Ubisoft’s latest addition to the Prince of Persia franchise was never going to have an easy ride. Before it was officially outed as a mobile title, many of us had clung to the belief we were about to see another long-awaited reboot for the classic action series. It wasn’t to be however, and when the announcement finally came, it was predictably met with waves of anger and disappointment from fans.
Deus Ex: The Fall shared a similar story when it launched earlier this year, where publisher Square-Enix had teased the game prior to release, prompting fans to expect a sequel to 2011’s Human Revolution. When Square finally lifted the curtain, The Fall was pelted with virtual rotten tomatoes left, right, and centre. However, in this case, the publisher’s attempt at expanding its mobile and tablet range wasn’t a quick cash grab; The Fall held up as a remarkably intuitive RPG shooter, scoring a few surprise points for the Deus Ex franchise.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for The Shadow And The Flame. Ubisoft’s attempt to re-sculpt the classic 2D Prince of Persia into a modernised mobile game comes across as ham-fisted, encompassing just about everything we dislike about mobile gaming.
Firstly, an engaging plot is mostly absent. All we know is that gaming’s favourite prince has embarked on yet another adventure, plundering tombs and crossing swords with hordes of brigands and arcane terrors. If you search hard enough you’ll come across a narrative thread though it’s barely worth following.
Instead, this latest Prince of Persia focuses all its efforts on gameplay, with each stage being its own self-contained area, populated by roving patrols and hidden treasures. By rolling, jumping, and climbing, your objective is to explore a level until you find its exit portal. Sounds easy enough (and so it should be) yet S&F somehow manages to stumble at the very first hurdle, mainly thanks to its clunky control scheme.
Taking the simplistic gesture-based platforming found in Mirror’s Edge for iOS, Ubisoft combines this with a conventional control layout, virtual joystick included. Using one hand, players will direct the Prince’s movement and orientation, whilst the other is tasked with the occasionally leap or crawl. It actually seems fairly intuitive at first, but when levels start to become more vertical and riddled with traps, problems start to occur.
Put simply, the controls don’t afford the level of accuracy or responsiveness needed to play the game seamlessly. You’ll accidentally drop off ledges, jump into traps, and grab higher platforms all the time, forcing players to approach each gap or mechanism with tedious caution. Combat doesn’t fare any better; when face-to-face with an opponent you simply have to wait for them to attack, parry, and follow up with a combo then rinse and repeat.
The Shadow And The Flame can be very trial-and-error at times, which wouldn’t be such a bad thing if it didn’t penalise you so brutally. By using two colours of potion, red and blue, you can either heal yourself when close to death or instantly revive when struck by a fatal blow, respectively. Naturally, the blue potions comes in very short supply, but this is exacerbated by how tempting it is to keep using them because, if you don’t, you’ll be forced to restart the entire level.
Surely there has to be a way around this? Well, yes there is but it doesn’t come cheap, sapping away at any gold stashes you happen to find in-game, and when that’s gone S&F soon begins to eye-up your wallet. So, in essence, you’re paying for respawn tokens in a game that already costs £1.99.
Sadly, Ubisoft’s micro-transaction misstep isn’t an isolated issue, and its effects stain the rest of the game. You see, without a safety net to fall back on, players will soon find themselves avoiding any potential dangers, making a beeline for the exit portal without fully exploring each stage, and thereby missing out on what actually makes S&F a fun yet flawed experience.
In the end it can feel as though the game is conspiring against you, hoping you’ll misjudge the distance of a jump or when a trap is about to activate, constantly pushing you towards its in-game shop.