Publisher: Virgin Interactive
Total time played: 5 Hours
Short review: A port of a classic computer game that features some innovative ideas but clunky controls hold it back from being great.
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It’s Hard to Go Backwards
In 2003 I bought Prince of Persia: Sands of Time on the XBOX and played the heck out of it. It was so fun, fast paced and innovative. You could run on walls, you could slow and reverse time and fight all the bad guys you wanted. About this same time I found a copy of Prince of Persia on the NES and tried it out. I was very disappointed in the bad graphics and clunky controls so never even made it past the first level. It was hard to appreciate the original when I saw the difference a large budget and 15+ years of graphical and mechanic improvements made on the game. It was 16 years before I gave the original another shot. By this point I have forgotten most of the XBOX game and am able to play the original with fresh eyes…and, it is actually pretty good.
This XBOX game looks a bit better than the NES version.
It’s Like Playing A Movie
The game developers used a concept called “rotoscoping” to make the character animations feel more fluid and life like. I believe it is the only NES game to use the technique. Learn more about the history of the game by reading Arnpoly’s review.
In game graphics showing the rotoscoped character jumping.
Grainy footage of the actual capture session for Prince of Persia taken in 1985. This still was colored and digitized and used in the game.
Basically, the developers filmed a man performing all of the moves from the game and then colored over the film and digitized it. It definitely makes the character’s in game motions feel more fluid and life like and gives an interesting look to the graphics. The same technique has been used by Richard Linklater in his movies A Scanner Darkly and Waking Life.
A Scanner Darkly – the movie was filmed and then each frame was hand colored to give it an animated look.
The other reason the game plays like a movie is that the controls are so stiff and delayed that when you hit a button you have to wait so long to see the character perform the action you never really feel like you are in control and feel more like you are watching someone else play the game.
See the photo below for the game controls. They are pretty complex for the NES. The only issue, as stated above, is that the controller response is really laggy. Many times I would try to tap forward or jump and the character wouldn’t move so I would do it again and he would then move twice and fall off a cliff or walk into spikes. You have to be very patient, as they say, slow and steady wins the race.
Straight from the horses mouth aka instruction manual.
Basically your job is to save the princess, how original. The catch is, you only have 60 minutes.
The game design is fairly unique. For one, you have 60 minutes to complete all 12 levels. That means if you beat a level too slowly you stand no chance of beating the game. Luckily after each stage you get a password.
The strategy I used was as follows:
Play through level one over and over until I could beat it in about 2 minutes. Record the password on my best run through the level. Play through level 2 until I could beat it quickly and then reset the game and enter the password I got for beating level 1 quickly.
Record the password after beating level 2 quickly, practice level 3…rinse and repeat.
This way I didn’t have to beat all 12 levels in a single play through by playing perfectly. This would be nearly impossible as sometimes jumps would be really hard, and sometimes they would be easy and sometimes enemies would destroy me in seconds and sometimes I would destroy them in seconds.
With more responsive controls I would have been much more likely to play through all 12 levels without exploiting the passwords.
Traps and Enemies
Each level is a unique maze where your goal is to find the path to the exit. But, along the way you must find the button to open the exit door and avoid all the traps. Learning the levels and trap locations wasn’t too difficult. The hard part was making all of the hard jumps and defeating all of the enemies. Neither of these tasks would have been difficult with more responsive controls.
Floor Buttons – In order to open doors you must find and step on the special floor tiles that are actually buttons. Some buttons close doors as well, so you have to be careful where you step.
Spikes – Look closely at the floor tiles, some of them have small black holes, if you walk over these spikes shoot through the floor and kill you. You can tap the B button to tiptoe past these without getting hurt or you can jump over them.
Enemies – There are a few enemies that appear throughout the game and require you to engage in a sword battle (you find the sword in level 1). A swings the sword, B blocks and you can move left and right. I personally found no difference in animation between the A and B button and the block didn’t seem to work. There also was no rhyme or reason to when I would hit an enemy and they would hit me. Some fights I was killed very quickly, others I killed them easily. These battles are really quirky and on the verge of being glitchy. I personally never found satisfaction in the battles and don’t feel like they added any value to the game. I would have been fine with just the traps and mazes.
To beat each level you must find the exit door and enter it. For some reason level 6 ended with a dead end that left only one option…to jump into a large pit. So, I made a leap of faith and jumped. The game immediately showed me a password and continued by showing my character falling into what looked to be the previous level where I had to grab a ledge or fall to my death.
This is the end of the stage…just jump in the hole.
I actually thought the game had glitched out so I looked up online what was happening and it turns out it was just a weird way to end/start those levels. It is the only game I can think of that starts a level where you have to immediately grab a ledge as you fall or get a game over.
This is how level 7 starts…with you falling from the ceiling. Grab the ledge or it is game over.
Level 12 and the Final Battle
Level 12 is the biggest level in the game and also the hardest. The path you need to take is pretty straight forward but the issue is that you are constantly climbing up and if you miss a jump you will fall through multiple screens to your death.
There are 2 jumps in the level that gave me a lot of trouble and hitting them both perfectly took probably 30ish attempts. I ended up watching a few YouTube videos and counted the footsteps I heard before the jump and tried to do the same. Again, the issue is that from the time you hit the jump button until your character jumps is delayed way more than you expect so you have to jump way earlier than you need to and finding the sweet spot is tough.
After both of the hard jumps you fight a skeleton, which, if my memory serves me correctly it is the only enemy you fight in the game who looks different than the guy you usually fight.
After you beat the skeleton you don’t enter a door to exit the level, you just walk off screen and are taken to level 13 which is really short and features the final boss fight. This boss looks just like every other enemy you fight and on top of that he is no more difficult than a regular enemy. It was kind of a letdown.
You know, this game is actually pretty fun. I know I keep mentioning the controls, but that is the only thing keeping the game from being great. Even with the slow to respond controls the game was pretty fun and innovative.