that since this is a puzzle game there must be a solution other than barging in with my sword swinging.

Usually, there is a solution, but it involved creative combat moves like blocking a hit then countering that hit. The puzzles are often fiendishly constructed, like an early puzzle that has you taking rods out of a wall. Sounds simple, but wait until you see the size of the puzzle. That one took me a long while to accomplish. But figuring out the puzzles, most of which are organic to the story as you’re usually trying to get to a certain ledge or lever within the castle, and experiencing the extraordinarily cinematic flair the fights (and the game itself) have, all work to make this one of the best gaming experiences around.

You will get your money’s worth just from the art design in this game, so when you add in a blazing amount of fun, you’ll wind up with a great deal. The only reason this didn’t score a perfect is some may not take to the story considering it’s rather old-fashioned. But I’m an unabashed lover of Disney’s Aladdin more because of the world, not Robin Williams spazing out (as usual). This is the type of game that transcends the genre to become a work of art, and everyone who was part of it should feel proud. Thank you for making this.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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