Prince of Persia Classic Criticism

May 23rd, 2009

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[After returning to this title for a further play through, the combat suddenly made itself perfectly clear, meaning that some of the arguments below aren't so much applicable, but definitely representative of what the game was like at the time. I'm not sure why the suddenly clicked for me, but considering that I had to play through the complete game to reach that point where the combat mechanics made itself evident, the criticisms seem valid. Frame this article to the time of the first playthrough. I may write a follow up soon. Thanks!]

I never made it very far through the original Prince. The acrobatics were delectable, but oh how I loathe the swordplay. The graceful display of kinetics is paused so that a two person fumbling act can take place. It’s not a matter of the swordplay breaking the pace, but rather a clumsy mechanic impinging upon a polished one.

It’s almost ironic too that the publisher who bought into this brand name, had similar issues with their own title; Assassin’s Creed, almost 20 years later. Where the climbing outmatched the dueling to imbalanced proportions. I haven’t played to length Assassin’s Creed, nor have I of last-gen’s Prince of Persia Trilogy (it’s on the shelf though, gotta love those 3-packs!), so Prince of Persia Classic comes with no strings attached. I can just jump back into the title, and see if my older self can overcome the flimsy combat.

As you’re no doubt aware, Prince of Persia Classic is the titular, modern take on the original game, furnished with the décor of Sands of Time. Classic was pioneering in a way; being one of the first titles on the downloadable services to cover a remade, repackaged retro classic. Let’s not take for granted now.

Prince might have all the modern trimmings, but the issues of the past are quickly resurrected. Esteemed mobile phone developer Gameloft have done a great, if not occasionally sloppy job at this adaption, mending the melee combat as well, yet the same old problems still show through. Whether these issues can be attributed to the past design or the changes to the new model, I’m unsure (it’s been a long time), whatever the case it’s still problematic.

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The core problem with combat – and let’s get this right out the way – is the lack of clarity presented to the player. This operates in two ways, firstly it’s not always clear when the enemy will/can attack you making it very easy to misjudge, go for the swipe and lose out. The new-fangled slow motion has no effect at aiding in the timing of blows whatsoever, it paces the back and forth jabs nicely, making it a good moderator of battles while looking aesthetically swish. In terms of the suggested function (allowing one to determine the preceding action of a combatant), what the slow motion suggests and actually services are at ends, causing confusion by contradicting the perception put forth. The second issue is again related to the interplay of the characters. When one attacks, the other can receive the blow, dodge it or shield it with their sword. Once I became as accustomed as I could to the relative combat system, I found that the jousting felt out of my control, perhaps even automated. That is, when I attack and they shield, then we enter a rather shifty, on-edge combo, which may extend 3-5 turns by either player. When implanted in these combos, I reacted almost quicker than I had imagined myself doing so. There was no mental assuredness to affirm the move I’d just input. I’m not particularly sure if maybe it’s my zen like sword skills (I was a sword master in another life you know) or the game itself – the inner-workings of the combat system are rather vague.

The original title was glamoured for its smooth animation, and this – unsurprisingly – stands true today as a glowing testament. Wisely taken, the animation remains unaffected by the change, but much as it did in the day, there are still some oddities about it. Prince of Persia had a very unnatural aesthetic. Many games before the 3D-era, particularly on the PC front, were pushing for heightened realism and as a result created strange amalgamations that represented some form of attempted realism tainted by hardware limitations. Prince of Persia was the polar opposite, it flowed so smoothly that it was unreal to watch.

There is a slight jerkiness in animation though, as caused by the piecing together of overtly smooth animations to the stationary frame. Every time the animation loops back to the default we witness the crink in the bones, and it happens frequently.

Prince of Persia Classic is a mostly well done, sometimes awfully sloppy remake. The new coat of paint looks spiffy and fits appropriately with the flesh of the original game. Sound design is also well done, but like the original you probably won’t notice it much*. The ear murdering menu sound effect must be mentioned and then destroyed as it’s blatantly offensive and overused beyond irritation. As for the rest, the screenshots more or less give you the general picture, I’m not here to describe graphics.

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The sloppiness is unfortunately rather apparent. Close up the texturing leaves a little to be desired. This is noticeable during the cutscenes lifted straight from the original. Unfortunately the cutscenes feel awkward as they’re spliced between two loading sequences which just elongate them, and come off stilted rather than effective. Ah, the curses of modern technology. The text in menus and story sequences look atrocious. For some reason, the transparency is lowered and it becomes difficult to read as by conscious design decision. The animation too can be a little rough. When a character dies on the edge of a platform, they jolt before transiting down the crevice. It looks ugly. The whole production is remade faithfully to the series, but be cautious of the rough patches which can become a slight detriment to the overarching quality.

Excluding the cosmetics, it’s still hard to see why they didn’t properly address the combat. Gameloft approached it, fiddled around, and the end result is better but still highly flawed. Like all of the criticisms listed, it’s significant, but doesn’t damage this title as an essential purchase, and the definitive iteration.

So I’ve barked on for some one thousand words now, yet I still love this title. There’s an innate magic to Prince of Persia. It’s the Arabian Nights for this generation. As one of my tutors would call it “an intervention of this tale passed down for centuries. Prince of Persia is the ideal electronic embodiment which I think explains a large part of it’s appeal; it’s divinely pure in its subject matter. I hold a lot of sentiments towards this game, which I hope carry onto the other titles when I do get around to eventually playing them in full.

Additional Readings

Prince of Persia Classic/Original Video Comparison
Mobile Phone Iteration
Prince of Persia Classic Shows How 2D Remakes Should Be Done

*Did the original PoP even have a background track?

[Pro-trip: You can walk through the spikes, just do it slowly]