Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time Review for GameCube
Posted on Monday, February 02, 2004 @ 04:12:00 am E.S.T
Without a doubt, Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time is a superb game. It’s stylish, refreshing, flowing, original, and an utter joy to play. Though it does provide the occasional awkward camera angle and the fighting system is questionable, Prince of Persia is a must own for almost everyone.
A young prince seeks to find his father’s approval by discovering two ancient treasures, the Dagger and Hourglass of Time. After unearthing these items, an evil vizier tricks the Prince into releasing their dark powers, transforming every living thing on the earth into fearsome sand creatures. With the aid of a mysterious girl named Farah, the Prince must set things back the way they were before he unlocked the Hourglass and unleashed horror upon the world.
In his search for the Hourglass of Time (he’s already carrying the Dagger with him) the Prince utilizes a variety of athletic stunts. He can run up or across walls, leap over enemies, climb up towering columns, and even program the VCR timer (Well, maybe he can’t do that quite yet…). These acrobatics make the game extremely fun, and add some personality to a game in a crowded action/adventure genre.
The success of the Prince’s nimbleness is thanks in no small part to the game’s instinctive control scheme. Every button is well assigned and serves a function, save the D-Pad, which, in my opinion, could have been used to control Farah, your tagalong sidekick with a bow and arrow. My only complaint about the control scheme is that to perform two of Dagger of Time’s functions—slowing and rewinding time—you’re required to press the “L” button. On many occasions when trying to slow down time I’ve instead rewound it, and vice-versa. Not only did this force me to start all the way back at the beginning of certain levels, it also caused me to walk away from the game in the middle of playing it a time or two.
Now that I think about it, I really found the whole Dagger of Time concept much less revolutionary or brilliant than many reviewers. To me, it just seems like a gimmick. It does seem the trend, doesn’t it? Ratchet and Clank has a huge arsenal of weapons, Billy Hatcher has an army of eggs, and Tomb Raider has…well…Lara’s breasts. And now, Prince of Persia has a dagger to control the Sands of Time. While the Dagger does help mix up gameplay and puts an original twist on the game, using it is often an exercise in frustration. Slowing, rewinding, and accelerating time are all easily confused, and the scant few times you use these abilities are often more trouble then they're worth. However, UbiSoft did take the time to distinguish PoP from the crowd, and for that, I applaud them.
Ubi’s second effort at setting The Sands of Time apart from the rest of the action/adventure genre is a more commendable one. Farah, the ancestor of an ancient Indian maharajah, starts traveling with the Prince early on in the game, with hopes of helping him restore the world to the way it was. Her small stature allows her to crawl into small crevices to press switches or find secret passageways that the Prince couldn’t normally reach. She even attempts to help in combat. Her bow and arrows make the Prince’s job of disposing of enemies a bit easier, and she serves as a good sniper. Sometimes, though, she’ll get up close and personal with enemies, forcing you to protect her, and she won’t hesitate to shoot the Prince if he so happens to get in the way of her shot.
The Prince’s puzzle-based gameplay—which is undoubtedly his strongest point—can be described in two words: refreshingly difficult. Sometimes you can find yourself stuck in the middle of a puzzle for hours—unless you buy the strategy guide, you cheaters—before solving it. While this can be frustrating at moments (especially when the camera gives Super Mario Sunshine-ish camera angles), the sense of satisfaction felt after completing some of the game’s harder puzzles makes all the effort needed to solve them worth it. That’s not to say that all of PoP’s puzzles are mind-bendingly hard, though; their difficulty is exceptionally varied. In fact, one mission’s objective is simply, “Avoid the spiky poles.” The tradeoff between easily completed and complicated puzzles makes the game much more interesting and keeps gamers from getting burned out on the Prince’s sometimes difficult gameplay.
PoP’s level design is, at even its lowest point, some of the best I’ve ever seen. Not only do environments test players’ ability to successfully use the Prince’s acrobatics, they also demand that you think critically about how to solve problems and mazes. Each level greatly varies from the one before it, and introduces new aspects of gameplay and applications for them; while one level will have you jumping and rolling away from buzz saws, another will insist that you run up walls and swing acrobatically from pole to pole fifty feet up a palace wall (kids, don’t try this at home). As far as level design goes, The Sands of Time is flawless. Great job, Ubi.
Sadly, the same praise cannot be given to The Sands of Time’s combat system. Not only are battle sequences WAY too long, but they also feel awkward and are often frustratingly difficult. You’ll often find three or four enemies crowded in a circle around you, allowing you no way to escape or defend yourself. If you get pushed back into a corner or knocked onto the ground, it’s just like a scene out of Clockwork Orange; you’re pretty much done, as enemies continue to attack you without fail. Though the Prince’s acrobatic feats help a bit, they’re almost completely neutralized by the fact that our fair hero is unable auto-aim for his life. PoP’s clunky battle system is a major let-down, since the game tends to rely on it heavily and it at times is an integral part of gameplay.
Visually, The Sands of Time is nothing short of exhilarating. Both the Prince and Farah are animated perfectly, as are effects like trees blowing in the wind and water pouring from fountains. While not particularly detailed, character models are wonderfully varied, and they, as well as the rest of the game, feature a color palette as you’ve never before seen. Dark blue and black hues accent bright, golden yellows while beaming sunlight gives way seamlessly to brooding, shadowy hallways. In short, be sure to book a dentist if you plan on purchasing The Sands of Time, as this much eye candy’s bound to give you cavities.
When it comes to sound, the Prince doesn’t miss a beat. The Middle Eastern-esque music helps the game feel more authentic and sets up a mysterious and intriguing mood, while the voice acting is both superbly written and acted. Sound effects, like swords clashing or stone crumbling, sound exactly as they do in real life; this adds tremendously to the game’s immersion factor. I, as well as many other gamers, appreciate all the work Ubi put into making this game sound good, and they may have set a new standard for video game audio.
If this isn’t enough—you insatiable fiend—there’s also a semi-large library of “Making of…” videos to watch in PoP’s “extra features” section. They offer insight into how the game, characters, monsters, and levels were made, and they add a fair amount of replay value to The Sands of Time, if you’re interested in that kind of stuff. Also, linking both the GCN and GBA versions of PoP will allow players to use the original Prince on their consoles, as well as gaining automatic health regeneration, which might come in handy in some of the game’s later levels. Though I didn’t get a chance to review this aspect of the game, it sure doesn’t sound like something I’d pay thirty extra dollars for.
Undoubtedly, The Prince of Persia: the Sands of Time is a great game. Challenging puzzles, fresh gameplay, and some of the best sound and graphics I’ve ever seen make it a must buy; it’s just too bad a clunky battle system and awkward camera angles hold it back from perfection.
Review By: Stealth52 - 2753 Reads
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