Review: This platforming swashbuckler is born again on the Xbox Live Arcade.
For all the arcade and console ?classics? on the Xbox Live Arcade, very few of them have actually gotten a proper treatment to make them more on par with their contemporary peers. Sure, on-line play has been added to games like Smash TV to make it better, and something like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night stands on its own, but not many of these vintage titles bring more to the table in their presentation and gameplay. For this reason, it's nice to see a classic title such as Prince of Persia arrive on XBLA and stay true to its roots while providing some present-day graphical style and slight gameplay tweaks.
The basic premise of Prince of Persia is the classic ?damsel in distress? blueprint, with you required to rescue said princess from the Grand Vizier, Jaffar, as he attempts to usurp power from the absent Sultan. The gimmick is that you are stuck in the dungeon and only have one hour to reach the princess before she is killed. This means that time is of the essence, and you'll need to work your way through the bowels of the palace until you reach Jaffar's quarters for a final showdown.
The most obvious upgrade in this rendition of Prince of Persia is the completely re-done visuals. The developers at Gameloft have modeled all of the environments after the contemporary Prince of Persia titles, meaning that rather than high resolution filters of the original sprites, the game now plays in full 3D glory. Obviously, the perspective is still the same 2D side-scroller as before, but everything from the Prince to the walls to the lighting is all dramatically different. The effect is really quite good, and you'll get some great light sourcing from torches or windows, as well as some bones and debris in the catacombs. The animations are particularly impressive, and some of the new movements for grabbing ledges, swinging swords, and generally defying gravity are quite impressive for an XBLA release. The visuals manage to achieve a feel akin to many ?original? titles for XBLA such as Geometry Wars or Jetpac: Refueled, rather than the aforementioned ?enhanced? versions of arcade classics like Double Dragon or Contra.
The two key portions of the gameplay for POP consist of platforming and combat, and each aspect will get progressively harder as the game goes on. Many of the dangers present in the original game remain the same here, and you'll be hot to trot as you avoid cleaving blades, sharp spikes, and pits of certain doom. You'll also have to be conscious of loose slabs of rock and perilous jumps, as each of these elements play in quite heavily to many of the levels. The combat is a fairly basic parry and attack format, with the A button blocking and parrying, and the X button dishing out attacks.
The fun part about this remake is that each of these elements ? the platforming and the combat ? has been refined in some small ways. Grabbing ledges for instance, is now a lot more intuitive, as a gamepad and analog control allows for subtler walking animations, turnaround grabs for ledges and better timing overall. Even though the core concepts of jumping specific distances and inching towards ledges remain the same, the control input and the addition of a few new moves and animations makes everything feel smoother. Just the same, the combat feels deeper because of some new animations and enhancements. The Prince will not only parry attacks, but will also avoid them in a sort of ?bullet time? effect comparable to the recent POP games. The combat can also get a bit deeper than it seems at first brush, as you can clash swords (for an entertaining button mash), switch sides, and initiate counter attacks.
It's also worth noting that some of the minor puzzle solving has been slightly altered, and you will likely have to try a few sequences several times in order to figure out exactly which order a task has to be completed in. This being said, the game does feature two assists and these come in the form of checkpoints and a ?butterfly guide.? The checkpoints (which can only be used in the ?normal? mode) usually happen about halfway through the level, although some stages have two of them. These are good for the basic mode, as it allows people to keep going forward without getting too frustrated. In addition, the butterfly shimmers and sparkles through the levels, and if you give it time it will lead you, mostly, through the required parts of the level. The reason this is even there is because there are a good amount of alternate paths and dead-ends, but it is kind of a bittersweet addition for purists (it can be turned off, however).
With all this game does right, though, there can still be frustrations. The original game was no easy task, and Prince of Persia Classic can be fairly annoying at times. You will slip off edges, run over spikes you didn't expect, occasionally lose sword battles, and even have to sit and think about how to get from A to B, and this ? like many other game of this style ? does get agitating. The aforementioned animations and enhancements smooth out some of the original game's annoyances, but you'll probably be left cussing and shaking your fist at the Prince on more than one occasion.
But still, the gameplay manages to charm because of the elegance in which everything flows together. It's very cool to be able to save yourself by barely grabbing a ledge, and sometimes combat can end in a totally stylish way as you boot an adversary over a ledge onto a switch that opens the next doorway ? very cool. The presentation really does manage to emphasize a lot of the gameplay strengths, and it's just a much more inherently satisfying experience when things look ? and sound ? better. As to said audio, it is quite good, and provides the requisite atmosphere for the experience you'll have through the hour of desperation. There's plenty of music cues for certain enemies or bosses, and the Prince grunts, groans, and yelps as various dangers nearly end his life. There could've been a tad bit more voice samples or music, especially given the few included cutscenes, but what is here is really quite well done.
After you've beaten the basic mode (which doesn't even really require finishing in under an hour), the time trial and survival modes will be unlocked. Time trial requires that you actually beat the game within an hour, and it will only let you continue from the start of each completed stage (no checkpoints). Survival makes things totally crazy, as you'll have to beat the entire game with one life? that's it. No extra lives, no checkpoints, no continues, meaning that if you die by falling down a pit just before fighting Jaffar? well, you'll be restarting at the initial dungeon. Devious, to be sure, but a real throwback to people who trucked through the original game back in the day.
There are leaderboards for the game as well, and they will rank you versus your friends and the world in all three modes. You will get better scores by finishing levels quickly, collecting all the health potions, and killing guards, but sometimes putting all that together is easier said than done. Another cool touch is a ghost version of you that will run through the levels after you've completed them, constantly beckoning you to improve your time. Achievements are present and accounted for, and you'll be rewarded for progressing through the game, finding all of the wacky potions in the dungeon, and for beating the survival mode (ugh).
Prince of Persia has been done right for the Live Arcade, and it's still a whole lot of fun to play through, even with its annoyances. The additional modes and Achievements help pad the replay value a bit, but the game won't be one that lasts more than a few plays. Either way, Prince of Persia looks good on the Live Arcade, and it's certainly a decent value at 800 MS Points.