The 2008 Prince of Persia was all about momentum. The world was split into multiple linear tracks connected by various hubs. Once you started down a track, it was difficult to turn back. Every obstacle along these tracks corresponded to a specific button: A allowed the Prince to jump (from poles, platforms, or a double jump midair), B allowed him to grab onto hooks, and Y allowed the activation of magical plates. Players had a small window of opportunity to hit the right button at the right obstacle to keep the Prince moving forward. Since every track was placed above a huge chasm if players missed the opportunity or hit the wrong button, the Prince would fall and have to start the track over. Many reviewers compared it to a rhythm game because the platforming relied so heavily on timing and on reading the environment ahead of you.
In the beginning of The Forgotten Sands, the game plays like any other Prince of Persia game from the Sands of Time trilogy. That is to say, it has a strong focus on environmental puzzles; the fun lay in figuring out where to go. But there’s also a subtle focus on momentum and reading the environment that builds throughout the game until the end, in which The Forgotten Sands plays more like a sequel to the 2008 reboot.
It begins with the Power of Flow, which allows the Prince to freeze water. There are many water spouts around the castle, and freezing them turns the liquid into a pole, pillar, or wall to jump off of. However, whenever you face multiple spouts in a row, they start turning themselves on and off. You can freeze the water when the first pillar is flowing, but the rest will be turned off so that you’ll have nothing to jump to afterwards. The only solution is to time your jumps: freeze the first pillar, jump to it, then jump into the empty space. While in midair you must unfreeze the water to get it flowing again, wait for the next pillar of water to appear, then quickly freeze it to create a new handhold at the last second. Wait too long or time the jump wrong and you’ll fall through the water before it solidifies.
It seems a tricky challenge, but the timing is easy when you can see the whole set of valves in front of you and can study them for as long as you need. Further into the game, the patterns become more complex and you have less time to prepare. For example, you’ll be sliding down a tunnel that ends at another pit. It’s surrounded by malfunctioning water spouts, so you must figure out the pattern in seconds before you reach the end of the slope. Moments like this represent an evolution of the momentum-based platforming from the 2008 game, combining it with the more traditional environmental puzzles. You’re moving fast when you come to a puzzle, so you must solve it even faster to sustain that speed.
Halfway through The Forgotten Sands, the Prince receives the Power of Flight, which allows him to dash towards enemies from far away, and which also functions exactly like Elika’s double jump ability. In both games, the tracks of acrobatic obstacles often end above a chasm with nothing nearby for you to grab. In the 2008 game, this is when you’d use Elika’s double jump to close the gap, but in The Forgotten Sands, there’s always a lone enemy on the other side of the gap, signaling you to use the Power of Flight to make it across. The only real difference between the two powers is that the Power of Flight doubles as an attack, making it a more versatile ability.
The final platforming magic given to the Prince in the The Forgotten Sands is the Power of Memory, which rebuilds broken sections of the environment. When used by itself, it has the same role in puzzles as the Power of Flow. The Prince can create a platform to stand on, then jump off and create a place to land while in midair. However, when combined with the other powers, it adds new twists to the puzzles that we’ve become used to and adds another step in the complex pattern of obstacles. Now you’ll have to first create a pipe to get water flowing and then freeze the water or use all three powers in quick succession: Fly to an enemy, jump off it, rebuild a pole, freeze/unfreeze any water, and repeat.
When all these powers are combined, the platforming becomes a puzzle in itself, forcing us to keep track of several things at once while flying through the air. The focus on timing puzzles creates a natural momentum that sweeps you along. The game also uses various other tricks to keep us running. Some enemies with ranged attacks will shoot at us during platforming sequences, and the Power of Flow only lasts a limited time, encouraging us to keep the pace fast.
In this way, The Forgotten Sands plays like a sequel to the 2008 game, mixing that timed platforming into more traditional environmental puzzles. But this similarity only highlights the odd decision to return to the Sands of Time universe, and it’s my hope that these advances will find their way into a proper sequel in the not too distant future.