The Prince of Persia franchise is a staple of the platforming genre. The first Prince of Persia was released way back in 1989 on the Apple II, and since then 8 more games have been released spanning pretty much every platform. Now the series has made its seventh generation debut with Prince of Persia, the first game since the 1989 classic to have no subtitle.
Prince of Persia, unsurprisingly, stars a rugged action-hero style prince, who gets lost in the desert and stumbles into an ancient kingdom. Upon reaching this kingdom he meets a princess named Elika, who is fleeing her mad father who seeks to resurrect the god of darkness Ahriman. Her father succeeds, and the Prince and Elika set out to restore the fertile lands around the kingdom and re-imprison Ahriman. The plot isn't going to blow your mind, but it gives you a decent excuse to run, jump, and climb around the kingdom. The characters themselves fall into the fairly generic action movie stereotypes of the gruff outlaw Prince and the noble but witty Elika. On the other hand the dialog can be witty, and despite the relative freedom in choosing the order in which you progress through the plot, the relationship between the characters is well developed and interesting.
The gameplay of Prince of Persia is somewhat unique. The platforming is done with only a few buttons, and it is designed to flow quickly and smoothly. The game makes use of great animation, and the free-running style platforming feels fast and fun. Elika saves you any time you drop and starts you back at the beginning of the last platforming sequence. The game is pretty easy, but this is not why. Elika is just a way of disguising frequent continue points. This doesn't mean you aren't dying. The game is just saving you the hassle of pressing a "Continue" button. At the same time, that doesn't mean the game isn't pretty easy. A single well-timed button press is all it takes to make the prince move for a few seconds. It's hard to care too much though when you're flying across walls and between pillars, missing tendrils of deadly corruption by mere inches in a desperate attempt to make it to the next platform alive.
The combat is hit and miss. Every battle is handled as a one-on-one dual between you and the enemy, including the non-boss fights. Each of the four face buttons executes a different move; Acrobatic, Magic (Elika's attacks), Sword, or Gauntlet. Successfully stringing together these moves can make gorgeous and exhilarating combos, but the fact is that you really don't even need to be competent at making combos to beat the game. The enemies can be killed (albeit very slowly) with even the simplest of sequences. Even blocking has pretty much all the skill removed. The game's screen goes white and time slows to warn you and give you time to react to an enemy blow. Short button press sequences show up, but these aren't a big enough part of the combat to be either a draw or a turn-off for those who love them or hate them. Even with these issues the combat can be a lot of fun, and when you get into it it's hard to care about the fact that you haven't really been challenged yet.
Puzzle-solving, a staple in the Sands of Time trilogy, has been significantly toned down in this game. They still show up, but not as often, and are generally not too difficult. Puzzles usually involve opening valves or setting up levers to let you use the magical plates that launch you up to boss fights. Some levels have them, others have none. A couple of the boss fights require some minor puzzle-solving ability to beat, but this will not challenge the serious adventure gamer looking to be stumped. Most of the puzzles can be figured out by trial and error, and those that can't the game gives you enough clues to solve on your own.
It should go without saying that Prince of Persia is a beautiful game. The vibrant watercolor art style stands out among a sea of grey and brown action titles on the HD consoles, and the animation is smooth and believable. There is a lot of detail in the world, and the game manages to impress both technically and artistically. That said, there are a couple minor glitches, such as light seeds not disappearing or Elika getting stuck and having to teleport to you. These aren't common issues, and even when they occur they don't do much to distract from the beautiful game. The voice acting is some of the best currently in the industry. The music flows brilliantly along with the action and platforming. It is made up of fully orchestrated flowing scores, and is a joy to listen to. Unfortunately the game could stand to have a little more of it, as it gets repeated a lot by the end of the game.
The biggest issue for Prince of Persia is its value. The game is only about 12 hours long, and there aren't a whole lot of reasons to replay it. Outside of the combat, platforming, and puzzle-solving, a little bit of exploration is encouraged to collect light seeds, but there doesn't seem to be any real reward for gathering them aside from achievements/trophies. Speed runs from one location to another also earn you achievements and trophies, adding a small amount of replayability for the devoted. There is a hidden 4th costume for the Prince and Elika which can be unlocked, but there is no information as to how it is obtained. It may need to be downloaded online like the 3rd costume.
Prince of Persia is a great, but flawed game. On the one hand it's fast, fun, and pretty. On the other it's not really for anyone who wants a big challenge in their gaming. It certainly could have used another difficulty level and a bit more length. Still, when you really get into swinging around the beautifully rendered world at high speeds, it's hard to care so much about the lack of difficulty. If you are looking for something light, fun, fast, and beautiful to give you a break from the flood of shooters and bloody action games, you could do a lot worse than Prince of Persia.