​Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time GameCube Review

Everyone would like to be able to control time. How cool would it be to be able to rewind time as much as you’d like and correct mistakes you’ve made or to be able to relive some of the most extraordinary moments of your life. I know I’d do it all the time if I had the chance, but since I know it’ll never happen in real life, I guess I’ll have to do it in my videogames.

Based on the game of the same name released a long time ago, Prince of Persia brings back all of the death trap puzzle solving that was found in the original and brings it into a fully 3D environment. It features everything the original game had to offer, even the battle sequences and then some. It was one of the best games to be released in 2003 but didn’t achieve the commercial success Ubi Soft hoped it would have in the US. Fortunately for us though, European gamers were intelligent enough to buy it and we will be getting a sequel just in time for the holidays.

Ubisoft decided to make the game with the help of the creator of the original, mister Jordan Mechner. He helped supervise the game and tried to stay as true to the original as possible while adding a lot more stuff that is now possible with today’s consoles. He is also responsible in part of the story as it is, of course, his creation and only he should know what the prince will be facing in his adventures.

I remember playing the game on my NES back in the 1980s. I know the original was a PC game but I wasn’t a PC gamer at the time so most of my gaming was done on my TV set. The game was very simple but still you’d be hooked to it. You had to escape the dungeon in a set amount of time which already puts some pressure on you. The traps were everywhere and you’d often die and have to restart everything which was part of the challenge since you’d have to remember everything by heart in order to come back and do it correctly the next time. The game was very difficult and I never actually finished it, even though now I’m better at games so I guess I should play it again and experience it one more time.

Gone are the dungeons! Well, not entirely but there aren’t that many in the game. Instead, most of the game takes place in a huge palace. The story begins as you, the prince, are attacking the palace of an ennemy and steal the dagger of time from him. You don’t know yet though that the dagger holds powers beyond your wildest dreams and that a single mistake of yours will change your life forever. As you come back, the royal Vizier tricks you into opening the forbidden Hourglass which unleashes the Sands of Time on the earth and curses everyone by turning them into sand creatures. The Vizier now wants the Dagger of Time to become immortal and it is your job to stop him. But you don’t know that at first as what you want is escape this dangerous place and go back to your previous world. To do that, the prince will be aided on his quest by a young and gorgeous women named Farah.

The story is told very nicely through a few FMV cutscenes in the game as well as real-time cutscenes. The voice acting is really good and even though there aren’t many characters in the game you will still be very intrigued and will continue playing to know what’s going to happen even though this isn’t the game with the deepest story I’ve seen. It’s more of a backstory, a reason for the prince to fight and for this game to exist.

As you begin your quest you won’t have all of the abilities and attacks the prince can perform throughout the game. You will acquire those by absorbing sand clouds with your Dagger. Each time you’ve absorbed a certain amount of those you gain one more sand tank which means you will be able to perform more abilities. For example, the one you have at the beginning is the power to rewind time itself for a maximum of 10 seconds. So if you jump off a cliff by mistake you will be able to rewind time and still be alive. Another is the ability to slow down time in battle to kill ennemies more easily or accelerate time which is also very helpful. You can also freeze ennemies by using the dagger and then slice them in half with your sword which can really save your life in battles when you are fighting lots of ennemies at the same time.

The puzzles in the game are very well done as everything looks very natural and doesn’t look like it was put there just for fun. Most of the time you will be jumping from ledge to ledge or from rope to rope, wall jumping and pushing switches to open doors for a limited time. You can also wall run in this game which will be used quite often and really looks cool. At some point you will, for example, run up a wall and press a switch which will make a platform appear behind you. You have to then jump on it and perform the same thing over and over to get to the top. You will also be running sideways on walls and then jump to reach ladders or other platforms. There are lots of poles in that game and it is the combination of all those elements that make this game really cool. It might seem stupid in words but when you play the game and see every idea the developer has come up with and how you perform certain tasks you will understand why this game is so great.

One reason though why those puzzles are so great is that you have to perform all of those great moves in order to complete them and, sometimes, in a time limit which really puts some pressure on you. The prince’s moves are all very fluid and he also moves really quickly so everything is performed easily so it’s really the player’s fault if he misses something. There are places with rotating blades and it is possible for the prince to roll under them even though they move really quickly. You also need to walk really slowly on spike traps and it kind of reminded me of the slow walking in Splinter Cell. Walk too quickly and the spikes come out making you lose some of your precious health.

As in the Legend of Zelda there are puzzles where you have to manipulate light by reflecting it on various mirrors in order to activate switches and open new areas. There a few puzzles where you will need to pull levers and push stuff around in a certain way so that you can gain access to new areas of the room and complete puzzles but it’s never really difficult and the developers give you hints through visions that you can see at each save point. It gives you a glimpse of what’s going to happen and reveals various parts of the puzzle so if you get stucked you can always go back to the save point and see how to complete it. My 12 years old step brother was able to complete it so it’s not that complicated but still offers a certain challenge.

One of the big aspects of the game are the fight sequences. The prince is a skilled warrior and he is incredibly acrobatic. You can jump over ennemies and hit them at the same time or roll around to dodge their attacks, perform flips and jump on walls and then jump again to really hurt your ennemies. Once your ennemies are laying on the ground you have to hit them with the dagger of time so that they desintegrate and become sand again which is really nice. Some of the battles were kind of difficult but you can also block and since the prince can do nearly everything and attack multiple ennemies at once it makes things a little bit easier. Farah also fights with you so you’ll have to protect her in various battles because if she dies then it’s the end of you too. The battle system is very well done and Ubi Soft must have worked a lot on it as it is one of the most polished battle systems I’ve seen in a long time!

Since it’s developed by Ubisoft Montreal, the same team behind the succesful and gorgeous Splinter Cell (well, not exactly but they still work in the same building anyway!), you know it has to deliver on the technical side of things. First of all, let me tell you that this game is huge! There are outdoor environments that were enormous and yet, the game still ran smoothly at nearly always 60 frames per second and I am not joking! Ubisoft’s Montreal team is clearly becoming one of the best there is not only because of the content of their games but also because everything in their games seems to be optimized so much that everything looks spectacular and still runs great. The art style is also mind blowing and it really has that persian feel to it, and I don’t know if I’m the only one to think that it kind of looks a little like Aladdin, but that’s how I felt when playing. A more mature Aladdin though that’s for sure! The only major framerate drops were in battles but nothing big enough to make me angry.

The character models are detailed even though the ennemies can be a little blocky at times but that’s to be expected because of the amount there are on screen at the same time and because of all the details found in the environment. Textures looked very good to me and not that much blurry, and there were some very good lighting effects. There is also some kind of filter applied to the screen or something, I don’t really know what it is but it gives this game some kind of exotic feel to it which is really nice. Also, the way every environment was built and how the puzzles were implemented, it never really feels like it was put there for fun and nothing looks out of place. I bet they spent lots of time thinking about how it could be done.

One thing that deserves it’s own paragraph is the prince. I don’t know how they did it but he moves so incredibly well! You can link any of the moves in the games and it always looks fluid, especially in combats. You can jump over ennemies while attacking them at the same time and then jump on a wall to attack them again and then perform a backflip to land in front of another guy and hit him, it really feels like a choregraphed action film except it’s all performed in real time and it’s absolutely superb! It doesn’t feel like there were a few frames of animation missing in some places and everything was done so that you could link every move in the game without any problem at all! There are other little details like when you jump onto ledges sometimes one of the prince’s feet will slip or when walking straight on small ledges depending on how you control the princes he will have a harder time keeping his balance and will be moving more from left to right like if he was gonna fall. He looks very natural and I think that’s what makes him so incredible.

The game’s sound is equally impressive. Lots of sound effects were used in this game, lots of which really set the mood for the environments you’re in. There are some creepy voices here in there when it needs to be more ethereal and the sounds used in the rewind effects or when the camera moves really fast are great and gives this game some kind of matrix feel to it as it’s really slick. The voices are of good quality and I think the actors did a great job portraying the characters. The music though has to be my favorite aspect. It’s some kind of persian/arabic music mixed with rock and it’s used so that the more hardcore tracks are used in combat while the soft tracks will be used in times of puzzles or when exploring environments. There are also vocals in some of the tracks so that it adds more variety to the music in this game.

So overall, should you still buy this game considering that the sequel is coming soon? I think you should more ask yourself if you are willing to pass on one of the best game experiences of this generation or not. It doesn’t cost much and even though it doesn’t last more than 6 to 10 hours, the puzzles are so well done and this game looks so good that you’ll want to go through it at least one more time when you are done with the main quest. There is also the original Prince of Persia available as an unlockable for the more nostalgic gamers. Go buy it, it’s worth your money and you’ll be more trained for the sequel!

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