Wednesday, June 1, 2011

VGR PoP: Two Thrones

Taking directly after the previous PoP Warrior Within, The Two Thrones is the direct sequel and the final chapter in the "Sands of Time" series.

Sure, Ubi decided to ignore a perfectly closed and well rounded series to offer fans more spinoffs/episodes (I blame the fanboys). But was TT a good closing act to a well loved trilogy of modern platforming games?
What's good about it, what's bad about it?
Brand new review, below!

VGR: Prince of Persia: Warrior Within
From Ubisoft/Ubisoft Montreal
Played on Gamecube
Also available on PS2, Xbox, PC, PS3, PSP and remake on the Wii as "Rival Swords"
Type 3D Platformer/beat 'em all
Year 2005

It only took Ubisoft a year to produce another Prince of Persia.
But could you really blame for their haste? It seems everytime Ubi has perfected an engine, as a gameplay established like a well oiled machine and a series popular enough, they always try to keep the ball rolling as long as they can, while such series is popular enough to score high sales with new yearly. (see the current Assassin's Creed franchise)

The original Sands of Time had a fantastic reception but didn't sell enough.
Warrior Within met a great success commercially but is still considered a sub-par Prince of Persia due to its combat oriented gameplay and lack of any PoP classic features (besides SoT own time mechanic).
How could they please both camps and still make a good enough new entry in this world renowned franchise?

And the Prince is back for all-new platforming oriented adventures all over Persia!

The closing chapter to the SoT series takes place directly after the "real" ending of Warrior Within.
If you missed it, fear not, the game will both recap the true ending and even acknowledge the other one.
After killing the Dahaka, the guardian monster protecting the "timeline", the Prince escaped the Island of Time with the Empress of Time herself, Kaileena
The Prince returns home, to the Kingdom of Babylon, only to find that a war seems to have erupted.
As soon as they arrive, Kaileena is made prisoner by the old Vizier who seems to have been brought back to life after the events of the first game. The Prince prevented the Sands of Time from being created in Warrior Within, so the original story never took place as well.

SAND! Lots of it! And here we go again!
Long story short, the Vizier kills Kaileena with the Dagger of Time which in turn releases the Sands of Time afterall... Then the crazy old man impales himself with the very same Dagger which makes him immortal now!!
And the Prince is infected but not turned into a Sand Creature!
And one of the creatures' weapon gets embedded in the Prince's own arm, which glows infected!
More twists than you can count all in a beautiful CGi sequence!!

The Prince steals the Dagger and escapes finally....
 Supâ platforming action!
This time around, Kaileena narrates the events of the game (a return of the narrative as presented in Sands of Time, only not the Prince this time around).
The main objective in Two Thrones is to travel all over the city back to the Palace and kill the Vizier once again. Simple story once put down like this, but a similar plot didn't stop Jordan Mechner's original from being a classic. Speaking of which, he didn't come back on the production as he did for Sands of Time. (oooh...)
During the game you'll meet again Farah, the Indian Princess from the original Sands of Time whom The Prince never met since taking Kaileena alive from the Island of Time prevented the adventures in Azad from every happeneing. (and a funny dialogue will take place as the Prince remembers her anyhow)

The gameplay is much of the same anyone who's ever played any of the 3D Prince of Persia games has already seen before.
Which consists of lots of exploration, 3D platforming around and combat.
The game does a great job of combining the best element of both past episodes.
The platforming is part of (I'd say) 50% of the game. Lots of acrobatic maneuvers. Most moves are returning from past games (wall-running, climbing, jumping..) which will come quite in handy to avoid all the vicious traps and dangerous obstacles.
There's some brand new controls like sliding down close walls (Splinter Cell style!) etc..
The combat compose (like) 40% of the rest of the game. You can still grab & steal weapons left from your enemies. Using the Dagger of Time to attack/block or play around with the usual "time" powers. (rewinding, energy bursts...)

The rest of the game will be broken by some rare unusual gameplay sequences. Never dull, be it the surprising ending or the Chariot scenes..

Introducing, the Troll of Time! Seriously though, look at his glorious hair!!

A new side of the Prince is made palpable. The Dark Prince starts to emerge as soon as the Sands are released. He will first made his presence aware by speaking through an internal voice..but soon this evil form (first glimpsed near the end of Warrior Within) will manifest itself by taking the control of the Prince's body.
The Dark Prince help shake things up every now and then (in scripted sequences).
He has some different moves and doesn't play 100% like the classic Prince.
For one his health bar his always decreasing. Which forces the player to spend less time enjoying the background and make haste. It gives a much more stressful tension, not unlike the original Prince of Persia (where you had only 1 real hour to escape and defeat the Vizir).

He also uses a different weapon, the Daggertail (a chain-like sword) which is quite stronger than the Prince's own regular weapons. (apart from the final sword at the end of the game)
Which makes big dense fights pass by easier killing enemies fast (a positive point) even though there's a lot of fighting with him in this form (minus point here..).

Finally to restore health you have to collect constantly sand, by breaking stuff or killing enemies like before.
Besides that?
The game still has a lot of fighting, enemies will protect spawn points you have to defeat large group of foes... Leftovers from Warrior Within, to please WW fans.
But thankfully, Ubisoft thought about bringing in a brand new feature to the series, which made the game so much more pleasant.
Since the series became more like a brawler in the hands of Ubi (the original was more duel-oriented) you can now perform all new stealth kills to avoid combat!
A very fun and useful feature. It's sort of like mini "Quick Time Events" where you have to press a certain button at the right moment, either killing the foe or continuing the sequence. Boss QTEs will result in death but enemies QTEs will break the attack and you'll have to go by the usual way, through hordes of creatures to fight. It's a great stealth system which is a nice addition to the series.

The game is all about this duality, be it the Prince and his alter ego.
The fans of SoD or the ones from WW.
The funnier full of life charming Prince and his gritty emo-ysh Troll-haired Dark opposite.
Platforming and combat.
Water (which reverts the Dark Prince to his normal self) and Sand.

The story is pretty good actually. It ties the plot nicely back to the original Sands of Time in a very well thought way, a perfect story coming full circle, closing the series on a good final chapter.

Side note: the game made me think a lot of the original 3rd Prince of Persia, Arabian Nights.
Be it stylistically or content wise. And I'm pretty sure it wasn't made on purpose by Ubisoft, it just happened.

Like PoP3D, this "SoD3" see the Prince not trying to escape a foreign place or dungeon (PoP1, 2, Sands of Time, Warrior Within) but his very own palace because of a trap that closes upon him.
In both PoP3D and TT, the Prince gets thrown of his own palace at the start, as to make his way from the bottom of the palace, travelling across the local town, the streets, the docks..ends up in catacombs/caves. And the final lap is run across thousand of stores high over the city.

I was glad to also see the much needed Persian/Arabic theme brought back to the series.
Visually the game looks splendid, though more so in exteriors and the palace than the boring city and dull caves.

The music is done by returning composers Stuart Chatwood and Inon Zur. Splendid. Magical. Much more epic than SoD and trued in spirit than WW. Quite fitting for an Arabian Nights-esque tale.
(and to bring that above point back, pretty close to PoP3D fantastic score in a way, particularly some early themes like the streets)

It brings back elements from both Sands of Time and Warrior Within.
It closes the tale of this Prince.

"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 really am, and why I say this. Come, and I will tell you a tale like none you have ever heard."

Overall, it's a pretty darn' good game!
There! I said it! And I didn't even think I was going to like it a first...

It's sort like a "best of" both past games.
It takes the best of Sand of Time along the best of Warrior Within and works as well by itself as the closing chapter of this trilogy.
Two Thrones keeps the fun Arabic theme and the classic platforming the series' known for
The combat and a bit of the angst of the former game.

But it is not without its own problems.
By bringing half of its foundations from Warrior Within it also brought back its combat focused, hordes of enemies, tricky combos (with enemies that either respawn or never seem to die) and half-assed boss fights...

It gets also a bit boring, repetitive and almost painfully difficult by the mid-point. But if you survive past that it gets better near the end. And the story and pace picks up for an incredible final act.

The game was still made on the Jade Engine (by the by, I want to recommend you play it on the Gamecube, the system it was designed for, for the best experience). The graphics look great and the acrobatic/parkour-ysh gameplay was pretty well tweaked by this episode to be smooth and easy to master.

Two Thrones was ported on various system, most ports pretty identical. Apart from the PSP & Wii remake Rival Swords which tweaked elements of the game, fixed and changed the gameplay a bit and added some zones.

Great game, not perfect but a must play for PoP fans and platformers aficionados alike!

I give it:
 2 / 3 Quacks!

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