Pro:Amazing POP gameplay.
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands begins with an unusually exciting tutorial chapter in which the titular prince must escape ruins as they sink into the sand. Following a little golden tinker-bell like creature, the prince leaps from building to building, climbing quickly as the sands rise. Reaching a dead end, sinking quickly, the creature tells the prince that if he trusts her, he must leap into the desert. He does so. The game then flashes back to show why the prince absolutely, positively, should not, under any circumstances whatever, trust that creature.
Basic Gameplay: Jump, Run, Climb, Die
The creature is a genie who has promised the prince a kingdom and a princess, and then has lead him for weeks through empty deserts and forests. When they reach the kingdom, it is in ruins and populated by monsters. The credulous prince is still cajoled into continuing in a classic case of fool me once, shame on you, fool me about 14 times, I’m just an idiot.
There’s no apparent reason for the prince to keep slogging through this desolate kingdom, but things are quite different for gamers, who will recognize in those forbidding ruins everything that has made the POP series great since it was reinvented with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. The entire kingdom is one vast, elaborate puzzle that the prince must navigate through climbing, jumping and wall running past whirring saw blades and spiked floors. Whenever you reach a new area, the camera lovingly glides around, showing you what you’re up against, creating a mixed feeling of awe, trepidation and delight as you wonder how on earth you will find your way to the next level.
When I reviewed the Sands of Time, I began by noting that a palace filled with elaborate booby traps would be an unpleasant place to live. At one point in Forgotten Sands, the prince says something similar, wondering how humans could live in such a place. The genie replies that the palace wasn’t built for humans, and after all these years it’s nice to have some sort of answer, even if it begs the question of whom exactly the palace was built for.
More Gameplay: Fun Additions
Besides the platforming elements familiar from previous games, Forgotten Sands has several interesting additions. The first of these are special areas where the prince can create columns of sand or hooks that he can hang off of. Eventually, he learns to create these items in non-specified locations (chosen with the Wii remote), and further to create a bubble platform he can jump out of, which allows players a surprising amount of latitude in deciding how to proceed. Using these tools, for example, you can climb up by putting a hook on a wall and running up to it, then jumping into the air and creating a bubble from which to run up the wall to another hook your create further up.
(These additions are specific to the Wii; the PS3/Xbox 360/PC version of the game is completely different, with a different story and different abilities. Often special Wii versions are notably worse than the other platform’s versions, but many people who have played both say the Wii version is as good or better than the alternate game.)
At times the game seems not quite able to cope with the freedom it has given players. At one point I found I was unable to point the game camera in the direction I wanted; it insisted on pointing the opposite way. I eventually realized the problem; the game was assuming I was traveling clockwise, as I climbed up the room, but I had found a way, using the tools the game had given me, to travel counter-clockwise.
Even More Gameplay: Combat and Special Sequences
When not platforming, or solving the game’s occasional puzzles, the prince must fight monsters. Battle has been a constant aggravation for POP fans; it’s generally more annoying than fun, and yet developers insist on including it. Forgotten Sands actually does a pretty decent job of the combat, though, and while it is rather repetitive, I would not describe it, as I have in other series’ entries, as grueling.
I would have been happier with combat if one particular element had worked better. It is possible to leap on a monster’s shoulders then grab and toss it, but this doesn’t cause much damage, I could not find a way to aim it at another monster, and most aggravating of all, if I threw a monster off the edge of a cliff I would almost invariable be dragged off with it. I love throwing monsters off cliffs, so I found this terribly disappointing.
The game also has a few other interesting twists. A few segments are played in side scrolling fashion as a tribute to the original 2D Prince of Persia (which is available as a bonus in the game, and which is a reminder of how torturously difficult video games used to be), and there is a very exciting, though frustrating sequence in which you must unlock gates and jump over poisonous ground while being chased by ravenous beetles. Near the end there is a strange dream-world where the prince can jump tremendous distances.
Flaws and Oddities
While the gameplay is generally excellent, it is not without flaws. Save points are not always well placed; a couple of times you could only save game progress right before a major battle that was then followed by a difficult, deadly platforming challenge that forced me to go through that major battle several times. There were places where I meant for the prince to run sideways and he ran straight up instead, and I felt this was more a problem with the game than with my own skills. The prince has a handful of utterances he’ll make throughout the game, either complaining that his challenges are too easy or too hard, but they bear no relationship to anything going on in the game. I got really sick of hearing those. Also, when you first start the game, it spends way too long giving you the credits of all the software companies involved and reciting a poem before you can actually play.
I have mixed feelings regarding the way the game indicates whether or not the prince can make a jump. In previous games, players had to eyeball it, and the new system lowers the challenge considerably. However, as the difficulty progresses, it becomes increasingly handy.