This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Ubisoft Montreal's Prince of Persia, which reviews describe as "an enormously fun and gratifying game."
The Prince of Persia franchise has graced multiple consoles, portables, and computer systems since its 1989 debut on the Apple II platform. Though widely praised for its fluid animation and creative platforming gameplay, few sequels were released in the decade that followed, with the majority of Prince of Persia-related releases amounting to simple ports or remakes of the original title.
Nick Chester at Destructoid rates Prince of Persia at 9.5 out of 10, noting that the title is an improvement over recent sequels. "I was less thrilled with Warrior Within, disliking the tone, but loving the expanded, visceral combat," he admits. "Two Thrones got the trilogy on track a bit, but was still missing that certain 'something' that made Sands of Time so unique and special."
"I understand that you might be wary of yet another Prince of Persia series reboot," Chester continues. "Imagine my surprise that as the credits rolled for me on Prince of Persia, something pretty spectacular happened -- I realized I enjoyed this game more than The Sands of Time."
Chester warns that series fans will find no connections to previous Prince of Persia titles. "From a narrative standpoint, Prince of Persia takes everything you already knew about the series and pretty much tosses it out the window," he writes. "This is a wholly new adventure, set in an entirely new world, with little to no narrative references to previous titles. If there's any connection, it's only thematically."
"In fact, the new Prince of Persia not only sheds the narrative of its predecessors, but in many ways, reality itself," Chester adds. "Ubisoft has painted (almost literally) its own reality, a lush, magical and fantastic one that makes it impossible to place the game anywhere on a timeline or anywhere in the world as we know it. It was a huge gamble, but it pays off."
Chester finds that this world is a good match for Prince of Persia's refined gameplay. "Exploring the world is extraordinarily exhilarating -- in part due to the game's breathtaking visuals, but more so because of its simple, streamlined controls," he says. "When it comes to moving throughout the world, you're really looking at using very few buttons -- the analog stick will move the Prince, one button will jump, and the circle button will interact with objects like rings on walls to pull you forward or upward."
The result is an experience that remains enjoyable throughout, according to Chester. "With Prince of Persia, the team at Ubisoft not only reached the bar they set for themselves with previous titles, but in many ways delivered a game that transcends expectations while setting a new standard for the series," he praises. "Ubisoft has taken Prince of Persia in a wild new and magical direction, an enormously fun and gratifying game from beginning to end."
Wired blogger Chris Kohler scores Prince of Persia at 7 out of 10, noting that its attempts to eliminate player frustration often do more harm than good.
"Prince of Persia is one of the least frustrating games ever, because you can't die," Kohler begins. "Below our hero the Prince is a 100-foot drop onto some jagged rocks. If his bit of wall-running doesn't work out just right, he'll plummet straight down to his ... immediate salvation. Because his constant companion, gal pal Elika (in the background), will automatically save his ass and return him back to solid ground. You could not fail at Prince of Persia even if you tried."
Kohler explains that this lack of tension results in a less exciting experience overall. "Yes, there's something to be said for attempting to eliminate a player's frustration," he writes. "And Prince of Persia [...] is a largely pleasant and inoffensive experience. But its designers might have just thrown the baby out with the bathwater: They have eliminated the lows, but also the highs. It is free of frustration, but it is also free of joy."
Kohler also describes issues with Prince of Persia's unconventional controls. "It was not long before I realized that I didn't have a lot of direct control over the Prince's actions, for two reasons. One, every button press put in motion some sort of lengthy canned animation that I couldn't cancel out of. If you press X to scale a wall, he doesn't leap up it instantly. He pauses a moment, jumps up, pauses again, then jumps up a little bit more."
"And if you press any other buttons during this sequence, nothing happens -- until a second later, because the game queues up the button press and executes the action whether you still want it to happen -- or not," Kohler continues. "All this has the net result of making me feel disconnected from the Prince's actions."
Though Kohler praises Prince of Persia's visual design and character development, he ultimately comes away from the experience disappointed. "Yes, it's true that at no time while playing Prince of Persia did I feel any of the frustration that I felt on a regular basis in Mirror's Edge," he concludes. "But neither did I ever feel the joy of doing something right, of stringing together a perfect series of vaults and wall-runs and feeling like it was based on my own skill."
"Can one exist without the other? Is it impossible to create joy without difficulty?" Kohler asks. "I don't know. But Prince of Persia lost something significant."
Game Informer's Matt Miller contributes a review scored at 8.75 out of 10. "Ubisoft Montreal implemented a wealth of new ideas in this relaunch of Prince of Persia, abandoning many traditions from both the genre and previous Prince games to deliver something fresh," he begins. "At its best, the new Prince is a thrilling tale that sweeps you up in its romance, adventure, and fantasy. At its worst, it can feel like a formulaic romp where you're only along for the ride."
Miller finds Elika -- the main character's AI-controlled companion -- to be a particularly worthwhile addition. "As a constant companion, she defies the expectation of bad AI-driven partners, and instead feels like a natural extension of the player's will in the game world," he writes. "More than that, with frequent optional conversations between the two, the game communicates believable affection between the characters – no small feat in this medium."
Prince of Persia's level-based structure sometimes comes up short, however. "The development team lets you opt out of much of their story and character development, and also set up a structure that lets you tackle the game's levels in any order you wish," he explains. "As the dark god's corruption spreads across the world, the Prince and Elika must heal discrete areas one by one with her magic, gathering the resulting light spheres to grow Elika's powers and gain access to more levels."
"As healed lands increase, the corruption becomes more concentrated in the remaining areas, which in turn makes those areas more difficult to traverse," Miller continues. "It's a clever design ultimately hurt by its reliance on formula. After enough levels, repetition takes away some of the charm."
Miller finds that Prince of Persia's control scheme suffers as well. "As the developers loosen their control of how you experience the game, they ask a similar sacrifice of the players," he says. "The game is controlled through quick button presses, followed by several seconds of watching the action unfold. This intermittent control feature holds true whether platforming along a crevice or fighting in one of the movie-like duels. It's an elegant and simple way to show off thrilling acrobatics, but it also steals control away from the player."
"With its valuation of story and cinematic presentation over player control, Prince of Persia's not a title for everyone," Miller notes in conclusion. "However, it can claim one thing for sure: It's unlike any other game you'll play this year."