—Time is of the essence—
I AM something of a Prince of Persia devotee, and you can mostly blame Jordan Mechner for that one. The other factors contributing to my love of this franchise are a general love of adventure films, games, and a fascination with the stories from One Thousand and One Nights (Aladdin, Sinbad, Scheherezade and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves). Behind the hurtling daggers and shifting sands, Prince of Persia is a classic tale of fate, honour, and redemption, that is often complemented by romantic elements. This is especially true in the original game, where the plot is largely shaped around the Prince infiltrating Jaffar’s dungeons in order to save the Princess from an untimely death. In future adaptations of the story, the focus shifts somewhat to include bending time itself, but still incorporates the original themes of challenging one’s destiny, and embarking on powerful, heroic journeys to defeat magical enemies. Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is the latest instalment in the series, but before we get stuck into this review, let me give you some insights into my experience with the Prince of Persia franchise:
- Prince of Persia, original — The game created by Jordan Mechner that started it all, bringing to life one of gaming’s most anticipated action-adventure series. I have fantastic memories with this game and still enjoy the occasional playthrough, which makes it one of my most favourite games ever. More recently, I was shocked to discover that if you use a death cheat on level 12 A when you meet your shadow, you also die. That makes sense when you think about it, but actually seeing it play out on screen is something else entirely.
- Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame — I never actually knew about this sequel. Accordingly, I felt very deprived when I found out about its existence, and quickly rectified the situation. My questions whilst playing it were: whatever happened to the white body suit, and why is the prince wearing a turban, I hope he isn’t secretly Jaffar.
- Prince of Persia – Warrior Within — For the Nokia mobile phone. Rewind your life clocks back to the early 2000’s when colour-screen phones were the newest craze. I still remember how tiny the screen was compared to smartphones! This game was an excellent miniature adventure that gave players sword fighting, great action-platforming, and the ability to freeze time.
- Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (film) — Released in 2010, The Sands of Time is a movie that I was very eagerly anticipating. However, it came across as more of a generic action movie, which did have its epic moments (the time reversing dagger was awesome) but its plot didn’t have that special kind of intrigue. What do I mean by that? Producer Jerry Bruckheimer, who is probably best known for The Pirates of the Caribbean series, and Jordan Mechner (who wrote the film’s script) make a good team in terms of creating a believable setting, and overall the film’s story is consistent and even has a nice twist at the end. What it didn’t do for me was to create the magic that Pirates did when I first watched it, the one that let me get totally lost in the world of Captain Jack, Will Turner, and Elizabeth Swan to the extent that I wanted to join their fleet. Having said that, The Sands of Time is a nice tribute to the Prince of Persia video game series and Jake Gyllenhaal, Gemma Arterton, Ben Kingsley and Alfred Molina all give convincing performances. It is also interesting to note (as far as I am aware) that this movie is the first time that the Prince was given a name: Dastan.
- Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (PC game) — Oh dear Lord, I wanted to like this. It started out great. I love parkour, cool stunts and acrobatics, and was truly hyped at the beginning-it was a 3D Prince of Persia game, and the atmosphere was perfect. But pretty soon the battles became monotonous, and no amount of wallrunning and interesting puzzles could break down my frustration. I really feel this must have been better on console, hence all the positive reviews. I may have to give this one another shot someday.
- Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands — And finally, we come to the free to play online adaptation, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands. For a casual title designed as a prelude to the actual game, this is pretty amazing, and what’s even better is that it’s freely available to play online right in your browser.
To my extreme delight, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is an indie game that was put together by Explosive Barrel in order to help promote Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia game of the time. According to the fine print, it was made in 2010, and this is the kind of flash game that stays with you. Although I found it randomly, I found myself yearning to play it at random times, which to me is evidence of a good fun game. There are 6 stages in total, and you’re encouraged to run through them as quickly as possible. You play as the Prince, who must dash past enemies, traps, massive canyons and natural dangers, and collect four unique elemental power-ups in order to stop The Sand Army.
Level 1 introduces you to the basic moves. It’s an endless runner type game with some elements of control, meaning that the player chooses when the Prince jumps, attacks, or rewinds time (up is jump, space is attack, and down rewinds time). These instructions are given almost immediately upon the game’s start, and repeat themselves in order for you to memorise them effectively. Things get slightly complicated when you have to dodge fire, avoid spikes, and slash enemies along the way, but it’s doable, and more importantly it’s a lot of fun. At the end of the level you get to meet Razia, Queen of the Marid, Guardian of the Waters, and Ally to King Solomon (I’m getting slight Daenerys Targaryen vibes here, but let us proceed with the review as per usual). She tells you that The Sand Army is invading The Palace and your help is required. By ‘help’, she means activating the four elemental fountains within the palace, and using those skills to defeat The Sand Army. These skills are gradually handed over to you over the course of your playthrough, sort of as a reward for level progression, but the Prince can always rewind time should he make a mistake. Being able to rewind time in this game is your best friend. It lets you reverse a whole of deaths and mistimed jumps, and there’s probably a good reason why we can’t rewind time in real life, but that won’t stop me from being curious.
Level 2 sees the introduction of the air element as well as the introduction of new move (dash/x). This move gives the Prince a sudden burst of energy that allows him to sprint for a limited period of time, which is useful for both running right through enemies and traversing long gaps. It feels awesome, and looks awesome. You can’t use this on level 1, it’s restricted to level 2 (where you initially learned it) and onward. You might have noticed by this point that there are two bars on the top left hand corner of the screen – one red, one blue. Red represents the Prince’s health, while blue is whatever element is relevant for the level you’re playing eg dash.
Prior to the first boss battle, the walls close in on either side of the Prince, creating a rather panicked, claustrophobic kind of ambience, but the boss himself isn’t nearly as fearsome as he appears. It’s often a similar trick for each boss: figure out his attacking pattern, and make sure you keep your health relatively high. Ratash (the level 4 boss) is probably the most difficult to defeat overall, since ordinary attacks (ones that involve sword slashing) don’t work on him.
—GRAHPICS & SOUND—
All I can say about this game’s music (and sound effects) is wow. The background music is like Persian folk music with a sensational twist of National Treasure, where the violins are set ablaze alongside the orchestra, and the pained, emotional cries of the Persian women carry the weight of thousands of years of battles, all the tears and blood spilled across the hot white dunes, and the impossible, inevitable burden of destiny. Choosing the right music for a film or game is of paramount importance, and this piece shows us exactly why: it transports us back to the past and immerses us into the world of Prince of Persia.
While the game’s aesthetics are not as strong in my opinion, The Forgotten Sands is the type of game that has a greater emphasis on gameplay and for that reason, this isn’t a major issue. The character design for the Prince, enemies and bosses are quite detailed even from a distance, and although the background art is relatively simple in comparison (waterfalls, flames, and buildings), I feel like if it was any more polished than it is, there would have been too much going on in the picture. So overall I think the art style does mesh together with the music and gameplay in a nice way.
There is a very gradual difficulty increase in The Forgotten Sands which delivers players with just the right amount of challenge. I never felt bored during this game thanks to both its fast paced gameplay that demands quick thinking skills, and its basic hack and slash mechanic that is really satisfying. Additional layers of challenge, such as walls of fire, instant death blades, and the inevitable boss battles at the closure of levels 2-5 really help energise the gameplay and keep players interested. The final level, level 6, is probably the hardest one because it incorporates all four different elements. And it becomes hard to juggle between them (air, fire, water and earth), especially in the heat of the moment against the background boss, but it’s still lots of fun, so I feel that the developers did a nice job with balancing enjoyment and challenge.
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, unlike its name, is a game that you won’t be forgetting in a while. A light introduction to a series that is characterised by the clashing of sword against sword, it works well to create an adrenaline packed experience for anyone who likes action games and ancient Persia.
WHY YOU SHOULD PLAY IT:
- You like Prince of Persia games
- You are a fan of the action-adventure genre
- You enjoy endless runner games
- You are fascinated with the idea of reversing time
- You like wallrunning
- Dead easy controls
- Cool abilities
- Great onboarding
- Good casual game
- Latter levels quite difficult
- Switching between abilities quickly can be challenging