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Replay: In Defense of Prince of Persia
by Joey Núñez

As gamers, we can all get a bit passionate about our favorite games. It is true that at times we can get a little bit too passionate, and often come off sounding like antisocial uber-nerds, but I’ve come to think there is no way around it. Obsessing about our favorite games is part of the gamer package; frankly, you learn to live with it. I, for one, have accepted the uber-nerd inside and am ready to share a little piece of him with you today, which is why I present my defense of 2008’s Prince of Persia. That’s right Sands of Time loyalists, I’m going there, so suit up and have your counterarguments at the ready.

I’m well aware that defending the merits of a game is not always a friendly affair. Truly, there are few things more rabid than a gamer on the defensive. Normally you can expect a tirade of one-liners and unintelligible outbursts of useless information, normally devolving into an exchange of lovely and unimaginative insults, including fan favorites such as 'noob', 'fanboy', and other more colorful words not suitable for a PG audience. You’ve been there, as have I. It can be sad. I will steer clear of these traditions, and try to be as objective as possible. Hopefully I can convince those of you who wrote this game off to give it a second chance.

Or you can side with the noobish Sands of Time fanboys. Your loss.

Prince of Persia was a re-imagining of the already re-imagined classic series. Ubisoft ended the Sands of Time trilogy back on the PS2, wrapping up the story quite nicely. When the next generation of consoles hit, fans were curious as to how Ubisoft would pull off a revisitation to the franchise with a fresh approach that wouldn't make a mess out of an already convoluted plot. It was quite the gaming conundrum, so the guys and gals at Ubisoft took some time off, made a little game called Assassins Creed, and came back to the drawing board. Once the developers got their creative juices flowing they decided that the best way to inject a breath of fresh air into the series was to completely re-imagine it (again). Long story short, they would keep the core gameplay style of the original Prince of Persia and basically throw out everything else, including the old Prince. Oy.

Hesitant as I was to accept this new Prince, who was kind of a jackass and sounded an awful lot like Nathan Drake, of Uncharted fame, I ended up loving the game. And even though a lot of hardcore Prince of Persia fans will dismiss this game based on its “extremely low difficulty” and “lack of challenge”, I’m here to tell you differently. Prince of Persia rocks, and here’s why.

Visual style and art direction

Slide Prince of Persia into your console of choice and the first thing you’ll notice is the game’s distinctive cell shaded art style. Look up any trailer for the game and you’ll see what I’m talking about (in the above trailer featuring the song “Breathe Me” by Sia, goose bump action is guaranteed). Although the game starts out with a very grayish pallet of colors, as you progress the world around you comes to life as colours jump out at you. These colours are complimented expertly by great animations for both the Prince and Elika (more on her in a bit) and lots of smooth texture work on the environments. The use of light and shadow, particularly when Elika uses her powers, is extremely well done, and little details such as the butterflies and petals which float over flowers and grass should not be missed.

All these graphical bells and whistles wouldn’t amount to much if the environments and characters were bland or unimaginative, but fear not, both characters have very distinctive designs imbued with tons of personality, and the world they inhabit is equally aesthetically pleasing. The world is split into four main areas, each of which has its own visual and architectural style ranging from a somewhat medieval European setting to an Arabian Nights-style aesthetic. Once you get knee deep in these environments they leave an impression on you which is not soon forgotten.

Level Design

I’ve had a game controller in my hand for roughly 20 years now, and in that time there have been very few moments during which my grip around that controller loosened as I stood in awe of a game and simply say 'Wow'. Running vertically up the surface of an air balloon and then magically bouncing to another, repeatedly, whilst every structure around me collapsed, was one of these moments. If you’ve played this game you know I’m talking about the aftermath of the Prince’s and Elika’s final battle with The Alchemist in the Vale. If you haven’t played this game, you really are missing out on some outstandingly creative and ingenious level design.

As is tradition in Prince of Persia games, the titular character is quite a nimble fellow, with wall-running being his preferred method of travel (hey, I’d run on walls to get from everywhere too, if I could). With this game Ubisoft kept the Prince’s trademark movement and maneuvers, but this time around they’ve given their protagonist a much more interesting playground to move around in. It’s quite obvious that Ubisoft primarily focused on the platforming aspect of this game, with combat taking a comfortable seat on the back burner; wall jumping, wall running, roof crawls and pole swinging are combined with some nifty magical assisted flights of fancy, all in such a perfect way that at times you just have to sit back and ask yourself 'did I just do all that?'. I can only imagine how painstaking designing a functional and attractive level in which all this craziness can happen fluidly was. The end result is pretty awesome, and watching the Prince move around this vibrant world is really a thing of beauty.

The Story

A beautiful and tragic Princess, with a destiny to fulfill. An unlikely hero who may be more than meets the eye. An epic battle between a God of Light and a God of Darkness. The Prince of Persia story is mostly a by-the-book affair, but I’m a sucker for these classic tales of good versus evil; there’s a reason we see so many of them in film and literature - they work! And even though the story is clichéd and formulaic, I still believe Ubisoft deserves praise for successfully cleverly creating a deep mythos in a single game. See, throughout the entire game you can make the Prince and Elika begin conversations with the press of a button, this normally results in charming and funny banter which is immensely helpful in fleshing out their characters, allowing you to care for and relate to them, but more importantly these conversations also normally include interesting tidbits of information on the enemies you will face and the world they inhabit. Trust me - there’s a lot of information. If you find yourself wondering what motivated the grotesque thing you are fighting to become the monster he is today, or why the larger than life environments around you seem so abandoned, I can assure you the details are there, if you’re willing to listen.

I enjoyed the story of Prince of Persian more than that of most games. Surely, it was somewhat simple compared to the complex plot which Ubisoft crafted in the Sands of Time trilogy, but who’s to say that’s a bad thing? The game’s characters made the tale of this Prince of Persia shine, and speaking of characters, I think it’s time we tackle Elika.


I loved Elika. I loved her character design and her characterization. I loved the way she interacted with the Prince. I loved her kickass magical powers. I loved... all of her.

Elika is a rare breed in the current videogame landscape; a useful AI partner. If you’ve played games with AI partners before you know they can oftentimes be lots more trouble than they are worth (Yes! I’m talking about you Sheva!). This is not the case with Elika, who is nothing but helpful and never gets in the way of your progress. Think of Elika as the magic abilities you would normally acquire in other action games of this nature, only instead of the Prince learning new spells (à la God of War) Elika will become stronger and gain access to new abilities which you can access with the press of a button. For example, despite all his talents, the Prince can’t perform a classic double jump, but if necessary Elika will assist him in the middle of a jump by giving him a boost that makes sure he goes the distance. The same rule applies for battles; if you need a little extra support of the magical kind you can integrate Elika into your combo with a single button press. The system works and does a great job of making you feel like you’re actually controlling two characters with none of the extra hassle normally involved.

What I love most about Elika are the small interactions which occur naturally between her and the Prince. If Elika falls on you after a landing, she’ll sometimes apologize; if the Prince and her walk into each other while sharing the small space on a beam, they will hold hands and switch positions with a nice little turn, at times eliciting an uncharacteristic giggle from the normally solemn Princess. It’s in these interactions that the figures on the screen become more than avatars, growing into actual characters which you learn to care for.

As you have probably deduced by now, Elika is a constant companion who always has your back; oddly enough most of the criticism surrounding the game is based on just this aspect of her character. Elika is so helpful that she will never let you die. That’s right, you can’t die. If you miss a critical jump, Elika will lunge after you and use her pretty, glowy powers to lift you to safety. If an enemy is about to land a killing blow our girl will put on a particularly painful light show and get him off your back. I know how this sounds, but in all reality it is not very different from the checkpoints which are currently employed by most games, and makes a lot more sense, too. I mean, get killed in God of War and all this means is you’ll have to look at that unattractive 'You Are Dead' screen, push a couple of buttons, and Kratos will be miraculously appear, wound-free, just a few steps back from where he 'died' just moments before. Way to take me out of the game experience. When you think of Elika as your automatic checkpoint, the whole 'no challenge' argument becomes a bit moot.

Now I know this game is not perfect, and it is clearly not what some fans of the series were expecting from a new entry into the franchise, but I still firmly believe the 2008 Prince of Persia survives on its own merits. Anyone who sees it in a bargain bin or the dusty shelf of a used bookstore should pounce on the chance to play it.

Well enough from me, I’ve already told you what I think. Now it’s your turn - have you played Prince of Persia? If so, what did you think of it? Sound off in the comments section below, fellow gamers.

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- Joey Núñez

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