When Ubisoft resurrected the Prince of Persia franchise back in 2003 for the PS2 and Xbox, old-school and new-age gamers alike reveled in the previously lost series. We weren’t quite sure what to expect, simply because a familiar title doesn’t always translate to a high-quality title. But Ubisoft had a little trick up their sleeve, and they just so happened to deliver one of the most unique and immersive experiences of the generation. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time scooped up several nice awards – including some design awards – and worked its way into the hearts of thousands, all of whom were immediately clamoring for another installment. So we got Warrior Within and The Two Thrones, both of which were great games as well. Therefore, it’s no surprise to see the great franchise head to the PSP, and guess what? It’s almost here!
It premiered at last week’s GDC, and ever since then, the Internet has been a-buzz with all the information and details spawned by the demo video and word of mouth from the attendees. The Prince is once again forced to defend himself and his home town in Rival Swords, but the addition of Kaileena adds more difficulty to the hero’s quest: she becomes embroiled in a nasty plot, of which only the Prince (evidently) knows the truth. The baddies nearly end his life right at the start, and that kinda lights a fire beneath our agile master of the sand. Of course, given the inherent differences in the PSP when compared to consoles, especially when it comes to the handheld's design, control remains a topic of some concern. Will this be a gimped version of the Prince of Persia we’ve all come to know and love, or can the developers faithfully recreate the depth and versatility so crucial to the game’s success?
From what we’ve learned, though, it seems apparent that Pipeworks and Ubisoft Montreal are including just about every ability and feature in this princely PSP title. You’ll be able to creep carefully along ledges, leap between columns, and even use your dagger to slide down tapestries. And of course, your dagger will be used for another purpose as well…we’ll give you two guesses as to what that purpose might be. You should only need one. That dagger will save your life from hordes of sword-wielding warriors in much the same way it’ll save your skin from a harrowing fall. The combos will be there, and so will the ultra-effective stealth kills, which you’ll likely use on a consistent basis throughout the game. Furthermore, the dagger won’t be your only recourse when fighting; you’ll be able to find and use secondary weapons, too. Oooh, if only we could dual-wield…!
Okay, so all the stuff is there. But you need to be able to see absolutely everything – or as much as possible from a certain vantage point – because both the puzzles and battles require some nifty planning and pinpoint precision. And over the past year or so, we’ve come to notice that certain PSP games have a less-than-perfect camera, which almost always acts as a major detriment to the gameplay. This is one fault Rival Swords simply can’t afford to suffer from, because a poor camera will completely cripple the adventure. However, we will get a free-roaming camera in this one, as the L button will dictate the camera’s positioning, and its direction is all up to you. Furthermore, much like in the console versions, the camera will automatically place itself at optimum vision points when you’re playing death-defying gymnast in your environment. Lastly, you’ll be able to access a camera mode that lets you view the entire area from a high top-down perspective, so this info makes us feel a lot better about the camera.
Fans of the series will invariably ask one other question: are the magical sands back? Yes, they are, although we’re not sure if you’ll actually be able to use them to “rewind” time as you could in Sands of Time. You will, however, collect sand tanks as you progress, which will unlock all kinds of goodies in the menu, including a couple galleries loaded with game artwork and illustrations. This means any collected sand may not have an impact on the gameplay, although we’re hoping it does play a role of some kind. After all, one of the more appealing aspects might revolve around the ability to retry particularly tricky puzzles or battles with the help of those sands, so we’d like to assume it will be included in Rival Swords. We just haven’t nailed down any eye-witnesses who saw this feature in action, that’s all.
When a series initially designed for consoles makes the leap to a handheld, we obviously can’t expect the same graphical presentation. And because the developers know that going in, they almost always try to take advantage of the system’s other capabilities. Either that, or they’ll include certain aspects not found in the console versions. With Rival Swords, Ubisoft chose both, as the game will feature chariot races on three separate tracks and allow for multiplayer fun. We’re not sure how many gamers will be able to play at once, but how’s about we predict four just for the sake of this preview? Okay, good. It’s probably a decent guess-timate, anyway. With multiplayer fun, extra gameplay modes, and some of that sweet artwork (clearly for the avid PoP fans), this handheld installment of a highly regarded series has a ton of potential.
Prince of Persia: Rival Swords arrives on store shelves on April 3, so those of you who likes the sound of things here should mark your calendars. It’s shaping up to be another great addition to the PSP’s library.
3/13/2007 Ben Dutka