I was reminded of something while playing the newest Prince of Persia. A game, just like people, cannot get by with just good looks alone.
The original Prince of Persia was a classic 2D side-scrolling platform adventure from 1989. In 2003, Ubisoft did a reboot of the series, and now they have done it again. This newest Prince of Persia is a drastic change from the last game in the franchise. Everything has been simplified and the graphical art style is not only different from other Prince of Persia games, but different from most games full stop.
It looks gorgeous! The graphics are not the traditional cell-shaded cartoon graphics seen in similar styled games. It's far more stylised and looks like a water painting brought to life. There were many times when I was reminded of Walt Disney's Aladdin, with its bright colours, interesting characters and wonderful architecture. Looking at the frozen screenshots you would think you are only looking at the concept art for the game, but when you see it animated and in motion, it really is something special.
You once again play as… well you don't really know who you are playing as. I suppose it's safe to assume he's a prince of some kind, although this is never stated in the game. In fact we're never even told the character's name. Anyway, you play as some guy in a desert (you could assume it's somewhere in Persia but you know what they say about assumption…) who has lost his donkey in a sandstorm and comes across a woman (who happens to be a princess with magical powers) named Elika. Long story short, a dark god is escaping from his prison and has corrupted the land. It's up to you and Elika to work together to go through the various areas in the game and cleanse the land; all whilst fighting off the dark god's henchmen.
While Prince of Persia is not the first game to give the player an AI helper, it's safe to say Elika is one of the best ones. She will never get in your way or slow you down. She's not there for you to protect her, in fact most of the time she'll be saving you. She's also a very likeable character. The Prince is also kind of likeable; it's clear the developers were going for the lovable rogue - a Han Solo type of character. He says some pretty stupid thing sometimes, but by the end of the game he will grow on you, and the chemistry between him and Elika is pretty good (although I personally feel it could have been better, considering they have roughly eight to ten hours to build and establish their relationship).
As I've mentioned, Elika will often save the Prince. This is a major mechanic in the game. You see, in Prince of Persia you cannot die… ever. Anytime you fall to your doom Elika will grab your hand and pull you back to the last flat ground you were standing on.
When an enemy knocks you down, you either must push a randomly chosen button in time, or failing that, Elika will save you (and the enemy will get some of their health back). So basically there is zero punishment for failure in this game. If you get lost, you can press one button and Elika will release a ball of light that shows you the way you'll want to go. This is a nice feature that more games are starting to have, and I can only hope it continues to be implemented into more titles as an option to prevent the frustration of being lost, or simply not knowing where to go next.
While I like that last feature, it's the ones I mentioned earlier that create a potential problem with Prince of Persia. It's an extremely easy game. Most of the time it felt like the game was on autopilot. You just press the odd button now and then and the game will take care of the rest. It's clear that this was done so that the game would be able to appeal to a lot of people and everyone would be able to finish it. Something for the casual audience.
While there is nothing wrong with this, the downside is a lack of satisfaction or reward, and way too much repetition. In most platformer games, the player is meant to feel a sense of achievement when they make those hard jumps or overcome a really challenging obstacle. There was no such feeling in Prince of Persia because I never felt like I was really achieving anything. The game feels like one giant Quick Time Event; they just aren't flashing the button on the screen for you.
There are a few parts where you'll have a long series of jumps, wall runs and other things, allowing you to achieve constant motion. Those are good moments, but there just weren't a lot of them. There are a lot of wall runs, jump, polls to swing from and other things, but they aren't laid out in a satisfying series very often. It all becomes very repetitive. Speaking of repetitive, there is the combat.
Basically, it's all one-on-one fights. The animations of the fights are great and they are very fun to watch, but the actual combat is, again, very simplistic and either too easy or frustrating. You do have a variety of moves but they do not really serve a strategic purpose. No move is more powerful than the other; it's just a matter of stringing them together for bigger combos in order to do more damage. This does become repetitive and the frustration comes from the enemies using cheap shots on you. Every time I would make a move they'd seem to magically move a bit quicker than me and strike me first. Of course, this could be because of the somewhat unresponsive controls.
Both the acrobatics and combat controls have a slight delay to everything. When you press jump, there is a slight pause before your character will actually jump. You will eventually get used to the timing of this and it won't be too much of a problem, but it is annoying during combat when you can't get a hit in because your character will always swing last, or block a second too late, even though you know you pressed the damn button.
When you do get the timing down, the game is truly at its best - if you can manage to maintain motion and flow around the level, that is. It is interesting then, that in order to get more out of the story and develop the characters relationship you have to stop and stand still for them to have conversations with each other. You must press a button to initiate these conversations, so it is your choice, but it's just odd that the developers thought it would be a good idea to bring the game to a stop to do this. They could have let the conversations happen while you're still on the move.
The game is presented to you as a somewhat open world with an easy-to-follow map. You may choose which order of the areas you'd like to go through and cleanse, however you cannot enter some areas until Elika is able to use certain power plates through the level.
These plates allow you to progress to different areas that you couldn't get to otherwise. Two of the power plates just take you automatically from point to point. The other two, however, require you to either fly or run along a determined path and dodge certain obstacles.
This would have been fine if the camera wasn't a problem, as you often cannot tell when there is an object ahead of you, or to which side you should move to avoid it. This becomes a simple trial and error thing, but it can be extremely frustrating where there are a lot of them in a row, and if you fail at one of them you have to start again.
In order to access these plates you have to collect Light Seeds. There are shining orbs of light that come up whenever you heal a corrupted land. The concept is good, as in order to get the seeds you will have to travel to areas of the map you normally wouldn't go to. There are a thousand orbs all up in the game (although you'll only need about 540 to finish the game) so those of you who just have to complete everything will have a fun time. My issue with the orbs is that these are obviously a design decision to make the game longer, because they basically force you to have to go through each area twice in order to collect them. I'm not a big fan of being forced to go through the same places twice.
Prince of Persia is a beautiful game - artistically one of the best looking this year. It is also extremely easy. There is normally nothing wrong with a game being easy (unless you wanted a challenge of course) but the problem comes when there is no sense of satisfaction or achievement. This is where the Prince failed for me. Within the first thirty minutes of the game you will do pretty much everything there is for you to do in the game, with a few exceptions in the odd boss fight or puzzle.
If you have kids or just want a simple easy game to get through, then you will enjoy Prince of Persia. If you are looking for a real challenge then you will find this repetitive and often unsatisfying - but it is really really pretty. Remember that!