Review by GheddonLN

Reviewed: 01/10/06

A game that will entertain you from beginning to end

Most of us first met the Prince years ago. I came across his pit-leaping, swordfighting persona at my school’s computer lab, where his was the only fun, complete game we had access to (my classmates may argue Sky was just as fun, but it was a trial version. Besides, they’re not here). There was something great about that game: it was intuitive –and henceforth, easy to pick up—and lots of fun. Fighting sucked, but that was not the game’s focus, anyway….

Fast forward to today, to our current generation of game consoles. Guess who’s back? Mr. pit-leaping Prince of Persia! His comeback party was, I gather, rather excellent. The Sands of Time, his first game in the current crop of consoles, garnered much praised and was a labeled as a great game. Its strengths? No idea, I never played it. I suppose they were the old game’s same assets: intuitive, fun gameplay; lots of platforming and pit-leaping; lame swordfighting (is that a strong suit? Well, it reminds us of the good ole’ days, so it’s your call). Warrior Within came forth after the critically acclaimed Sands of Time, alienating fans by shedding its old, fantastic skin (comprised mainly of elegant and tasteful clothing) in favor of steel thongs, blood, guts, and second-rate death metal.

And afterwards came this, the game we’ll be discussing. The Two Thrones. How does it compare to previous game? Not really a problem, you know. Even if its ancestors are far stronger, TtT still manages to be a supremely fun gameplay experience, with an engrossing tale, likeable characters, easy-to-get-the-hang-of platforming goodness and a “stealth” gimmick that’s surprisingly well-executed and very satisfying. We may be looking at a game that, albeit not revolutionary (or evolutionary), it’s incredibly tight and well-designed. Very rarely does a game manage to stay consistently fun all through; the Prince does just that.

The main story picks up after last game’s events, and kicks into full gear when the Prince recovers his sand powers. From then on, it’s basically a steady climb towards the rather simple end: defeat the bad guy. But the main arch’s simplicity doesn’t mean the storytelling is simplistic. On our way to the predictable end, we’re treated to a series of internal monologues between the Prince and his dark-side persona, and the Prince’s relationship with the game’s other characters. These conversations, I might say, are the most important part of the tale, as they develop the main characters and make us develop a liking towards them. You’ll be engrossed by the Prince’s internal plight. In the end, one might say that this is the storyline’s focus, and that the “race towards the evil dude” is pure window dressing. The endgame reinforces this notion.

Whatever the case, you’ll still be heading towards a well-defined goal, leaping through beautiful levels. The game’s character models belie the game’s graphical polish and artistic merit; it’s not that the Prince looks ugly, but there’s something a bit off about him. Nevertheless, he’s well animated and thus, pleasant to look at when he’s leaping and wall-running. More importantly, he and his “entourage” (really just two people, one of them inside him…) are made a lot more likeable thanks to the excellent voice acting and the well-written dialogue.

The actual levels are the place where the creativity is at. From a graphical stand point, they come across as really, really good. We’re not talking Resident Evil 4-quality graphics, but the levels are very appealing. They create the atmosphere and are convincingly designed. There are lots to see, and most of it is just there to breathe life into the world. The graphical department is much like the rest of the game: not revolutionary, but extremely well-done and polished. It’s hard to fault the game for anything. When you boot the game and being playing, I’ll guarantee you’ll feel very pleased by what you see, and more importantly, it’ll stimulate your imagination. I don’t want to sound incredibly stupid… but I must: you’ll be transported. Now, don’t take that the wrong way, it’s just that it all seems so believable, so absorbing…

The sound department is functional. There is rousing music, but most of it subdued. You won’t remember a piece, perhaps only a few sound bites that are used when you open an important door or clear something crucial. Play the game without music, though, and you’ll notice the difference. I’d say that the tunes are tightly integrated into the rest of the game experience, and contribute to cohesiveness. One may say that the goal was not to make a stand-out soundtrack that accompanies the game, but rather music that integrates itself into it.

Game playability is where the game truly shines. Firstly, I must say that gameplay, in this case, goes hand in hand with the brilliant level design. And why’s that? Because the core mechanic, platforming, can only be fun if you’re running-and-jumping across levels that are designed so they’re fun/require skill to solve. And that happens to be the case here. You have a series of basic skills: jumping and wall-running, both mapped into your control in such a way that they’re very easy to use. You’ll combine both abilities and use them in creative ways. For instance, you could wall run up to a certain point, jump into a diagonal-jumpad, hit the jump-button to be propelled diagonally towards a ledge, to which you’ll hang to. You’ll then climb, run up a wall and drill your dagger into a steel casing, just so you can hang there and wall-run some more. With the prince’s alter ego, you get the ability to use a chain-like weapon to grab onto things, swing and further your wall-running time. Genius!

All of this will be done across levels with carefully positioned ledges to shimmy across, poles to hang on to, and cloth to slide down seemingly bottomless pits. There’s always platforming to do, and routines to figure out. One drawback is that sometimes you have to go through too much trial-and-error (one mistake, you die) to find the correct timing of a jump, or the wall to run across; which is rather annoying, considering that the game’s checkpoint placement is sometimes laughable. That said, an unwanted death will most of the time mean nothing to you, as there’s always the possibility to quickly restart and retry the offending routine. There’ll be times when you will be forced to repeat entire stretches, just because the developers “forgot” to add a seemingly obvious checkpoint.

Another interesting part of the game is using the Dark Prince, the evil side of your controlled character. Fighting with him is marginally fun (see below), but platforming is very intense. As said before, you can use his unique chainlike weapon, the Daggertail to further your acrobatic options; plus you have the regular assortment of wall-running and pit-leaping tricks. But what’s important is that your health depletes at a constant rate. It can be easily restored by killing fools or breaking vases, but sometimes, there are no fools to beat, no vases to break; just platforming routines to clear, and that’s where the fun is at. Your knuckles won’t get white, but desperately running across a level while your health fades away is fun. It sometimes is frustrating, because often you have just enough health to clear a routine, meaning that the slightest mistake will hinder you -- often lethally.

Fighting is mildly interesting, but requires little to no skill. You just move around performing your character’s many combos till your weak enemies die. When you use the Dark Prince, fighting gets more brutal and more pointless. Why? Because each time the Prince kills an enemy, he regains all of his health; so, you just can wail away at enemies nonchalantly since you’ll get your health back right away. It is nonetheless very satisfying, because of the control, animations and the feedback (club an enemy and tell it doesn’t feel great.)

But it’s not like you have to battle, you know. You can simply “stealth kill”. Now, following the custom of functional level design, most areas have carefully positioned ledges above, alongside or next to enemies. That way, you can carefully approach to them and perform a silent takedown. You basically hit a button to activate it and time subsequent button presses with what happens on-screen. These takedowns are not automatic, as you can see, which makes them satisfying when correctly performed. It’s very possible to silently dispatch most enemies, and very encouraged (also lots of fun). This clever little trick ensures that you’ll never get tired of combat.

But what if you mess up your button presses? Then you can just re-wind time. Following the pattern set by the two previous games, this game gives you a series of sandy time-altering skills that you can use in interesting fashion. Sadly, the only useful skill is re-wind, which is a self-explanatory magical trick. The other bunnies you can take out of the hat are far less useful. Only slow-mo comes in handy during boss fights….

The game also boasts a chariot-racing mode that’s surprisingly well-done. The horses and the chariot control nicely and feel very natural. They’re not “floaty”, thanks god, and when you trade paint (is that how you say it?) with an enemy chariot it all feels substantially weighty.

The Two Thrones come across as excellent because it integrates the aforementioned segments into a really tight, fun unit. I must commend the designers and managers for doing such a well-done job. As an EGM writer once said: games like this show what separates amateurs from professionals. People who don’t have clue from people who have nailed a game’s core playing engine. I wasn’t blown away by the game, but I was entertained all through. There are very few things to complain about; you’d have to be really nitpicky. When somebody reaches this kind of excellence, it’s only suitable to award them a 10 out 10.

Now, I shall try to play the two previous games…

Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

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