Prince of Persia

Jake Gyllenhaal in Prince of Persia
That's a really awkward pose...

As Hollywood continues to plunder the intellectual property goldmine of video games and doing a shoddy job of it, let me try to stem the tide of negative perception by showing you the richness of the source material.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, starring Jake Gyllenhaal, will be released some time around May, and if the trailer‘s anything to go by, it’s not going to be very good. That’s a huge shame, because the game of the same name was actually very good. Besides a novel new game mechanic (the ability to “rewind time”), Sands of Time reimagined the prince from the 80’s game and turned him a gritty, witty character. Add a decent storyline with a compelling twist, and some gorgeous visuals, and you have a game that spawned two sequels, with yet another one in the works.

Prince of Persia (2008)
The "prince" and Elika

In 2008, the series was rebooted yet again with the release of the rather inconveniently titled Prince of Persia. I’m gonna dwell a little here, since this post is also going to serve as a review for the game. Here, we have an entirely new prince who is not really a prince at all, but a vagabond and thief who gets caught up in the plight of a (real) princess, Elika, and her people the Ahura.

The prince’s gravity-defying acrobatics make a welcome return, but this time he has Elika as his constant companion and helper, using her magic to help the prince perform feats beyond his normal abilities and saving him from death (yes, which means that you can never die in this game). While you never get to control Elika directly, she’s always present, and it’s amazing to see how they interact, both in terms of the banter between them as the game progresses as well as how the game handles situations where the characters need to move around each other in the environment. It’s hard to describe but a joy to watch, and is – in my opinion – an astonishing feat of game design.

I also really appreciated the cel-shaded art style and the beautifully designed levels featuring an open-ended level design that allowed you to traverse the entire game world seamlessly, although certain areas have to be unlocked before you can reach them. Sadly, this is the one area where the game faltered: getting to certain areas requires the use of energy “plates” which result in pointless wandering through the environment (whether jumping, flying or running), along a predetermined path which is often quite ridiculous – e.g. flying huge loops around the whole and having to avoid obstacles, when the destination was very close by in the first place.

The success of any fictional work relies on the ability of the storyteller to get their audience to become emotionally attached to the characters and the story, and Prince of Persia managed to do that as well as any movie that I’ve seen or book that I’ve read. In spite of the limitations presented by the non-linear game design, and as long as you take the time to activate the optional dialogue, you get to learn a lot about both the Prince and Elika, what drives and motivates them and their respective strengths and failings. After I finished the game I had a lingering desire to see the characters again (which is why partly why I’m playing through the game a second time).

Shame how unlikely it is that the movie will generate the same kind of feeling. In that regard, I strongly recommend that you have a go at the games before seeing the movie so that your first experience of the franchise is a positive one.

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