You can’t die in the newest “Prince of Persia.” You can’t even fail, really.
It’s a wrestling match between old-school sensibilities and new-school thinking, one where the outcome within yourself as a gamer can determine how much enjoyment there is to be had in the Prince’s latest adventure.
But somewhere in this battle, regardless of what wins, is a pretty enjoyable experience.
You’re back as the Prince, master of wall-running, pole swinging and platform jumping from the previous “Prince of Persia” iterations.
This time, he’s in the middle of a desolate kingdom being overrun by a dark god named Ahriman, who has found to way to break out of his ethereal jail in the depths of the kingdom’s holy temple.
As a result, the once-green lands of the kingdom are crawling with trails and pools of dark, living slime called the Corruption, which is supposed to represent Ahriman’s essence.
To top it all off, there are four “corrupted” lieutenants of Ahriman watching over the kingdom’s polluted sections.
Luckily, you’re not alone. Guiding you on your quest is Elika, a princess of the kingdom who is blessed with magical powers, including the ability to heal the lands infected by the Corruption. She’s also the prime reason the Prince never has to worry about death.
As you bounce from land to land, hurtling past globs of dark slime and climbing up walls, you find that Elika might be the most clutch non-playable character ever created.
Miss a jump and fall? Elika swoops in to grab you and return you to solid ground. Starting to get sucked into a pool of Corruption? Chill out, Elika’s got this.
It’s like that with the game’s retooled combat, which focuses on one-on-one duels instead of warding off throngs of foes. If the enemy knocks you down, you’ll have to press the correct button to avoid a deathblow — not like it matters, since failure to press said button merely means Elika forces off your attacker with magic, giving him time to heal.
There lies the issue faced by those weaned on death-rife action platformers like the earlier “Prince of Persia” chapters, “Mirror’s Edge” or “Tomb Raider” — if you can’t die, what is there to fear from failure? Is this like Little League, where everyone is a winner no matter what? Is there a code to get ice cream on Live or PSN when the game is over?
It’s easy to sarcastically ask yourself similar questions within the first hour of gameplay, but give it time — there’s plenty here to like while you’re alive.
The first thing that comes to mind is the unique cel-shaded/scanner-like art style, which adds a dimension of cartoonish fantasy to the experience.
Each section of the land manages to maintain a personality of its own while still feeling like part of the kingdom. While some areas have a sense of former majesty, like the looming Tower of Ahriman, there are places like the Cauldron, which features a churning machine used by a Corrupted being known as The Alchemist.
Within these lands are examples of brilliant level design, bolstered by creative (and sometimes maddening) puzzles which cross impeccable timing with some critical thinking.
Adding to the gameplay are magical powers that can be acquired when you collect enough “light seeds,” which are glowing balls of energy that pop up whenever you heal a section of the kingdom. As you progress, you’ll pick up the abilty to jump great distances or even fly for a short period of time.
This combination of elements also constructs a special brand of difficulty. Sure, Elika is there to save you when you make a mistake, but she can’t save you from the puzzles. Plus, she also doesn’t save you from having to repeat a long, elaborate sequence of jumps or from getting tossed around by an invincible opponent, like the Corrupted being known as The Warrior.
Aside from the visual and gameplay elements, the interplay between Prince and Elika is entertaining, if not a little repetitive and cheesy. It’s certainly not on the level of the dialogue of “Assassin’s Creed,” another Ubisoft title.
Among some of the issues I had with the game dealt with the somewhat dull, easy nature of the combat. You face each of the four Corrupted lieutenants several times in one section, and none of them do much to vary their attacks with each encounter. This turns battle into a tedious chore, and something that get prolonged with any mistake made.
I also wonder about the replay value, especially given the way the game ends. I won’t spoil it, but other than the ability to collect more light seeds, unlock more material or break speed records, this stacks up more like a good one-and-done experience.
Overall, I’d say “Prince of Persia” is certainly worth carving out some time. It’s certainly not going to kill you to see for yourself.
Prince of Persia
Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC
Rated T for Teen
Our rating: 7.5/10