A must-buy for anyone with a love for action, platforming and great humor
Redefining a franchise is always a major challenge and it gets even harder when the intellectual property in question is a highly regarded series that possesses a dedicated fanbase whose urge to play a new game has only increased with each passing year where players speculated and discussed the path their favorite hero would take next. Any unpleasant gameplay change or minor slip-up by the developer will certainly be met with extreme criticism from the public they are targeting, making every single decision a complex process of thought.
Thankfully, it is within the major challenges that the brightest results surface and that is the case with The Sands of Time; the first game of a compelling Prince of Persia trilogy that shone during the early 2000s and the one that set its core mechanics in place.
The Sands of Time kicks off when the Prince and his father travel through India to reach their destination, Azad. With the help of the king’s cunning vizier they conquer the land and leave after acquiring two artifacts: the dagger of time and a mysterious hourglass. When getting to Azad, the vizier deceives the Prince and makes him release the Sands of Time contained within the hourglass turning, in the process, every human being within the palace’s walls into sand zombies. The only survivals of the disaster are the Prince, the vizier, and the king of India’s daughter who had been taken prisoner during the conquering of the kingdom. After regretting his irresponsible action the Prince sets on a journey to undo the harm caused by the vizier’s tricks.
By navigating through the numerous corridors and locations of the Sultan’s palace, the Prince will come across many puzzles, enemies and challenges that need to be surpassed with the aid of his acrobatic prowess and battle skills. The hero has more acrobatic maneuvers than Mario himself, as he can wall-jump; hang onto poles, ledges and ropes; wall-run either upwards or forward; and swing like a circus trapezist. This wide array of moves allows developers to create unbelievable levels that can only be completed by using a combination of the Prince’s many moves.
The game’s puzzles are very refreshing, for some of them stray away from the formula set in stone by Zelda games and that is constantly being appropriated by other franchises. While one will still come across the average block-moving, mirror-placing traditional puzzles, players will also encounter unique mental challenges. A big part of the game’s puzzles deal with being able to reach a door or ledge shown to the players as they enter a room or environment within the palace. At first, some of the locations will look absolutely impossible to reach, but by investigating the area with the game’s amazing camera work players will be able to find a way out by using many of the Prince’s exciting abilities.
With such a ridiculous amount of fast-paced, movements one would expect the camera system to eventually fail. However, the game provides players with so many camera options that it is pretty much unlikely there will be an area within the palace one won’t be able to properly see. Players can either rotate the camera around the Prince in a traditional fashion or choose to watch the action from a panoramic view that displays the whole ambient where the character is located. Additionally, it is always possible to zoom the camera into a first-person view to better locate important spots for that can serve as support for the Prince’s platforming abilities.
The exploration is pretty much linear. The Palace is set like a huge Metroid-like overworld where everything is connected and divided into rooms and corridors that work as the game’s levels, separated by checkpoints. The whole place is filled with enemies and battles are very thrilling due to the Prince’s movements, which include the ability to block incoming blows by pressing R.
Enemies will often team up and the Prince will automatically lock onto the closest foe. After defeating it, the creature will fall to the ground and a final blow is needed to finish the enemy. Sadly, the process can become frustrating for as one is delivering the final blow on a zombie other creatures will approach and hit the Prince, taking advantage of a moment when he can’t possibly defend.
Fortunately, though, developers were smart enough to let players restart battles right away after they die, which erases any frustrating need to go back to the previous save point and once again go through a lot of platforming before reaching the enemies that caused the character’s demise.
Another amazing solution to do away with annoying backtracking is the Prince’s ability to use the Dagger of Time to slowly rewind the game. For example, suppose a jump was timed incorrectly and the Prince fell into a spiked pit. All one needs to do is press the L-button and the action will slowly rewind, allowing players to go back to right before they made the wrong jump. This ability, however, is intelligently limited by the amount of sand tanks one has available. Although sand can be easily collected with the killing of enemies, that constraint stops the rewind mechanic from being overpowered and keeps players on their toes.
The Dagger of Time will also come in handy during battles because it allows the Prince to freeze enemies in time, slow the motion of the battle, or simply super freeze all foes in place while he takes care of them one by one. Obviously, each one of those abilities costs a certain amount of sand tanks and cannot, therefore, be used whenever the player feels like it, which adds a great deal of balance to the combats.
Visually, The Sands of Time is a very charming adventure with amazing artwork. All of the environments, regardless of size, look astonishing, especially when the panoramic camera is activated. There is a lot detail to everything and the game manages to run smoothly at all times. Character models are fantastic and full of expression, and the textures are excellent as well. The game also features wonderful cutscenes that do a great job in bringing personality, depth, and emotion to the game’s plot.
Given it is being narrated by the Prince himself, the storyline is transmitted in a storybook fashion, and during the development of the facts the character makes rather humorous comments about certain situations. That lighthearted touch, which absolutely clashes with the game’s overall theme and atmosphere, happens to be one of its finest features, for it is incredibly well-done and completely unexpected, lending the whole adventure a great mix of darkness and levity.
Unfortunately, the game audio has been strangely mixed because sometimes the dialogues get way too buried in the mix of music and sound effects, making some rather interesting lines, and the good work of the actors, almost impossible to understand.
The soundtrack is arranged in a different way than one would expect from a game that takes place in Arabic soil, especially when it comes to the instrumentation. Instead of exclusively using local instruments to perform the very nice songs, the team behind the game decided to give some of those tunes a different rock treatment with the use of guitars and other instruments that are not common to those cultures. That may bother some players, but the fact those songs are great, despite the way they have been arranged, is undeniable.
The Sands of Time is a nearly flawless game. Its replay value almost solely depends on how fun players will find the experience as there are barely any collectibles to be found, and chances are once one gets to end of the game – something that will happen within 10 to 15 hours – one will have already seen it all. Still, its high production value and pure platforming puzzle-solving fun mixed with exciting battles are sure to make players come back for more. The addition of the original Prince of Persia is a bonus to long time fans and an opportunity for those who are not familiar with the origins of the series to get to know them better. Overall, The Sands of Time is a must-buy for anyone with a love for action, platforming and great humor.