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Review

Review: Prince of Persia Classic

Flesh, meet my friend Sword.

Nostalgic remakes of classic old games have got me a bit worried lately. We fondly remember these pivotal defining titles of our hobby, but gameplay mechanics have moved on a lot, and much like movie franchise tie-ins, I’ve discovered that replaying these titles in 2010 sadly often isn’t as fun as I remembered it to be.

So after the mediocre Mega Man 10, the decent-not-great Digger HD, the antiquated Bomberman Ultra and the truly awful Thexder Neo and Frogger Returns plus whatever else I’ve forgotten, it was with some trepidation that I powered up new PSN title Prince of Persia Classic, one of my favourite classic games of all-time.

I’ve hated every single Prince of Persia game since the original. Sands of Time, The Two Thrones and the recent Forgotten Sands were all a bit meh, for me this was one case where 3D spoiled a perfectly good concept. So how did this re-implementation of the original fare? Pretty well actually.

For those who never played the original back in 1989 it is a little difficult to describe because at the time it was unique. It is a straightforward pure platform game: explore a labyrinth of loose floors, switches, locked gates and annoying things that kill you, grab the obligatory health potions and make your way to the exit. What made it unique was the way it played: Prince of Persia was the first platform game to use a realistic avatar which climbed, jumped and rolled in a way that looked truly human, despite being a 2D game. Battling enemies takes the form of sword fights, and these too had realistic animations and required skill to win. You can think of it as early imitation mocap that was way ahead of its time.

The game also had a couple of interesting mechanics. There are spikes which shoot up from the ground to kill you, but if you walk slowly you can navigate your way through them. Each screen shows three levels of platforms, but off to the top you can just vaguely make out what is above you, allowing you to spot different routes and dislodge loose tiles to climb up. The other aspect is that while most platformers at the time were really grid/tile-based games where pressing left or right once moved you precisely one square (think Manic Miner), Prince of Persia has pixel-granularity free-roaming – something we now take for granted. Walking, running, jumping from stationary and jumping during movement all move your character very specific distances, so when you are confronted with a path full of spikes, switches you want to avoid and choppy choppy guillotine things, selecting the correct movement strategy is essential.

It’s all rather banal compared to modern gaming, but fans of the original will be thrilled to hear that Prince of Persia Classic is an extremely faithful reproduction, with exactly the same mechanics and levels, with everything slightly improved. Your character will edge forwards or backwards when you try to climb a ledge so that pinpoint precision isn’t required. The graphics are now parallax 3D and the perspective shifts ever-so-slightly as you walk, making everything feel more dynamic. The graphics themselves have been perfectly upgraded to modern standards while remaining completely faithful to the style of the original. And of course, there are the obligatory online leaderboards.

There are 14 levels to hack, slash and explore your way through – the goal being to finish within 60 minutes, although the chances of you managing that on your first playthrough are zero unless you have super-human dexterity. Most objects are deadly and kill you in one hit, but when fighting enemies you have a health bar which can be replenished by picking up health potions. Each level has one or two checkpoints; when you die, starting the level from scratch will reset the timer to the amount you had when the level started, but continuing from a checkpoint will continue the countdown from where you died. Don’t worry if the countdown reaches zero: the game won’t end, it just means you suck.

Is it any good? Well, yes and no. It certainly is one of the better budget remakes out there, but it can be infuriating to play. New parry and time-slowing mechanics have been added to swordplay to make it more interesting, but the outcomes can seem almost random. Sometimes you will take a guy down with 5 or 6 straight hits in a row; other times no matter how good your parry timing is, he will completely thrash you. When each enemy has 6 or 7 health points, you only have 5 or 6 and have to work through three enemies to reach the next checkpoint, this is a recipe for frustration and I threw my controller at the sofa at least twice before the game was over.

The sound is annoying too, especially the re-spawn sound – and you’re going to die a lot – plus there is no in-game music so it’s a rather quiet affair. The other sound effects are functional and unremarkable.

Perhaps the most shocking omission – and this is actually against Sony’s QA policy – is that there is no trophy support. Nothing. None. Nada. Very poor show.

Pros:

  • Extremely faithful re-production of the original Prince of Persia
  • Improvements to graphics and swordplay mechanics

Cons:

  • Not much replay value except for beating your time
  • Can become something of a grind
  • Fights can be infuriating
  • No trophy support

While I enjoyed Prince of Persia Classic, it’s hard to recommend to someone who has never played the original because they will see an old-school platformer and wonder what the fuss is about. If you have played the original, you can’t go wrong with this for 5 bucks, it’s a perfect yet slightly improved re-creation, although be warned that the repetitiveness of the levels may bring you to a point where you have to drag yourself to continue playing. Once you get into it though, you’ll want to finish it, if only just to get it over with.

The score I’ve given below is for those who have already played the original. If you haven’t, you should probably pass on this.

Score: 7/10


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