Retro Review | Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Retro Review | Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time


In 2003, the classic game Prince of Persia went 3D. But did this transition work out for the best?


 

Name: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Format: Nintendo Gamecube

Released: October 28th, 2003

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

Publisher: Ubisoft

 


The original Price of Persia game was released in 1989 and ported to multiple systems. I first encountered the game on a friend’s 386 PC where I was amazed by the amazing lifelike qualities of the character animation.

During its production, Prince of Persia has utilised the process of rotoscoping. This technique involves tracing over live-action footage to give your work a lifelike realistic quality.

This gave the Prince and his enemies beautiful animation which made it stand out from other games of the time.

The plot for Prince of Persia was a simple one. A beautiful princess is being held hostage by her evil uncle in the uppermost tower of a huge Persian castle.

Your playable character, a Persian prince, has been captured and thrown into the deepest dungeon of the same castle. You must find a way to make your way to the top fighting with the palace guards en route.

At its most basic level, Prince of Persia was a 2D platformer which required you to memorise the correct route to the top of the castle as there was a strict time limit to adhere to. Some platforms could break away and drop when you stepped on them, others might contain spike traps.

Various locations contained hidden switches on the floor that usually opened port culices. Quite often, these port culices would be several screens away and you would have to learn the most efficient route to reach the gate before it closed.

The game was very enjoyable but the time limit also made it very taxing. A good memory was required to progress through the game.

In 1993 a sequel was released which I only played a handful of times and honestly can’t remember much about it.


You can’t jump over this pit so wall running is your only solution.


In 2003 the Prince of Persia IP was revived again by Ubisoft but this time translated into 3D with a third person perspective. A major new game mechanic and fantasy element had been added in the form of time manipulation.

In the games opening cinematic, the Prince and his father attack a Persian castle. The Prince discovers the Dagger of Time.

Your soldiers discover a huge hourglass in the palace’s vaults and bring it up to show the Prince and the king. The sand has a strange ethereal glow. It transpires this hourglass contains the Sands of Time. The Vizier tricks the Prince into sticking the Dagger of Time into the hourglass releasing the Sands of Time.

The population of the castle are transformed into monsters and demons. The Prince must try to undo what he has done.

The first level teaches you all about the special moves available to you and how to perform combat moves against enemy characters.

This is still the same classic platform game but now in 3D. You can run, jump and climb between different platforms. If a platform is just a little too far out of reach, the Prince can perform a horizontal wall run to reach the other side.

If something is seemingly too high, the prince can also try wall running vertically to grab a higher handhold.

It’s not just floors and platforms in this game either, the entire environment is utilised with structural columns, narrow wooden beams and even flagpoles amongst the list of items being used to help the prince travel from point A to point B.

The game is very forgiving and it’s quite hard to kill your character. If you mistime a jump or push him over a ledge, he will nearly always perform a 180-degree spin and grab on to something to stop himself falling. Death only occurs by falling too far or during combat.

This brings me to one of my favourite little moments in the game. The whole story is told as a flashback sequence, a story that has already occurred. When you die, for whatever reason, you’ll hear the prince say (paraphrasing), “No, no, no! That’s not what happened, let me tell you the story again!”


You’ll find yourself surrounded like this quite often as the game progresses.


Combat is fairly straightforward and the challenge is to remember how to deal with the different types of enemy. This becomes more stressful later on when different types attack all at once. I regularly found myself trying to attack a certain guard but due to the control system, the attack move was performed on someone else who easily blocked it and knocked me down reducing my level of health.

The enemy in the game is made up of the palace’s guards and in some cases women who have all been transformed into different types of demons and zombies. They all still wear their original palace clothing which makes them easy to identify and allows you to figure out which attack moves to use on which enemy.

As mentioned before, the big addition to this revival of the Prince of Persia franchise was time. The Prince has the Dagger of Time that he took during the game’s opening sequence.

One quick click of the trigger button will cause time to move at a slower rate. This feature is used during the puzzle elements of the game. Fairly regularly, you will encounter a long corridor filled with various booby traps and platforms to traverse.

Pulling a huge lever will open a door at the other end of the corridor and you’ll hear the lever loudly clank it’s way slowly back to its original position. Essentially a ticking clock informing you that once the sounds stops, the door at the far end of the corridor will abruptly close again.

In trying to complete the obstacle course normally, the door would close before you got there. By slowing down time, you’ll gain those precious extra seconds needed to reach the goal.


Leaping from column to column. Our Prince is quite athletic you know!


Time can also be manipulated backwards in the game’s biggest feature. This helps you get out of many a tight spot. Throughout the game, you’ll perhaps mistime a jump or in trying to figure out how to exit a location, jump to a ledge that’s physically impossible to reach.

Before the Prince plummets to his death, you can hold down the trigger control and reverse time allowing you to have never made that jump in the first place. In the case of enemy combat, this allows you to turn back time and regain some energy if you were just knocked down for example.

All this time manipulation comes at a cost. The Dagger of Time can only perform these actions so many times before running out of power. The Dagger can be replenished by sucking the energy out of fallen enemies during combat.

Scattered throughout the game are several special glowing energy points that when collected will upgrade the Dagger of Time’s capacity allowing for more time manipulations between refills.

The final implementation of time comes during the use of save game points. Scattered routinely throughout the game, the Prince has a vision of the future every time a save point is used. The vision will reveal the Prince solving the puzzles of the next location.

This is more of a glorified hints and tips video than an actual spoiler. Just enough is revealed to let you know what direction you should be taking with the puzzles ahead.

I recently played through Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time again on the Gamecube (via the backwards compatibility on the Nintendo Wii) and found it to be a very enjoyable game. I was enjoying it so much, I could easily play it for several hours at a time.

The puzzle element was set at just the right difficulty level and I only had to cheat with online help once or twice. This was only to discover I had solved the puzzle correctly but in such a way that the game hadn’t recognized what I had done. E.g. moving a stone block to a specific location.


Leave me alone! I just want to solve puzzles!


The combat system was easy and fluid to use, but the more enemies that join the fight, the more I became frustrated. As the enemies are now of a demonic variety, they have the ability to teleport. Running away from the enemy to try and fight a single one at a time only partially works as they will always teleport within a certain distance of your current location.

For example, the Prince regains health by drinking any water he can find, most often from dedicated water bowls but you can also drink from rivers and water pools. Trying to do this mid-combat is hard because an enemy will teleport you your location and knock you down after a few gulps of water if you’re lucky.

By the time I had completed the game it felt like the combat sections only served as a way to replenish your Dagger of Time and to break up the puzzle-oriented platform sections which I really enjoyed the most.

For a game released fourteen years ago, the visuals still hold up very well today. Obviously, the detail in the characters of the game is lacking slightly due to the technology of the time but I didn’t find this distracting at all.

My only concern for the game’s graphics is the speed at which the Prince runs. I don’t know if this is based on limits of technology or a conscious decision but it feels like he is running through treacle. One button allows you to make a forward roll and this honestly feels faster than running.

I can only imagine the running speed was lowered as this made it easier to judge when to hit that all-important jump button when running towards a perilous drop and you wish to reach the other side/platform/flag pole.

The only other niggle I had with the game was with the camera. During the normal gameplay, it works quite well but there were situations during combat where I couldn’t even see the Prince, which obviously made it incredibly difficult.

This wasn’t a common occurrence and in fairness only happens if the Prince becomes backed into a corner or behind a piece of scenery where the camera is unable to follow.

Finally, keep your eyes open as you play the game as there is a hidden bonus. Somewhere in the game, the developers have hidden an object which will unlock the original Prince of Persia game from 1989.


Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was a great comeback for the franchise only marred by the combat which I found tiresome by the end. Don’t let that put you off this otherwise excellent game.



John Abbitt

About the author | John Abbitt

@UKFilmNerd | John loves the movies and he used to write for his own website, The Tydirium Hangar Bay, in the late 1990's. Whilst the web page idea became lost in the passages of time, John's love of film did not. Now he's back, writing for The Unheard Nerd.