Way Back When: Prince of Persia
After a binge on dark RPGs and military shooters, I’d gotten used to my game worlds being brown, the only splash of colour spilling from the bodies of my fellow man. My eyes were on a diet of margarita pizza and chips; fine in small doses, but still bland and monotonous. On recommendation from my doctor, I decided to inject some colour into my life, starting with Prince of Persia.
In the colour department, I wasn’t disappointed. Without question, Prince of Persia is one of the best looking games I’ve played in months; not bad for a game released six years ago. If there’s one thing it does well, it’s stunning environments, which take full advantage of the colourful cel-shaded graphical style. Even the game’s plot puts it to good use, with Elika and the Prince setting out to restore life to a land touched by an inky darkness, meaning each task completed restores the land’s visual splendor. The effort put into climbing up a crumbling tower is all forgotten when you reach the top and stare out at the glorious landscape. I doubt this will ever be touted as a game feature, but gawping at the view made up a significant amount of my game time.
Character design is fun too. Elika and the Prince wouldn’t look out of place in a comic book, graphically or in their fashion sense, with each of their outfits looking as if it was thrown together from whatever was to hand. As for the characters themselves, your mileage may vary. Prince of Persia is made up of two dozen interconnecting ‘levels’ that can be tackled in almost any order, meaning the cutscenes that play upon their completion can be seen in almost any order. As a result, not only does each cutscene contribute very little in terms of character development, but the tone of each conversation is all over the place. Elika will shift from angry to flirty to distant over the course of an hour. Also, the Prince is a bit Nathan Drake-y; make of that what you will.
Luckily, the game doesn’t bombard you with cutscenes, mostly leaving you to your own wall-running devices. Acrobatics are the name of the game, and for the most part are a joy to control, even if the Prince sliding down a wall using his gauntlet sounds like nails on a chalkboard.The Prince can scramble up and jump off walls, swing from bars and, with the aid of Elika’s floaty magic powers, leap huge distances. Completing a long platforming sequence with precision is a treat to behold, as the Prince gracefully bounces around before Elika glides in to give him that extra bit of distance to safety. On the flipside however, the platforming can sometimes feel a bit pre-determined. More than a few times a platform would be at an odd, but reachable, angle from the one I was standing on, but I wouldn’t be able to reach it because the Prince would stubbornly only jump in pre-determined directions.
The combat is unfortunately another misstep. Each fight is a one-on-one duel, in which the Prince can attack with his sword, grab with his gauntlet, dodge, block or launch Elika as a human ballistic missile. At first I enjoyed squaring off with opponents one at a time, but after the first twenty fights I realised it wasn’t going to step up the pace any time soon. Fights don’t get much harder in the game, only the health bars get longer, turning what should be a challenge into a chore, in which I pull off the same five button combo umpteen times in a single encounter. But there is no single encounter, as Prince of Persia forces you to fight each boss a minimum of five times, the health bar taking depressingly longer to deplete each time.
Don’t worry though, as the bosses can never win. In fact, the Prince can’t die at all. I suspect this is what led to the enemy health bars being so long, otherwise each fight would be an absolute doddle. When the Prince is near death, Elika will jump in and deflect the enemy away, restoring health to you but also the enemy, which can be incredibly depressing when you spent five minutes chipping it away. Not being able to die works well for the platforming sections though. Instead of falling to your death, Elika swoops in and grabs you, plonking you back on solid ground to start again in a matter of seconds. It’s a great way of stopping the pace being broken each time you mess up.
Distilled to its basic elements, Prince of Persia is a fantastic looking adventure, filled with fast-paced acrobatics punctuated by some wonky combat. Not much of a challenge, but a great antidote for someone in need of a little colour.