Playing the new Prince of Persia games on consoles, such as the Xbox and GameCube, is an extremely weird proposition for me. It seems that I finally understand why my dad hates all movie remakes—even the good ones. I think we can all agree, for example, that Steven Soderbergh’s uber-cool update of Ocean’s 11 was far superior to the sloppy self-indulgent original, but my dad still won’t watch. After playing Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, however, I completely understand his perspective.
Its not that the The Two Thrones is poorly conceived or badly executed: it’s nothing to do with aesthetics, poor learning curve, or anything objective. The game simply makes me feel old... and I don’t like feeling old. It hurts me to think that there are players in the world who don’t even know that there was an original Prince of Persia on the PC, a game that I am old enough to remember playing. Of course, for the purposes of this review I have to put my fragile ego aside, just for a minute. Then, thankfully I can go and cry in a corner before carrying on with my quarterlife crisis.
The game itself could be described as a triumph of style over substance. An exploration game in the vein of ICO or any of the myriad of Zelda iterations, Prince of Persia‘s game design is nowhere near as intricate or complex as those titles. The game, however, benefits from a more instantaneous arcade feel. And though it may lack the depth of Zelda, it expertly draws the player into the game world nonetheless. Ocarina of Time‘s Forest Temple, for example, is in many ways a Mecca of elaborate, yet comprehensive level design, but I, for one, don’t seem to remember Link having the ability to run magically along walls and springboard acrobatically into a somersault, before executing a perfectly timed one-hit kill on his opponents.
Yet, this is just one of the many abilities that you, as the player, have at your disposal in Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones. Playing as the Prince is somewhat akin to controlling a fully rendered Jackie Chan as you run up walls, slide down curtains, and generally defy the laws of gravity in everyway imaginable. Mastering these abilities is, in fact, possibly the most satisfying aspect of the game.
This is due, in part, to a forgiving control system, which is perfectly balanced, allowing players to quickly adapt to every situation. More importantly, however, the player is frequently called upon to use every trick at the Prince’s disposal in order to navigate the gaming area. This, in essence, is the key, because in The Two Thrones nothing is superfluous: if you are taught a move, you will be asked, at some point in the game, to perform this move if you are to proceed. The Splinter Cell series, for example, often provides players with a dazzling array of movements, but no environment with which to perform them. In this regard, The Two Thrones is extremely rewarding.
The animation of the Prince himself looks absolutely breathtaking, and is in fact one of the reasons the game works so well. The original Prince of Persia on IBM was revolutionary in how the programmers used limited technology (RE: rotoscoping) to make the Prince move naturally and The Two Thrones follows this example. Many recent games, Perfect Dark Zero for example, look stunning, but the animations of non-playable characters are so clumsy that the movements border on the cartoony: thus the suspension of belief is shattered. This never occurs in The Two Thrones. In fact, the way in which the Prince bounds about his business is central to the pleasure players receive; you just look so cool when playing, and somehow so believable.
The game is not without its weaknesses however. Enemy AI, for example, is below par, and seems like filler when compared to the huge task of navigating the palace itself. Besides boss battles, it all seems a bit menial and one-dimensional. Enemies rarely surprise you, and the various combos that the Prince can pull off are never really necessary, as one can button mash his way through the competition.
If we are going to be picky we could also make a complaint about the linear level design. With regards to environments, there is usually only one way from A to B. Each room has one entrance and one exit, but it’s up to you how to get to that exit. Because of this there is little room for replayability, and in many cases the gameplay depends on a frustrating trial and error dynamic. The ability to improvise within the game structure is thus nonexistent, and this was a little disappointing.
There is however the argument that the game is deliberately less cerebral and a more complicated structure could have been distracting, ruining the balance of the game. This idea holds some merit. Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones presents you with problem: you are at point A and you have to get up there to point B. This game merely asks, “How are you going to get there?” Anything more complicated or less linear might have been distracting, because, as an immediately playable arcade adventure, The Two Thrones works perfectly.
Ultimately what the Prince of Persia series has always done well is present the unbelievable as believable: it may be difficult to believe that a human being can run haphazardly up a wall, stab a dagger into the tiniest of holes and then find the strength to run horizontally from that position onto a tiny ledge, but its all animated so perfectly—so its hard not to believe it. The fact that you, the player, are controlling these seemingly delicate and precise movements is really what makes the Prince of Persia series so compelling. In short, just like the Ocean’s 11 remake before it, Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones is cool, and infinitely more enjoyable that the original. No matter how old you are or stubborn you may be, this title is a treasure well worth your time and money: your dad would be proud.