Review: What's the Prince's favorite kind of sandwich? Two-na.
Some people remember Prince of Persia for its debut in 1989 as a platform-based adventure game that was first made available for the Apple II computer. Most others, however, are more familiar with Ubisoft's recent reboot of the series that has since catapulted the franchise from obscurity into stardom. You might've seen a Prince of Persia game on one system or another, and you might've played one or more of the updated multiplatform titles that herald the name of his majesty. But now comes Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, the third succession of Ubisoft's Persian chronicles.
Another day is saved. Another hour sets forth. Another time for madness to set in. Returning from his arduous quest in the last game, the Prince sets sail for Babylon with Kaileena, the empress of time by his side. With promise of a safe haven in his homeland, the two become astonished by the city smoldering in flames. Their ship coming under attack by marauders, it's in this instance where Kaileena will become a prisoner and the wheels of misfortune will turn for the Prince. As gloom rears its ugly head once again for the Prince, his mission to rescue Kaileena will unveil the one responsible for this plot: the Vizier. As chance would have it, the Vizier's plan for immortal power will unleash upon the Prince newfound powers: a stronger, darker half. Split right down the middle, it is up to the Prince to once and for all end the Vizier's reign, powered both by good and evil.
Time stands still for no one. Destinies are another story that can be shaped and rewritten, again and again as the Prince continues to prove in Ubisoft's reawakening of the action-adventure phenomenon. As is the way of things in the recent Prince of Persia installments, The Two Thrones surrounds its player in a quest fraught with temple booby traps of the rotating spiked-wall kind, intricate platform-based levels to surpass, and enemies to mettle with both unsuspectingly and face-to-face. Action, jumping, and now stealth: these are qualities that blend the overall Prince of Persia formula smoothly for most fans. Albeit, sometimes it takes a real picky person to see just how flawed this formula actually tastes.
In the case of The Two Thrones you have a decent game at heart, but it is overshadowed by its mediocrity. The problem with The Two Thrones is that it tries to be bigger than it thinks it can be. It all starts with level design. There's absolutely no turning back once you've started down a new path. Each stage is straightforward. Everything moves this way, that way, up or down. There are big rooms and smaller ones, but the game is always going onward. This makes it difficult to some degree simply because there is no option for saving progress until reaching one of the game's scantily placed water fountains (the save markers). Not until each beam is hopped to and each pitfall avoided in their exact order can you reach the next save fountain. Restarting each segment from a certain point, whether having died closely or from a great distance, must be done otherwise. This entails the transposing of stifling platform operations. Sometimes the game lends hints, telling you what buttons to press in a given situation, while many other times it will leave you clueless as to what to do next. Even if you finally figure out what to do, sometimes executing maneuvers around a stage leads to the shaky platform mechanics, and that leads to dying and lots of do-overs.
Past crumbling floors, stab points allowing the Prince to rest his knife to a wall's cling spots, and scaling down from a squeeze point in between two narrow walls, it's not that platforming is impossible. It just seems that way sometimes, with irregularly difficult challenges lined up right after one another, and then having to repeat additional challenges on top of that at times. Some challenges must absolutely be precise, and are built for tougher players to grasp. A prime example being wall-to-wall jumping, in which the mechanics are practically ludicrous to the nth degree. Luckily for the Prince, there is some cool trinkets in his bag of tricks. Like always, rewinding time when in a pinch can reset you back to the moment before death laid his clammy hands on your shoulder. Unfortunately, this ability uses up sand capsules that are based on sand points. These are kind of hard to come by if one capsule consists of a lot of sand points that needs gathering. It's unknown how much is required to fill the quota, but sand isn't always easy to come by when it's used to power another thing: the Dark Prince. Busting open environmental objects like jars, dispelling enemies, and every once in a while closing portals that sprout multiple nemesis' will relinquish sand points that feed into the Prince's meter for the need of sand to turn back time, but also to keep his brooding half alive.
The Dark Prince is the latest addition to the Prince of Persia saga, strengthening the Prince with his combat and platforming assets. Drenched in blackness, the Dark Prince lives off the sand. The game decides when it is time to use him. In other words, you cannot turn him on and off like a light switch. He adds both strength and speed to the Prince's repertoire of moves, from running along walls to facing enemy defeat. In the earlier portions of the game the bad guys are stupid stiffs, able to easily be dispatched with simplistic stealth attacks that are dealt out by a line of button presses. But as advancement is made throughout the game, the enemies will toughen and you'll need to deal with more combo-based onsets of steel grinding steel. Generally The Two Thrones has its moments of fun, from the basic principles of a different kind of platform-based adventure to a little variety every now and then like chariot races. But, again it's these types of elements that also impede the Prince's gameplay with awkward jumping physics and a generic combat system that deals in multiples of button combinations to have to remember. Not very fun.
Receiving acclaim for its animated artistry, the Prince of Persia updates for Ubisoft have been relatively successful in its ability to attract gamers. Using a slightly enhanced engine from the first game in 2003, The Two Thrones obviously won't be able to impress everyone. The Two Thrones is not going to floor you from beginning to end with its reduced graphical look. It's a nice looking game, but a bland one. In no way is The Two Thrones bad. For somebody coming into the series for the first time, it's just not as fascinating as what you hear. Level designs give you an idea of outsides and insides made to look a little like you're running around atop alleyways and through a crumbling palace in some Arabian fantasy world. But, the designs aren't intricate. They're basic, filled with a few breakable objects that are in themselves rather ordinary. Many times the Prince will find himself alone, vaulting wall to wall, and sometimes a few enemies spring up. The character models aren't the most inviting either. They look okay just standing around or pacing back and forth, and that's really all they do besides trying to cut the Prince a new mouth hole. Taking most of the credit, it's the Prince who's to be favored anyway, especially when his black suit takes over. His body tangled up in a dark ooze-like substance, his arm emitting an orangey shimmer, it's in this state where the Prince goes from Aladdin to Baddin. Of course, the animations are of noteworthiness. They aren't the best to be had, but when you've got a character who can run along the edges of walls, bounce off of them, and do daring leaps from one pole to the next, you've at least got something you could call entertainment.
From the sound of things, The Two Thrones is serviceable. Its audio, made up of swords clanking, dart traps springing to life, the Prince hoofing it around every bend -- based on floor, wall, chain, etc. -- it all puts the audio where it needs to be. Music, on the other hand, is more of a question. You ask yourself while playing through, "Where is it?" and "Where did it go?" Then when the music returns at later intervals while standing around or encountering enemies, it either dips into some kind of quickened tune for the bad guys and a more Middle Eastern theme for the exploration. The sounds as well as the music are nothing too out of the ordinary. It's the voice acting in the game that gives the sound quality a little edge, as while the actors aren't the best of the best, they're interesting to hear. Especially while transformed into the Dark Prince, two distinctive actors banter back and forth. The Prince's normal voice overhangs into a snappier, sneering tone that delivers nicely alongside the equally cool voice of the dark spirit who counters him.