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Score: 8.5 / 10
In Prince of Persia, the new cinematic
platformer from Ubisoft Montreal, players are transported to a
crumbling, mystical kingdom in the sky where they travel from place to
place via feats of gravity-defying acrobatics while engaging in witty
banter with a mysterious woman.
As the story begins, our rakish, unnamed hero is searching for a donkey
lost in a sandstorm. He instead finds a beautiful princess fleeing from
armed guards. As players learn the basic mechanics of the game, he makes
a daring rescue, her father tries to kill him, and the tree of
life—which has sealed the prison of the evil god Ahriman for the past
1,000 years—is dealt a potentially fatal blow. Practitioners of
Zoroastrianism and fans of The Highlander alike will recognize this as
Fortunately, there is still a chance to save the tree. And against
initial, half-hearted protests, our hero
sets out with her to undo the damage wrought by Ahriman’s top
lieutenants on a series of “fertile grounds” scattered throughout the
land, which all work together to protect the health of the tree.
Even for players who are usually skeptical of games that feature
sidekicks, it’s tough not to like what the
developers have done here with Elika. She’s
no maiden in distress with bad AI that will get you knocked off cliffs.
Just the opposite, in fact. Elika sports several magical powers, most of
which involve saving your ass when you get into trouble.
For example, should you slip while running sideways on a sheer rock face
that stretches downward into an abyss of unknown depth, Elika will seize
you by the wrist in a three second cut scene, and drop you off at the
last bit of flat earth you were standing on.
Similarly, if you’re getting knocked down and kicked around in a fight,
and your demonic opponent is about to smash your head, she’ll utter a
plea to Ormazd, god of light, and your opponent will be flung away, far
enough for you to recover for a moment. (Unfortunately, these
interventions also heal your opponents slightly. So, fights,
particularly boss battles, are lengthened every time you require her
Elika can also help with a couple of flashy looking but easy to perform
combo moves, allowing you to leap huge distances or blast your opponents
with a special magic attack. But mostly, she’s there to make sure that
players never have to look at a “Game Over” screen, and to keep them
company as they explore the canyons, citadels, palaces and gardens of
this gorgeous watercolor world.
Her dialogue is well written, gradually
revealing pieces of a larger tale about her family, her father, the
kingdom and its ancient religion, as well as Ahriman and his
lieutenants—first through innuendo and then through unobtrusive but
detailed stories as the two characters begin to trust one another.
With the help of Elika, the designers at Ubisoft Montreal have created
an excellent platformer where close attention to the artwork, the
controls and the pacing all work together to immerse players in a simple
but well written story. When you get on a roll, it feels almost like
you’re playing a well-produced, good-looking action cartoon.
The tradeoff (and of course there had to be a tradeoff) is that some
players might find the game forgiving to a fault. Even the game’s most
complex sequences of wall running, roof running, rock scaling, canyon
combo vaulting and aerial acrobatics are easily mastered, since Elika
won’t let you die, and reliably drops you off at the beginning of the
well-segmented hard parts. Also, the infrequent fights quickly become a
study in the same sort of button mashing, since other than appearance
and toughness, enemies aren’t very differentiated, and combos are
created on the fly.
Here, the price of great controls, perfectly scaled learning curve,
excellent pacing, beautiful artwork and overall lack of frustration is
length. It’s a short game, clocking in at 14 hours tops for most gamers
the first time through, with at least a quarter of that time padded with
“light seed” collection tasks that require you to re-explore levels
after defeating bosses.
But, I’ve got to say, personally I prefer quality over quantity, and
here, the quality is excellent. This latest in the venerable Prince of
Persia franchise is well written, good looking and fun.
One final note. If you’re a parent buying this for a kid, I’d disregard
the Teen rating. This movie is meant for kids older than 13 the way
Raiders of the Lost Ark was intended for kids over 13. The fights are
more kung-fu than bloody, and there’s zero foul language. I honestly
don’t understand what the ESRB was thinking.