The Portable Prince
Ever since Ubisoft took over the Prince of Persia franchise with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, the series has been concerned with the concept of turning back the clock. In each release, the title character uses the power to control the flow of time in order to overcome the platforming challenges he encounters, and that formula hasn’t changed for Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands.
As with most major franchise releases, The Forgotten Sands has appeared on pretty much every gaming console you can think of, including the PlayStation Portable. While many PSP games attempt to emulate the console version of its associated game, Ubisoft wisely went a different way for The Forgotten Sands’ PSP version. Sticking with the concept of turning back time, The Forgotten Sands PSP looks to the original PC Prince of Persia games as inspiration.
The PSP version of The Forgotten Sands is an old-school side-scrolling adventure that marries the acrobatic platforming moves and time control powers of the new games with the clever side-scrolling level designs of the original games. As with all of the Prince of Persia titles, The Forgotten Sands kicks off with a simple plot that sends the title character running through a series of obstacles with minimal story elements. This time, The Prince is on the run from a fire demon that is out to assassinate the royal family in order to prevent his prophesized death at a royal’s hands. He quickly recruits the help of Helem, a floating sprite with the power to slow time. Helem recruits the Prince to rescue her sisters, other sprites who have been imprisoned by the fire demon. Together, the duo adventure across the kingdom on their quest to defeat their common enemy.
Despite the 3D look of the game, each of the game’s many stages unfold in strict side-scrolling fashion. The Prince has all his standard tricks, such as wall-jumping, swinging from poles, and the like. The majority of every stage is centered on platforming elements, which require more and more frequent use of Helem’s time control powers as the game progresses. At first, she can only slow time, which can only be used in specific instances. Moving traps can be stopped in place and flows of sand can be frozen into solid poles that can be jumped onto or swung from. After acquiring the ability to increase time, you can use it to speed up those same sand flows into super-pressured streams that can push blocks into position or get slow-moving obstacles out of your way. Later stages require frequent use of both powers, as well as lightning-fast movement from platform to platform. Fortunately, if you fall to your death, your time powers keep the penalties minimal. Die once and you’ll return to the start of the current room, losing a chunk of your life bar. Deplete your life bar entirely and you’ll get bounced back to the last save point. It’s a fair system that punishes your failures but not so harshly as to be too frustrating.
Overall, the controls handle the platforming elements pretty well. The Prince is controlled with the D-pad (not the analog nub) and time control powers are mapped to the shoulder buttons. The control scheme allows you to quickly unleash your powers on the environment around you, but there are a few minor frustrations. To run up a wall, you need to press up on the D-pad rather than towards the wall. It’s not a major problem, but a bit strange until you get used to it. After all, to scale a wall to your right, you’d expect to press right. Right? A more substantive problem presents itself in the rare instances when you need to choose between one of several objects in the environment to affect with your time controls powers. Helem automatically moves from one target to the next, but you can guide her specifically with the analog nub. At least, that’s the theory. Aiming her is the one aspect of the control scheme that simply doesn’t work as it should. Helem continues to move independently even as you try to target her, so controlling her usually feels slippery and jittery. Even when you’re not trying to control her, Helem’s targeting can be problematic. In several instances, she moved on to the next target when I needed her to stay put. In one area, you need to swing from a series of sand flows that you freeze into poles. Only one can be frozen at a time, so you need to freeze one, swing from it, and trigger your time power while in the air. Several times Helem skipped my target and fluttered ahead to the next one, causing me to die time after time until I finally managed to freeze them all in perfect succession.
Scattered irregularly throughout the game are combat sections that force you to face off against a handful of enemies, usually no more than two at a time. The combat gameplay is functional, yet far from deep. You can attack, block, dodge, and throw your enemy, but there are no complex combos or tactics that prevent the fighting sections from feeling like anything other than filler. Nearly every fight can be completed by throwing your enemies, especially if you toss two foes into one another. There are also a handful of boss fights throughout the game, and while they’re a little more complex than the standard combat encounters, they’re still far from deep. In classic old-school game design tradition, you must look for the pattern, figure out the trick, and pull it off a few times to defeat your enemy.
Upon completing each stage, you’re shown a screen that breaks down how you did, based on how long it took you, how many recalls (deaths) you suffered, and how much “mana” you collected over the course of the stage. The better you did, the more crystals you earn, which you use to unlock bonus material like concept art, cutscenes, and the like. The mana orbs are scattered around the levels like coins, and not only do they earn you crystals, they can be traded in for upgrades like an expanded health bar and stronger attacks in combat. As combat is such a minimal part of the game, I spent most of my mana on life bar upgrades, which keeps you from being bounced back to the last save point so often.
The Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is a surprisingly lengthy adventure for a portable game and starts off as a fun, engaging, old-school platformer. However, the difficulty increases constantly throughout the game, and in the second half of the quest, the game starts to lose some of its retro charm.
Still, if you have fond memories of the original Prince of Persia games, you’ll probably enjoy the PSP version of the latest game.
It’s far from flawless, but its unique blend of classic platforming action with modern touches like time control powers, checkpoints, collectibles, and 3D graphics make a solid entry in the PSP’s somewhat lackluster game library. Oftentimes the PSP version of a major game is a completely worthless, tossed off affair; The Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands isn’t phenomenal, but at least it breaks that unfortunate trend.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.3 Graphics
The graphics are decent for the PSP, but they are far from amazing. 3.5 Control
The control scheme is simple but functional. The only real frustration comes when you’re required to select one of multiple time-control targets with the PSP’s analog nub. 3.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voice work is minimal but strong. The music has a nice, authentic flair that really sets the tone. 3.0 Play Value
It’s fun the first time around. Other than that, you can replay levels for better scores and more unlockable stuff, but there’s not much reason to replay the entire game. 3.5 Overall Rating – Good
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.