Wednesday, March 16, 2011

VGR PoP: The Sands of Time

I've actually already reviewed the original Prince of Persia trilogy.
Prince of Persia, The Shadow and the Flame and Arabian Nights.
I guess it was finally time I decide to move on the Sands of Time trilogy.

For most (younger) players, it was their first introduction to the PoP series, for me I was decided to not like this usurper. Brought to mainstream audience by Ubisoft of all the teams? (it was long before they became that huge blockbuster developer known for excellent titles such as Assassin's Creed and the likes nowadays)

So.... verdict?

VGR: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
From Ubisoft/Ubisoft Montreal
Played on Gamecube
Also available on PS2, Xbox, PC, PS3 and as a stand alone unrelated 2D spinoff on Game Boy Advance

Type 3D Platformer
Year 2003

After a hiatus of approximately 5 years since Prince of Persia 3D, the series seemed to be lost, dead alongside Broderbund, the studio behind the port of the original game and its two sequels, and the fact that the original creator had long gone away from the gaming scene.

Then, in the early 2000s, the French developer Ubisoft took up the series where it was left, rebuild a new universe and concept around it and brought back the name Prince of Persia to recognition.

The team charged with this impossible task was Ubisoft Montreal, the makers of the modern well liked Splinter Cell series. They wanted to bring back the platforming genre to a more mainstream audience, while trying to innovate at the same time. For so, Jordan Mechner himself was brought back on this subject
Almost 15 years had passed since the original...
Did they succeeded?

Enter a new prince...

 The story opens in Persia. Some unknown time after the original trilogy of PoP I would say.
(note: PoP3D ended with that original prince leaving the kingdom with his princess on a magic carpet ride~)

We're introduced to a different sort of Persia. Now following the tales of another unnamed  Prince.
The King Sharaman is passing through India in his way to Azad. As they're leaving yet another conquered city with the help from a local Vizier, the Prince wants to prove himself and decides to go straight fro the treasures. By a great coincidence, he is able to instead find the mythical Sands of Time!

Long story short, he takes off the Dagger of Time out of an Hourglass.
With it, the Prince is able to turn back in time using the so-called "sands of time".
When he shows it to the King, the Vizier wants to keep it but the Prince refuses to give the dagger.
The Persians also take a prisoner, the local Maharajah's daughter, Princess Farah.
The Vizier is able to trick the Prince in using the dagger, it releases the Sands of Time all across the kingdom.  The people are turned into sand monsters and only the Vizier, the Prince and Farah escape this curse.

The goal of this game is to help free the kingdom.
The Vizier wants to take the dagger and all its power it represents and is awaiting in a tower.
In his journey, the Prince is helped by Farah who as protector of the Sands of Time also wants to preserve and keep the dagger.

The warrior within!

Yes, that is a lot more thought put into the story than any previous episode of the series or even most games anyway.
But a game's not all about its plot. How does it play?

The game is true to its roots, that is, a challenging more cinematic platformer. And unlike those arcade platformers such as Mario & co, it's all about timing and taking your time to go through the level.
Despite its new direction at Ubisoft and on modern systems, the game still feels like Jordan Mechner's classic. Probably thanks to the fact Ubi took him in early on the project to assist the direction.

What is new is that the game takes a more acrobatic approach.
It still is about precision and calculated jumps, like the classic Prince of Persia or games like Flashback, but in this 3D era of platformers such as the Tomb Raider series, Sands of Time takes a more athletic and flexible gameplay.
The Prince can wall-run, jump to various type of objects and grab onto them or swing by, etc..
An early attempt of bringing parkour into gaming. (which Ubi perfect in the Assassin's Creed games and many other copied these days)

A story with a twist!

Unlike the original PoP or PoP3D, Sands of Time embraces its duel scenes and is a lot more combat-oriented too.
The Prince carries a sword and knows how to use it! (which gets upgraded along the story)

But wait, how does the dagger of time gets in all of this?!
Well it's the second "big" part of the gameplay here, and a big innovation to the series and gaming in general.
The Prince is able to rewing time with it! But we'll get right to this in a little moment below.

The story is also told by the Prince from a certain point set after this game.
And the game plays with this fact, if you die you either will have to rewind time a bit to un-die the Prince or the Game Over screen will have the Prince telling you "Wait a minute...that's not how it exactly happened..."
The Prince-narrator will also have plenty of fun "breaking the 4th wall" moments when you'll pause the game and such...

Sometimes...bugs happen...

Making its debut in the franchise is also co-operation.
But not with another player, but with the CPU which will control Farah.

As Farah helps the Prince in the game's plot, she will also be there in the game as you play.
In combat she'll use her arrows to keep enemies away. Which isn't that useful all in all.

And to resolve some puzzles, you'll have to use her to activate doors, drop platforms, release objects, open the path, etc..
Oh, I mean, you'll have to hope SHE decides to help you.
Yeah, because there's literally a TON of bugs and glitches in this game. Not just on the game itself, level design and gameplay, but on the AI. Farah's AI to be exact. Which is annoying. Specially when you'll be trapped in some places because nothing will change even if you'll load the segment a hundred times.

Why am I making a big story of all this? Because it happened to me at some crucial point. (there's like 4-5 crucial moments where her AI will be decisive on whether you'll be trapped in a bug/loophole or will be able to continue the game...)
And I had to restart the whole game.
Which since I learned, made me keep 2 savegames always, in case a new save becomes corrupted and I had to go to an earlier part of the game....
So annoying :/

Run little Prince, run!!

Anyway, this didn't affect my relation to this game. I kept on playing it.
I've seen worse, much worse. and wasn't expecting much from Ubisoft (at least, back then...).

Now, on the dagger of time itself.
It makes this kind of cinematic platformer so much easier. Because you'll never fear to have huge segments to replay and will always throw yourself in the middle of danger, which is a big part of how this game works.

A misstep happens so easily...

Jumping from cliffs, running across uncertain walls, playing from ropes in any direction without fear of the consequences going in such ways will have on the Prince...

Game OVER! Again?! Hopefully, the game doesn't keep track of those...

...since all you'll have to do will be rewind time.

Speaking of which, that is not all the dagger of time can do.
You'll have to keep track of how much sands it has in stock. For this, killing sand creatures (doesn't it kill Persia's population too??) will replenish the sands of time. You see, they are "sand" creatures now.

There's various sort of powers you'll be able to trigger, as you play.
Such as slowing down the time, rewinding/fast forwarding, freezing time (and then striking frozen enemies down easily).

 Back to the Future! Huh, I mean, 3 seconds ago!

Collecting sand clouds from defeated enemies recharge the dagger. But you'll also be able to collect extra sand and augment the gaughe.

Be careful to always keep an eye on your sand gauge!

This gameplay mechanic works great in concept and helps make the whole concept go easily on gamers, which helped bring the series to a more mainstream audience.

It still feels Prince of Persia-ysh, as difficult as the classics, and taking as much time to finish. (the original takes one hour, but on repeated playthroughs!)
But it is a lot more accessible too.

Now you DIE!!

All in all, it's both part classic/faithful and part new ideas/original innovations.

The game plays around with the time as main thema, and the story will have plenty o' surprises and twists.
It's a great new episode, and great new starting point despite its many, many flaws.

End of the line.

Overall, it's a great experience.
Not my personal favorite of the series, but even though, I gotta admit its qualities.

I was decided to hate it, but in the end even I fell for it.

Farah as a character is a bit void of any real personality, and a real pain in the butt gameplay-wise.
The game has various glitches and bugs.
But its own of those game you can't really hate for its flaws and only remember its qualities in the long run.

A perfect new start for a new trilogy of PoP.

The game was made available on a lot of 128-bits systems.
The original version is the Gamecube one. It also features the original PoP in bonus and some featurettes.
And the first level of the classic game remade with the Sands of Time engine as a bonus.
The Xbox port offers the classic PoP1 and PoP2 as bonuses and most of the featurettes. (only PoP1 on Pal releases)
The PS2 features also only has PoP1 has bonus but the 3D remake of the first level of the classic game is back from the Gamecube.
Finally the PC only offers the remade level. All those ports looks and sound pretty similar without going too much into the details. It has also been released recently in HD for PS3.

The Gameboy port is a completely different unrelated sidescrolling game. (apart from the sands mechanic)

The music in this game is a bit generic and not that memorable but works as background "noise". Not my fav.
(I prefered PoP3D or some later game's score over this one)

It's more accessible and less difficult than PoP3D and less complicated than the original, but just as fun and entertaining.

I give it:

 2.5 / 3 Quacks!

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