Few franchises hold as much nostalgic weight as Prince of Persia. With its roots tracing back to the 1980s, the series has seen numerous iterations, each leaving a mark on gaming culture in its own right. However, in recent years, the once-mighty Prince seemed to have lost some of its lustre. Following its peak, the series has slipped into obscurity, with Ubisoft showing preference for the more commercially successful Assassin's Creed. In a return to form though, the Prince makes his first appearance in 14 years proving that the franchise still has plenty of gas in the tank.
First, let’s address the elephant in the room, Prince of Persia: The Lost Kingdom has returned to its 2D platformer roots, now incorporating Metroidvania and RPG elements. Despite early trepidation, I am convinced this was the smartest way to breathe new life into the franchise. Had the Prince returned for yet another 3D venture, there would have been monumental expectations to not only improve upon the predecessors but compete against the standard bearers of the genre in today's market. Instead, Ubisoft has managed to carve out a niche in the market and deliver this game at a more affordable price and with a smaller scope.
Temporal Tactics and Timeless Treasures
The Lost Kingdom strikes a delicate balance between combat, puzzles, and exploration. Combat mechanics are snappy and require strategic consideration, with a variety of attacks at the player's disposal. From low, medium, and launch attacks for juggling enemies to Athra surges for devastating area-of-effect assaults, there are a ton of avenues of attack.
Enemies in The Lost Kingdom showcase a variety of creativity, each with unique quirks and vulnerabilities to exploit. Underestimating them can prove fatal, as they present formidable obstacles that demand strategic engagement. Bosses are also extremely well done with each one feeling different and difficult in its own right. Learning their moves and weaknesses to finally conquer them after several attempts is so rewarding.
However, combat is just one aspect of the gameplay. Exploration is equally crucial, as abilities and weapons also aid in solving puzzles and traversing the game's diverse environments. The Metroidvania elements are executed with finesse, offering some of the genre's best quality-of-life mechanics. Custom markers on the map and the innovative Eye of the Wanderer artifact, which allows players to capture images of the level, all contribute towards a free-flowing exploration loop.
While The Lost Kingdom offers numerous environmental puzzles, they predominantly adhere to the traditional Metroidvania style. A broader range of puzzles that stimulate deeper thought and aren’t solely dependent on unlocking specific abilities would have been more preferable. More bespoke puzzles emerge throughout the game, particularly towards the end, but because they’re so dependent on abilities, there’s a lack of them early doors.
While the gameplay shines in many aspects, some minor grievances surface, such as the absence of a designated sprint button, leaving players to rely on sliding mechanics. The collectable lore items lack depth, missing an opportunity to enrich the backstory of Mount Qarth. Prince of Persia relies on subtlety to convey its lore, and unfortunately, the collectables fall short in this regard. That's not to say collectables aren’t present, they’re just not very interesting. Furthermore, the progression system, while functional, lacks innovation, drawing from various rogue-like and souls-like mechanics without achieving a truly addictive or satisfying route for progression.
Time After Time
One of the most notable aspects of The Lost Kingdom is its narrative approach. Departing from the conventions of its predecessors, the game offers a modern twist on the Prince of Persia lore. The story unfolds gradually as players progress through Mount Qarth, teasing them with time-related mysteries and building intrigue through omission.
Commendably, The Lost Kingdom takes risks with its storytelling, forging a fresh narrative path rather than relying on past successes. While the Immortal team storyline initially feels lacklustre, it serves as a backdrop to the broader narrative tapestry, which ultimately impresses.
However, some players may find fault with the characterization of Sargon, the protagonist, who at times feels overshadowed by the overarching storyline. Similarly, the voice acting can be jarring at times as Ubisoft has opted to give Sargon what I can only describe as a Northern English accent. He often sounds more like Jon Snow than a Persian.
A Persian Spectacle
Visually, The Lost Kingdom is a feast for the eyes, boasting stunning environments and vistas that captivate and inspire. From lush forests to ancient ruins, each locale is meticulously crafted, immersing players in a mythological Persia-inspired world ripe for exploration.
Animation is smooth, and visual cues are clear, enhancing all aspects of the game, particularly combat. However, some players may find fault with the lack of production value and cinematics, which may initially detract from the overall experience. As the game progresses though you begin to appreciate the backgrounds and the sheer amount of effort put into the world.
The same cannot be said with the main character models. Sargon's design, in particular, may not resonate with all players, especially those nostalgic for the classic Prince of Persia aesthetic. The pallet swap skins offer too little to aid this either.
Crafting a New Legend
Prince of Persia: The Lost Kingdom is a testament to the enduring legacy of the franchise, offering a modern interpretation that pays homage to its roots while blazing a new trail forward. With its harmonious blend of combat, exploration, and narrative innovation, the game delivers a gaming experience that is as thrilling as it is immersive.
While not without its minor flaws, The Lost Kingdom stands as a worthy addition to the Prince of Persia lineage, reminding players why they fell in love with the series in the first place. As players embark on a journey through time and space, mastering the sword and unravelling the mysteries of the lost kingdom, they'll discover that sometimes, rewriting history can be just as exhilarating as reliving it.
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