atypicalreview

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Platformers used to be my favouritest sort of game in the whole world. Commander Keen, Mario, Sonic. But then the world changed. Two dimensions just weren’t good enough any more and everyone was trying to recreate the same fun in the big three. This had a few main effects; boredom, one dimensionality masquerading as three, and swearing at horrid camera angles that don’t make clear exactly where the damn platform is. Things looked bleak.1

Then, Prince of Persia, one of the greatest of the primitive platformers, is reborn as a three-dimensional platformer.2 This was a while back, but it takes me a while to get round to playing most games. Over the last month I’ve played both it and its resulting sequels, Warrior Within and The Two Thrones — I’ll be reviewing all of these, and so there’ll be a bit of comparison back and forth. But The Sands of Time is a good place to start, because not only is it the first, but it’s the best. Well, overall. Allow me to justify myself over the rest of the review.

Most people think time is like a river, that it flows swift and sure in one direction. They are wrong. — The Prince

I’m a sucker for a neat, elegant, heroic plot, and a touch of romance. This game has that. You’re a Prince (of Persia, even) who’s father has been tricked into stealing a great big whopping hourglass (and a bunch of other stuff) from some other Sultan by a sneaky looking Vizier. As with every Vizier in every story ever told, this gentlemen is treacherous and evil3 and has a cunning plan to get his own hands on the sands within the hourglass. However, the hourglass gets broken, and the resulting special effect turns everyone in the Maharaja’s palace into scary monsters. The only people left untouched seem to be yourself and the previous owner of the Sands’ daughter, Farah.

The plot of the game mostly consists in fighting your way through the now treacherous, trap-filled, monster-ridden palace. This might sound a bit boring on paper but in games (and unlike film) having one solid quest that you’re continuously plodding towards is actually pretty satisfying. Especially if the company’s good. And it is — you quickly enter a slightly suspicious alliance with the lovely Farah and journey together. As one might expect, a budding romance results, with delightful dialogue and some cute plot twists. Of course the deal-breaker with such things is the voice acting — fortunately both Yuri Lowenthal and Joanna Wasick are fantastic, delivering the funny lines brilliantly and the cheesier ones believably.

Look at this. I’m on my fifth paragraph and I haven’t even mentioned the gameplay. You can see what an unreliable game reviewer I am. But in fact, the gameplay is perhaps the most important aspect of the game, in that it’s absolutely seamless. Elegant and predictable, every action is pretty much what you’d expect. The only fiddle is that the jump button doubles as the roll button which causes some problems when you’re trying to jump over an enemy’s head and instead roll into their feet.4 But other than that, things are fantastic. Jumping, swinging, climbing, running along walls — after playing Sands of Time for a while you feel like an athlete, but your fingers don’t have to jump through hoops to do it. You will however need all these skills to operate some of the amusing puzzles you find on the way. The mirrors in the library are particularly cute.

You do have to fight the evil sand monsters, though. Invulnerable to normal weapons, luckily these bastards can be stabbed by the Dagger of Time™ when they’re down — and then they stay down. This makes the combat quite interesting, balancing the need to not get hit with the need to get over to that guy on the floor and stab him good. Of course, when you do, often another one will respawn. Most of the combat in The Sands of Time is like running a gauntlet; you find a room with monsters, and then you kill, and kill, and kill, until they finally stop for no apparent reason.5 This wears you down a bit but it only gets truly irritating when you’re also stuck fighting your evil-magic-perverted father at the same time, quite early in the game.6 You also have to make sure that bow-wielding Farah is safe from harm, but she’s quite capable for a secondary character.

What with death-defying leaps across yawning chasms, insane acrobatics, and violent meanies with big swords and worse tempers, things can get nasty. Luckily, your Dagger of Time™ comes with a very handy power — the ability to rewind time. This cute little idea makes a good game great and allows the game a lot more freedom to make crazier levels, safe in the knowledge that you’ve probably got enough rewindable time up your sleeve to try a few different leaps of faith. Later on you find yourself some other powers — slowing time, blasting a wave of magical sand goodness out around yourself, etc. You also get the ability to rewind time more and more. Other Prince self-help includes the mystical journeys you occasionally make down hidden passages that result in your total health being upgraded.

Have I missed anything? If you don’t want to play this game right now then it’s possible I have. Elegant story. Cute romance.7 Spectacular views. Interesting puzzles. Tremendous acrobatics. Highly enjoyable, if a little simple, fight system. Underwhelming final boss. Oh alright, that last bit isn’t so good. But the rest is awesome. The Sands of Time is a near-perfect, lovingly crafted game.

  1. I don’t actually know much about gaming history. This is just my impression having been near a few N64s, Dreamcasts and Playstations over the years.
  2. Apparently there was a previous three dimensional experiment but no one wants to talk about it.
  3. Are Viziers so important that everyone feels compelled to keep hiring them?
  4. This button duality is common to all three games in the series and thus I cannot guarantee that this particular upset actually occurred to me in this specific chapter. These are the dangers of reviewing games after playing three similar ones in a row.
  5. Well, I think someone mentioned something about that area being exhausted of its magic or somesuch.
  6. Oddly, the most difficult part of the game as well.
  7. As Farah actually follows you around, you can stare at her if you should choose. But she’ll notice you and warn you to stop. At least, at first.
3 comments posted — most recent by Tom on 16/02/06