Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Prince is back!

Once upon a time in the Near East, there was a young adventurer who climbed the palace wall of the caliph’s palace to see whether the caliph’s daughter was as beautiful as people said. She was and he fell in love with her - much to the anger of grand vizier who wanted to marry the princess himself to become the new ruler of the country.

With this story, although not in these precise words, the first game with the name “Prince of Persia” began. The princess was given 60 minutes to decide whether or not to marry the grand vizier (and the player only had 60 minutes to complete the game, otherwise everything was lost). The player spent 60 hectic minutes - probably various times, because I highly doubt anybody could solve the game at the first time - saving the love of his life ... only to find himself in another load of trouble in the second part.

“Prince of Persia” was a Jump’n’Run in the beginning, the levels were designed rather ingeniously and difficult to master at the beginning, but the prince moved well, jumped reliably and was easy enough to steer. As various instalments were produced over the years (“Prince of Persia”, “Prince of Persia 2 - The Shadow and the Flame”, “Prince of Persia 3D”, “Prince of Persia - Sands of Time”, “Prince of Persia - The Warrior Within” and “Prince of Persia - The Two Thrones”), they developed further and further from the original tale - and the original principles. The latest instalment, though, simply called “Prince of Persia” again, sets things back on the right tracks.

The main character was switched in the third game (“Prince of Persia 3D”), which can also be considered the weakest of the games (as almost all 3D-versions of successful 2D game series). The prince only by name became a real prince. In addition, the games were switched from Jump’n’Run to action adventures. The latter is still the case in the newest game - but good action adventures are great -, the first isn’t.

With the new “Prince of Persia” a ‘commoner’ is back in the place of the hero. Called ‘Prince’ by others, he’s a soldier of fortune, an adventurer always looking for gold, but usually losing it again rather quickly. When he stumbles into a sandstorm and loses his donkey (carrying, as it were, a load of gold), he stumbles over a nice young woman (well, she falls on him). The woman’s name is Elika and she’s a princess on the run.

Elika’s father is trying to free the dark god Ahriman, because the god has promised him to resurrects his dead wife. Elika tries to stop him - but mostly in vain. And after meeting her, the hero follows her for a while and finally becomes her protector.

Well, they protect each other, as it were. Elika is strong with magic, but she’s not a fighter, while the hero is an agile swordsman with a lot of interesting fighting styles. The enemies (not as many as in other games, but therefore each of them can only be vanquished by both together) are special.

The fighting system is both intuitive and easy to learn. By attacking again and again with various means (Elika’s magic, the sword, the young man’s iron-covered glove or an athletic move), combos are created which will cost the enemy a lot of energy. After a few tries during the tutorial, the fights are still challenging, but they are not frustrating.

Apart from fighting, Elika is also helpful throughout the jumping and climbing. She can pull the hero back from a certain fall and assist him with various means (most of which are gained by picking up light seeds after an area has been cleaned from the shadow influence of Ahriman). In exchange, he sometimes carries her on his back while climbing and protects both of them in a fight.

For a woman in computer games, Elika is extremely useful. While during most games, the heroines are there to be protected and to get the hero into trouble, Elika is a helpful companion and absolutely indispensable during the fights. She isn’t a nuisance and talks with her (possible wherever the two can stand still for a moment), are enlightening and usually quite funny. She’s a woman with an opinion, after all, so they quarrel quite a lot.

The graphics of the game are great, too. The whole look reminds me of the drawings you get in some versions of “Arabian Nights”, both in style and in the chosen colours. The whole game has a slightly ‘drawn’ look that fits well with the topic and makes the unrealistic parts (and due to Ahriman, there’s a lot of them, like crawling darkness or enemies who look like they took a bath in a tar pit) more believable. A painting doesn’t have to be realistic. And as long as the main characters move as quickly and smoothly as they do in this game, I’m all for this new look.

The Prince is back and though his new enemy isn’t a grand vizier, he’s going to kick some serious ass!

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