Time Travel Is A Bitch To Wrap Your Head Around, Especially When It’s Covered In Sand

A little while ago, I managed to acquire the three installments of the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time Trilogy at a movie trading store in my area and have been working my way through them for the last month or so. No, I didn’t just buy the HD trilogy remake. I saw the reviews and pics for it, and realized I was better off unloading ten dollars extra for old-school PS2 goodness. Anyways, I know these things have been reviewed by just about everybody at this point in time, but it’s been a while since I’ve talked about a video game, let alone one I really enjoyed, so I’m jumping onto the overcrowded bandwagon whilst wielding a flamethrower to barbecue any review that says Warrior Within was the “worst thing to happen to the trilogy evar!”

– Now I’m familiar enough with the history of the Prince of Persia series as well as the other games to come afterwards, but I’m only interested in this trilogy and don’t think I will be acquiring the other installments anytime soon, so f*ck their existence and let’s get on with talking about the games.

Obviously, I’ve heard of Sands of Time and how it’s considered the pinnacle of the platforming genre, a style of gameplay I have a certain fondness for due to growing up on Nintendo, but prior to playing it, I had no idea what it was about other than it had an acrobatic prince, some spunky female sidekick, and the ability to rewind time should you fail at platforming. I never watched a single Youtube video and I don’t remember a thing about the 2010 film with Jake Gyllenhal other than the ending sucking a big fat one. I certainly wasn’t aware that the entirety of the game would take place in a palace with so many convenient contraptions blocking your way to get from the throne room to the toilet to the point that that it makes Hogwarts look like an Amish household. But once I adjusted to the details, along with the prince’s inconsistent behavior to survive twenty-foot drops only to die to a ten-foot one that I had to rewind, the game eventually won me over. Well, mostly.

Sands of Time’s visuals are obviously dated by today’s standards – especially when you compare it to something like Wind Waker – but the environments still look beautiful to this day and there’s something appealing about its roughness compared to what I’ve seen of the new-console generation games. That said, I was sick of seeing the same light brown brick walls by the time I was done with the game and whilst I adjusted to the palace’s overly-large complexity over time, my suspension of disbelief never went unharmed throughout the entire run time. All that said, I can’t deny that I was ever bored with any of the platforming segments. Well okay, there was one that kind of frustrated me because the game wouldn’t let me angle myself right unless I pushed the controls in “just” the right direction, but other than that, it’s pretty much everything I could ask for in a platformer.

Most of what makes the platforming fun comes from the “Dagger of Time” mechanics and how if you accidentally screw up a step and fall to your death, you can rewind time to before you died and try again. It’s like “quick saving” utilized as an actual game mechanic and it would have helped a lot during those levels in Mario Sunshine when you get your water pump taken away. The dagger has other uses of course, but the “rewind” is the most important aspect of the game’s appeal, so thank god it’s the first power you get. Other reasons why the platforming is fun is that the puzzles range from easy to challenging depending on how you utilize save points and common sense, along with the prince being supernaturally athletic as well as his funny comments during said platforming.

Where the game loses points though is through its actual combat. It’s extremely simplistic and repetitive, along with being plain cheap at times. There’s only four or so different fighting styles and they ALL require you to use the dagger as a fighting tool because otherwise the enemy will respawn, and it doesn’t help that enemies keep respawning a minimum of fifteen times before they’ll finally leave you alone. Couple that with the fact that you have to protect your female companion – who is cool personality-wise but isn’t the greatest asset in combat you’ll ever see – from getting killed (not to mention, her arrows can hurt you) at times and it just becomes a necessary evil you have to suffer through to get to the much better platforming segments.

And of course, there’s the ending. I didn’t realize that the film had the same ending as the first game, but apparently it did. And whilst it wasn’t a deal-breaker, it doesn’t change the fact that I generally f*cking hate reset endings on principle. There was one funny bit that resulted from it, but it wasn’t really worth utilizing the concept in general. Still, the game was fun overall and I was open to playing the sequels, so it did it’s job well.

Now I knew Warrior Within was going to be a step down from the first game mainly due me reading about the shocking amount of “unnecessary grime” the creators put into the thing, but I underestimated how much they overdid it. If you thought The Second Raid killed the fun of Full Metal Panic by being too hardcore, Warrior Within might kill you and feast on your corpse whilst singing Linkin Park songs. The prince was turned into a charmless angster (and was given a different voice actor to boot), the soundtrack consisted entirely of that godawful heavy metal genre, and whilst the environments were still pretty to look at, they were also grim and grey, causing me to get sick of them faster than Sands of Times’ brown walls.

But what really killed me was the overall reduction in fun despite the improvement in gameplay. The combat was alot better than the first game (especially since you didn’t need to stab people with the dagger to kill them anymore), but the situations you were forced to use it got tiresome quickly – barring the boss battles – and the semi-exploration aspect they added just padded the game far longer than it should have. This might have been tolerable if there were some quick jumps to get to places you already visited, but they didn’t even give you a proper map to use and I kept forgetting which way I had to go when I needed to revisit some place. Not to mention getting the canonical ending is all but impossible without a strategy guide because you needed to get all the health power-ups in order to do so and they can be hidden in some of the most obtuse of places. Similar to The Second Raid, I still liked the overall product fine and it had a cool sequel hook, but there’s no way I’m playing it again. Did I mention that the game came out in 2004 during a time when emo culture was in (cough Elfen Lied cough)?

Thankfully, Ubisoft saw the audience reaction and went back to the fun atmosphere and colorful visuals of Sands of Time (sort of) whilst retaining the improved gameplay in Warrior Within for the conclusion: The Two Thrones. Aside from the characters and aspects of the story coming off as Hollywood stereotypes, I’m in the minority when I say that Two Thrones is my personal favorite of the trilogy. I loved the new additions to the franchise (quick kills and the Dark Prince) on top of keeping everything I enjoyed from the platforming to the time mechanics – although the chariot sequences were kind of meh and the final boss fight might have been a little too gimmicky – but what sold the game for me was that it gave a big middle finger not just to the first game’s ending, but the reset button and time travelling stories in general to the point that my issues with Sands of Time were somewhat lessened. Also, keeping your female companion in the story whilst not having you babysit her was a plus.

The prince’s journey is pretty much the heart of all the fun gameplay and I really dug its overall progression. In the first game, he’s an arrogant dick who’s eager to please his father and fight in the army, only for said hopes to get dashed when he gets tricked into turning his dad and all the other palace inhabitants into sand people. By the end of the game, even though he brought back everything he lost, he was a changed man with a mission: to destroy the Sands of Time altogether in order to prevent them from hurting people again.

Whilst the second game took it too far in depicting his change into a stone-cold, battle-hardened warrior following the battles he’s faced since then, it made sense from a logical perspective and I think the ending (the good one at least) showed that whilst the majority of the story was about him destroying the Sands and fighting off the monster that hunted him due to his usage of them, the ultimate goal was to have him rediscover the love and kindness he lost over the years. All this comes to a head in the third game when he discovered that by trying to mess with time, all he did was hurt the people he was supposed to protect. Only when he finally accepts this fact, along with the darkness that has haunted him since Sands, can he finally become the ruler that his people needs.

Obviously, this isn’t the most original personal journey/time travel story out there (in fact, I think it’s the most basic of them all). But there’s something to be said about good execution, especially when it comes to video games where they have to combine story and gameplay well in order to make the most of the medium, and I think this trilogy has it down for the most part.

All in all, I enjoyed this saga alot for its great “platforming mixed with quantum physics” mechanics along with the blockbuster-like story. Would I consider it a favorite of mine? Eh, I dunno. Don’t really feel much need to replay it in the future and there were a lot of times, even in the non-Warrior Within games, when I felt like I was pushing forward just for the sake of completion, which isn’t what I want to feel whilst playing a video game. But it did enough right by me to the point I didn’t feel like I lost money, so take my opinion for what it’s worth.

PS: If that Project Almanac film that’s coming out this weekend turns out to have a good time travel story, then I will backflip off my balcony into a garbage can.

3 responses to “Time Travel Is A Bitch To Wrap Your Head Around, Especially When It’s Covered In Sand

  1. Haven’t played a Prince of Persia since Rival Swords (which is just a PSP/Wii port of the Two Swords). It was a fine addition to the franchise for the reasons you brought up, but the thing that ruined the game for me was the addition of the Dark Prince. I don’t remember the specifics, but I reached a point at which I couldn’t find any sands to replenish the low health I’d saved with at the time. Pretty crappy way to end my relationship with the franchise but I do plan on getting the trilogy again. Probably after I finish ICO and Shadow of Mordor.

  2. The Forgotten Sands isn’t something I’d say is really worth going out of your way for. It’s too “paint-by-numbers” Prince of Persia (at least in the early goings since I’ve never put more then a 3 hours into it) and the combat takes a step back from the post Sands of Time games. None of that dagger shit but still pretty generic third person action fare