When I was younger, one of my favourite games on my Gamecube was Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. And maybe it’s out of a sense of nostalgia, but I even saw the movie (it was terrible). That being said, I never got a chance to try out the much-heralded original 2D PoP game. It was always on my todo list, but I never found the time.
That’s why I jumped at the chance to take a look at Prince of Persia: The Shadow and the Flame when I saw it on Google Play. In this 2.5D renditioning of the classic sequel, the prince is taking on the evil Jaffar once more. The plot is ludicrous and apparently a forced retreading of the original, but there’s always more to a game than the storyline and I eagerly took this opportunity to explore one of my favourite video game character’s earlier roots. Read on for my thoughts on the remake.
First of all, I think I need to get the obvious out of the way: This is a pretty good-looking game. It’s not going to win awards at IGN or anything, but it’s not hard on the eyes. On my Nexus 7, the graphics are appreciable, but on my higher-resolution Nexus 4 they’re downright revelatory. It’s hard to believe, actually, that this is the same game that came out in the 1990’s.
The game’s been given a huge graphic overhaul.
I did a little bit of research regarding just that, and as far as I can tell, it is almost identical to the original as far as level design and gameplay. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing, because the level design is interesting if not dated and the gameplay struggles with its translation to a touch screen.
There are some minor changes that long-time fans will notice, though. The addition of in-app purchases are one of them. I’d normally spend a fair amount of time railing against a paid app for including in-app purchases, but at this point it’s nearly to be expected from a game developer in order to ensure stability. Beyond that though, I’ll give credit where credit is due: Ubisoft isn’t bombarding you with in-your-face advertising in an attempt to milk more dollars out of your pocket. For the most part, the in-app purchasing is tucked away and only there if you’re looking for it. I commend that.
There is a space in the game dedicated to in-app purchases, but I didn’t find it cumbersome.
The game is broken down into fifteen levels and four environments. It doesn’t sound like much, but it feels diverse enough for its own purposes and I rarely found myself clamouring for something different.
The Gameplay Mechanics
This is where things start to get sticky though. Frankly, controlling this game is nigh impossible. It’s tedious and unenjoyable. While Prince of Persia is typically half combat-based and half puzzle-based, I feel like most of this game is just puzzle-based on account of the controls alone.
Jumping is really tedious.
Simply put, with The Shadow and the Flame, the controls are meant to mirror the joysticks of a controller. This is similar to the setup for a lot of other platformers on Android and iOS, and make no mistake, I’ve never liked the setup. It feels clunky; even making the prince run is a pain.
Jumping is steeped in difficulty as well, though. Every time a puzzle comes along that involves a jump, I dread it. Flicking up on the right “joystick” is just a pain. I’d rather simply tap a pre-defined area on the screen and have an immediate response than have to flick up with my thumb. It especially makes things difficult if you’re really moving.
This sort of level design is practically impossible to succeed in thanks to the game’s finicky controls.
As a result, things take a lot longer than they should. If the prince is running, I have to slow down to take a jump. I have to carefully adjust where he’s standing before I leap from a ledge. I don’t think I’m a terrible gamer; I think the game is flawed.
The Recurring Flaw
Beyond running and jumping though, combat is kind of a mixed bag. I’ve never played a Prince of Persia game where the combat was well done. Swordplay, a fundamental part of the game, has always been a little off with this series. The Shadow and the Flame doesn’t offer much of an improvement.
Combat looks appealing, but I could describe it as turn-based without lying.
Not unlike the console games of the past few years, you’re going to spend time holding down a button to defend yourself while you patiently wait your turn. When the enemies stop attacking you, you start swiping your sword towards them until they’re gone. At its simplest, it’s dull. At its most complex, it’s infuriatingly difficult — how can you be expected to ward off attacks from all angles when it’s a frustration even to turn the prince around?
I don’t know what the fix is for combat in The Prince of Persia. But I do know that, as it is, the series needs to consider how it can make combat more entertaining.
The Whole Package
Summarized neatly, half of my time in Prince of Persia is spent frustrated with the controls and the other half is spent bored in weak duels. When I jump from my Nexus 4 to my Nexus 7, I become frustrated again that my game save status isn’t stored in a cloud somewhere — I wish I could pick up one device and go from where I left off.
In the end, the whole package isn’t much fun. I’m going to go back to the game, I’m sure, because playing Prince of Persia holds nostalgic value for me. There’s something that’s still irresistibly charming about the series, and I’m a sucker for the art direction and music in particular. But every time I pick it up again, I’m sure I’ll get frustrated and want to put it down. Long story short? I can think of better things I could buy for $2.99 than Prince of Persia: The Shadow and the Flame.