Thursday, February 02, 2012

Prince of Persia (Original 1989)

Before the sands of time in the 2nd trilogy, before the battle of the gods in the 2008 version, let's all remember how it all began!
EDITOR'S NOTE: For this review I'm using the ported PC version of the original PoP.
Now, onto the review, shall we?
A long old classic, Prince Of Persia is basically a one-man's game. The original game was made by just one person - Jordan Mechner. He didn't just make a successful game, he invented a whole new concept in the gaming history which would inspire countless game producers years later, and he redefined everything people had in mind about animations and graphics. Many years later, Prince Of Persia is still a game that lives on in the legends. It even got renewed on the newer consoles, and is today a strong and stable game franchise that keep on growing. After all the remakes to different platforms, and with the new series rolling on, the original, in its simpleness, still keeps on rocking and haunting the players that come across it.

The story is simple, but effective for a game. It takes place into the mythical and ancient Persia. The sultan is away at war, and his grand vizier Jaffar rules the land in his place, turning the place land into a corrupt cruel regime. Jaffar wants to claim the throne for his own, so he plans to marry the sultan's daughter, to claim the throne for himself. The only thing keeping his success away is a young man from an unknown country, who has caught the princess eye. Furious, Jaffar throws the young lad in the deep dungeons of the castle, and gives the princess an ultimatum: Marry me or die. He gives her one hour to decide, and locks her inside the big tower, with a giant hourglass as her only company. However, what Jaffar doesn't know is that the young man has broken out of his cell in the dungeon, and is racing towards the princess. The young girl puts all her hope on the brave prince, as she sees the sand slowly decrease...

Even though it is a very old by now, this game still has a lot of power for both the brain and the eye. You play as the brave prince, whose objective is to pass all obstacles and guards, and free the princess who is locked in the tower, before the time has run out. It is not an easy task. Prince Of Persia is a difficult game. You have only one hour to complete twelve menacing levels, filled with deadly traps and lethal enemies. 

The game puts you up against some really adventurous passages, such as long running jumps over bottomless pits, steep cliffs over sharp spikes, duels of death with guards on bridges with loose tiles, and puzzles with locked doors and hidden floor switches (think Indiana Jones, and you are pretty close). The objective is to find the exit on each level, and you do this by exploring the area and solving mind-boggling puzzles with locked doors as well as doing platform jumping and running over holes and traps. Whenever you run into an enemy, you engage him in a swordfight. And all the time, the time ticks down...

An aspect that makes Prince Of Persia stand out from many other adventure games is the realistic behaviour and physical properties of the characters. The amazing animations have already been mentioned. Everything the prince and his foes do, from swinging their swords to running and jumping look fabulous. Still today, even though the pixels look very blocky, and the animation frames aren't too many, the moves are so smooth and realistic that you will find nothing to complain about.

The second part of the physics that makes the game score high points is the frailness of the characters. Unlike most platform games, where you can make huge jumps and shoot triple fireballs, the main character of the game is nothing but an ordinary human. Drop down from a fall higher than two stories and you will smash into the concrete and turn your bones into dust. Fall onto or run into spikes, and they will slice right through your body. Take a few cuts by a sabre, and you will bleed to death. There are no superhumans or star men in Prince Of Persia. 

By adding this macabre but realistic feeling into the game, the adrenaline rush and the tension on the levels increase a lot more. When jumping over those huge pits, and grabbing onto the edge on the other side being just a few inches away from death, it really makes you sweaty, realizing that if you fall down there, you are history. When playing Prince Of Persia, you realize how weak and fragile the human body is. The detailed animations and the action-packed stunts you do really make this game a glistering journey with your adrenaline rushing and your hands shaking. The game doesn't ignore the true looks of a death scene either. Most of the deaths are very gory, and people who have weak nerves should be careful with this game.

Speaking about realistic physics doesn't mean that the game hasn't got a fantasy-vibe in it. Hey, it takes place in the land of fairytales after all! There will be several mystic events that will occur along the way. Magic potions, a ghost doppleganger of yourself, and skeleton warriors reanimated with black magic are only a few of the twisted horrors you will encounter on your quest. 

Even though the environment isn't very detailed, and the concept is similar for all levels, Prince Of Persia manages to make the twelve levels very unique and varied. As you proceed through the floors, the castle surroundings changes and become more and more luxury and decorated, as you reach the quarters where the normal people live. If you stop to play Prince Of Persia, it will not be because of repetitiveness.

Some people may however drop this game because of the huge challenge it puts them up against. Prince Of Persia is indeed a very difficult game. One hour to complete twelve levels isn't much, and you need to be quick and know your way around if you want to succeed. Dying is something you will spend a lot of time with, and everytime the lights go out, you are sent straight back to the beginning of the level, while the time still flows on. Your life supply is endless, but as soon as the time runs out, the game is over. This means that dying repeatedly on a stage might be very lethal for your progress later on. 

Playing through the game, only to find that you fail on one of the last levels because of time loss is very frustrating. Fortunately, there is a save and load feature in the game, so if you just keep on playing the levels until you finish them in a good way, you can save, and then practice on the next level until you get it down perfectly, loading if you fail, so you won't lose any time. Still, this doesn't remove all the frustration, and you need to be prepared for a lot of hard work and replaying if you want to get all the way through.

The controls are a two-sided story. The actual moves of the prince are very clever and useful. He can perform a small step, to make sure he doesn't stumble into a trap or down a pit. He can also run, jump, climb and do small frog jumps to get through small passages. Unfortunately, the programming for the controls isn't top notch. Sometimes playing feels stiff, and because the game is sometimes not responding directly on your inputs, it is easy to fumble while pushing the buttons, and take on step too much down to your death. As for the background graphics and music and sounds, they don't really add a lot to the atmosphere. The Persian feeling is there, but mostly because of the story and the gameplay, not so much because of the squeaky PC-speaker sounds.

If I may do a little remark before closing, I must say that I wonder why the castle is designed the way it is. Okay that the dungeons are filled with spikes, pits and loose tiles, but the upper parts? Are the court family in the castle supposed to live in a place where you need to climb up with your own arms to get to the upper floor? Is the sultan himself dodging all those spikes and loose slabs? Does the cook say "Dinner is ready!", and the princess say "Okay! I'll just do a running jump over this huge pit, and I'll be right there!". Haven't they heard of stairs or proper bridges? Of course I don't mean that they should redesign the obstacles and puzzles in the levels, but if you think about it, it's quite humorous. I guess that Jaffar simply used his arcane magics to transform the whole castle into a death trap.

While the game doesn't score full in some parts, Prince Of Persia has enough good bits to be considered a great game and a classic. The mythic atmosphere, the twelve perfectly balanced levels, the adrenaline-packed platform parts, and the beautiful animations make you come back for more. Also, the save/load-feature makes the game become fair against the player instead of fiendish. It is challenging, but not hopeless. Anyone with just a little patience will be able to beat it. With a genuine and creative concept with great puzzles, and enough side-events to keep up the interest, you just have to like this game. 

SYSTEM: Apple II, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Game Gear, Nintendo Entertainment System, Atari ST, ZX Spectrum, Sam Coupé, Mac OS, Master System, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega CD, Genesis/Mega Drive, Sharp X68000, TurboGrafx-CD, Play Station Network, PC, XBLive Arcade, Commodore 64

Another Editor's Note: I simple had to tell this. The game Prince of Persia, the original, is the 2nd most ported game in the history of games! The No.1 is still, and will always be TETRIS!



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