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Prince of Persia: a retrospective

Submitted by on Friday, 5 December 20084 Comments

The Prince. No identity, no name, only a title. Over the years we have grown to love The Prince in all his incarnations, both good (The Sands of Time) and bad (Prince of Persia 3D). What started as the brainchild of Jordan Mechner has blossomed into a gaming behemoth. Join PS3 Attitude as we take a trip back in time and view The Prince and how he has evolved over the years; from the orphan trapped in Jaffar’s prison to the powerful Prince he has become.

Prince of Persia (1989)

This is the game that started it all.  Jordan Mechner’s masterpiece introduced sword fights to a gaming population more accustomed to bullets and guns.  The original Prince of Persia was ported to almost every device imaginable at the time (ever heard of a SAM Coupé?) and it even made it to the current generation of consoles in the form of Prince of Persia Classic via Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network.  That is how good this game was and still is.  A love story really, the Prince is imprisoned while the Princess is forced to marry the evil Vizier Jaffar or die.  It is up to the Prince to escape and save the love of his life.

The original Prince of Persia appeared to be of the white persuasion, had blonde hair, had a white shirt, white pants and a white sword.  Not very graphically demanding but it looked state of the art in 1989, trust me.  But the Prince was not really remembered for the graphics or the sound, not even the story.  It was the animation that surprised the gaming world.  This was the most fluid and life-like animation in a video game to date.  Rotoscoping was used to animate the Prince; this reference video shows how closely the in-game animation was to the real thing.

Sword fights served as the main action moments in between solving puzzles and avoiding deadly spikes and blades.  The enemies get increasingly more difficult as the Prince gets closer to the Princess.  The prince could strike and parry high or low sword attacks.  He could sheath his sword for a retreat but an enemy blow while unarmed meant certain death.  Physical puzzles ruled the game, usually by means of pressure sensitive tiles which would open (and sometimes close) gates.  The Prince was a little acrobatic even then; he could run, jump, jump while running, crouch, hop while crouching, climb, descend, climb and hang on from ledges.  The levels were designed to test all of the Prince’s abilities and the player’s skill.

Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame (1994)

The sequel came roughly five years later, instead of the usual one year cycle more commonly used today.  This second Prince of Persia game was very similar to the original; puzzles and sword fights were still the norm.  The story however was not.  Eleven days have passed since defeating Jaffar, the Prince and Princess are married and all is well in the land.  Until an evil witch resurrects Jaffar who assumes the role of the Prince, while at the same time turning the Prince into a beggar.  Not even his bride recognizes the Prince under the witch’s spell so he is forced to escape in a ship which wrecks in a far away land where his quest starts again.

This new Prince was far more detailed than his predecessor; he donned a blue turban, a red vest and red pointy shoes.  Even his sword gained subtle graphical details.  The fluid animations that made the first Prince stand out were present in this new installment.  The graphics were far more advanced; ditching the simple looks of its predecessor, Prince of Persia 2 was much more colorful and detailed.  The levels were larger and the backgrounds had more variety.  This time the game was more combat oriented, sword fights were more common and unlike the first Prince of Persia, the enemies were not always alone.  A flying carpet, a flying horse, and magic were introduced, with magic potions also returning.

This Prince is still very similar to last’s game Prince in many aspects, he still fights to be with his true love in spite of the odds against him.  It is revealed in the game that he is in fact of royal lineage and his quest turns from redemption to revenge as a result.  The inclusion of magic and mythical themes brought something fresh to the young franchise.  The Prince was evolving slowly but the gaming populace was in for a surprise when they met the next Prince and his radical evolution.

Prince of Persia 3D (1999)

In the most ambitious Prince to Persia game to date the Prince was to get the full 3D treatment.  Sadly, because of financial difficulties, the game was released early and before it went through the crucial bug detection and correction stage.  Still true to its roots, Prince of Persia 3D finds the Prince, his bride and his father-in-law the Sultan in the castle of Asaan, the Sultan’s brother.  It turns out that the Sultan promised the Princess’s hand in marriage to Asaan’s son Rugnor long before the Prince was in the picture…you know where this is going.  After a very deadly belly dance, the Princess and the Sultan are captured while the Prince finds himself captive in the castle’s dungeon where he must escape and save the Princess.  Sounds familiar?

This was the most graphically advanced Prince, now rendered in 3D and full of details.  Gone were the rotoscoping days, motion capture was all the rage and the Prince managed to keep his fluid animations intact. The witch and royal lineage from Prince of Persia 2 were ditched in favor of a more straightforward approach that worked well before.  This is your old Prince in new clothes, fighting to regain his bride once again.  While his motives stayed rooted on the games of past, his abilities took a giant leap forward.

This new 3D Prince could do everything 2D Prince could and then some.  Swimming, crawling while prone, collecting items and keys and manipulating buttons and levers were some of the new abilities the Prince gained with the move to 3D.  His combat abilities received a minor upgrade as well thanks to the extra dimension.  He could shuffle in any direction, attack to the left, to the right or overhead, block and feint an attack.  More weapons were available to him this time around.  He still had the essential sword, but now a staff, dual blades and a bow were also added to his repertoire.  The exotic locales were the perfect backdrop for the Prince’s stunts as he jumped, dodged and puzzle solved his way to victory.  Sadly because of all the bugs and annoying camera issues this Prince was not well received as the first two.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003)

“Most people think time is like a river that flows swift and sure in one direction. But I have seen the face of time and I can tell you they are wrong. Time is an ocean in a storm. You may wonder who I am and why I say this. Sit down and I will tell you a tale like none which you have ever heard.”

A grand tale indeed. With a new century comes a new prince. Gone are the days of the side scrolling platformer as the series makes its debut on the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and Gamecube with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. The torch has been passed into the hands of Ubisoft, with Jordan Mechner as the producer, as they reboot the series to a whole new level.

Players take control of the son of King Shahraman, the Prince of Persia, as the two of them travel to Azad. In their possession they have a giant hourglass filled with the mystical Sand of Time, a mysterious dagger also known as the Dagger of Time, and Farah, the captured daughter of the conquered Maharajah. At their return, the evil Vizier tricks the prince into releasing the Sands of Time from the hourglass, thus destroying the kingdom and turning all living beings into horrendous sand creatures. It is up to the Prince and Farah to collect the Sands of Time and return the kingdom to its rightful state.

Everything has been revamped for The Sands of Time. The visuals, the gameplay, the combat mechanics; all have been utilized to show the Prince in all his glory. Instead of the linear side-scrolling of previous iterations, The Sands of Time puts our prince in a fully interactive 3D environment. Players must perform wall runs and leap over chasms, much like a ninja, all the while avoiding traps and disposing of the enemy. The sword is your main weapon used for attacking and blocking although you can gain the advantage using wall jumps as well with what’s probably the most important gameplay element in the game, the Dagger of Time.

This magical dagger has the ability to control time. The Prince can travel up to ten seconds in the past, reversing all actions including damage, destroyed environments, etc. The dagger also grants the Prince the ability to slow down time and freeze enemies, making for an easier attack. These time-manipulation abilities were what made The Sands of Time stand out above the rest. Players could make up for mistakes and go even as far as cheating death.

Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (2004)

Seven years have passed, and the Prince has grown darker, nastier, and overall meaner. This time around, he is being hunted by Dahaka, the Guardian of the Timeline, because he has escaped his fate and must die to restore order to the Timeline. This doesn’t sit well with the Prince and he travels to the Island of Time in order to prevent the Sands of Time from being created, which hopefully will give Dahaka no reason to continue hunting him.

If it wasn’t obvious in the above description, time plays another important role in Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, released December of 2004. Despite no longer having the Dagger of Time, your abilities of time-manipulation remain the same. You can still reverse time and enable slow motion. What’s more, the Prince has gained is the ability of dual weapon wielding. In addition to his sword, he may now steal an enemy’s weapon and use it in combat and throw it as a projective as well.

Thanks to Ubisoft’s new gameplay system, the “Free-Form Fighting” system, the flow of combat is much smoother and environmental attacks are more diverse. The Prince can now strangle his enemies along with jumping off them to chain his attacks together. The core platforming elements remain virtually the same if not better than its predecessor. While selling well, fans were disappointed at Warrior Within’s darker themes that strayed a bit too far from the charm of previous games. Perhaps it’s from the fact that this was the first game where Jordan Mechner wasn’t involved in its production. Warrior Within is also available on the PSP as Prince of Persia: Revelations.

Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones (2005)

Twice, the Prince has cheated death and evaded his fate. You know what they say, third times a charm. Now, on his return home to Babylon, he finds himself struck with a new foe. Past characters return as the events of The Sands of Time never occurred. The city is under control of the Vizier who now possesses the Dagger of Time, using it to gain immortality. In his attempts to stop the Vizier, the Prince suffers a wound from a chain whip, allowing for the Sands of Time to enter his body and infect him before escaping. This infection leads to the manifestation of the Prince’s alter-ego, the Dark Prince. Now he must battle the voices within as well as save his home from destruction.

Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones continues to enhance what is already great gameplay. The Prince’s acrobatics have improved, allowing him to leap off walls at 45 degree angles and interact with more of the environment including chutes and poles, just to name a few. The Dagger of Time makes its return with the introduction of Speed Kills. Stealth plays a more prominent role in The Two Thrones and if the Prince is able to sneak up to an enemy undetected, he may perform a Speed Kill, a flashy series of attacks that culminates in instant death. Minor tweaks have been made to the combat system. For instance, strangles are no long an option as well as jumping off of enemies and rebounding off walls when in the air.

The Dark Prince is introduced in The Two Thrones. At specific moments during gameplay, the Prince will turn into the shadowy form of himself and alter the combat style. The secondary weapon has been disabled and he now wields the Daggertail; a blade-like whip attached to his arm.This allows for longer range attacks as well as the ability to swing from hanging poles. Staying in this transformation depletes the Prince’s health which can only be replenished by collecting Sand from monsters or objects. Coming in contact with water reverts the Prince back to his normal self.

Another element introduced are chariot sections of the game. During these moments, the player must guide the Prince past obstacles and sand creatures and reach the goal without crashing or being killed. This adds a whole new style of gameplay to the action-adventure platformer.The game even made its way to PSP and Wii in the form of Prince of Persia: Rival Swords along with an expanded plot although gameplay remained the same.

Prince of Persia Classic (2007)

The original 2D Prince returns in new 3D clothes.  This remake is heavily influenced by the second trilogy (Sands of Time, Warrior Within, Two Thrones) and it looks amazing.  The animations are still top notch, the platforming still rules and the combat has been slightly tweaked.  Staying true to the original’s roots, Prince of Persia Classic does offer a few additional puzzles, traps and fights to enhance the original offering rather than changing it completely.

Classic Prince looks a lot like Sands of Time Prince; he retains the white pants of the Original Prince but somehow lost his shirt.  Maybe he wanted to impress the Princess with his manliness.  Being such a close remake gameplay-wise, Classic Prince pretty much can do whatever the Original Prince could.  Only prettier and in HD.

Prince of Persia (2008)

December. 2008. Prince of Persia. A new ‘prince’ has claimed the throne of the series. With a new prince comes new features. The visuals have been completely redone with cel-shading and a new female companion, Elika, has been added to assist the Prince. She can aid him in reaching new heights as well as battling enemies. Like all previous games, stylish acrobatics and platforming are a major aspect of the game. Why don’t you check out our review while you’re here? Like the title says, it truly is the last must have game of 2008.

So what does Prince of Persia have in store for us in the future? Well for starters, there is an upcoming film in the works staring Jake Gyllenhall as our prince and Ben Kingsley as the evil wizard Nizam. Ubisoft, unfortunately, has no part in the film but never fear, for Jordan Mechner is one of the screenwiters. It is based on The Sands of Time and on schedule for a 2010 release date. Aside from that, who knows what the future holds, well aside from Ubisoft. Only the Sands of Time will tell. I know, I couldn’t resist. Cheers go out to Danny_D for assisting with the original trilogy and the Classic remake.

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