We pretty much know exactly what to expect from a Prince of Persia game by now: good platforming, tight controls, great atmosphere, interesting fights, nicely animated graphics, sweet music and an interesting story. Ever since the original the Prince-titles have, to a varying degree, managed to hit these spots and for me personally the original game and Prince of Persia: The Sand of Time are the absolute favorites.
So now when the prince is jumping around on both TV-screens and in cinemas around the world, how well does Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands do? Pretty OK, is probably the shortest and most honest answer I can give to that question. Which is pretty much a disappointment for a prince-fan as myself.
When the adventure starts the prince arrives at a castle that is being attacked by an army of enemies. Things are looking pretty bad and in desperation the master of the castle, the prince's own brother, sends out an army of undead soldiers to defend his home. It all goes wrong of course and instead of a glorious Return of the King-triumph the undead runs amok, turns the (wrong) people to sand and destroy everything from stonewalls to the Persian decorations. The solution to the problem can be found in a medallion that has been broken in two; the brothers each have one half, but its powers have turned the prince's brother slightly mad.
And with that I take control of the prince and it's time to face the platforming challenges. It works well; the prince runs, jumps and does those impossible tap-tap-tap-runs across walls. I climb pillars, I swing across metal beams and with the help of my sword and various tapestries that rip apart as I use them to soften my fall. The way forward, and usually upwards, is all the way through pretty obvious and it's a pure pleasure to plan my route and chain together different acrobatic moves on my way to the next area.
In general the platforming feels familiar, in a good way. Early on a new skill is introduces that adds depth to the bouncing around: the ice power. A push of a button makes running water freeze into climbable pillars of ice for a short while, and even waterfalls can be frozen into solid walls of ice. Freezing and unfreezing have to be combined to get anywhere, and it creates new and fun challenges for me to overcome.
Luckily the ability to rewind time makes a return and makes it possible to retry any failed jumps. If you accidentally runs straight into a saw blade you have only yourself to blame and can easily try again. The time manipulation looks great, and even if the times you can do it is limited the game comes with rather frequent checkpoints. Be prepared to play some of the sequences in Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands over and over again, though...
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands does deliver some good-looking, entertaining and innovative acrobatics in other words. Then why not a higher grade, where did Ubisoft go wrong? First of all the graphical design leaves a lot to be wished for, with a lot of grey and brown walls and the enemy design feels equally uninspired - the design of the prince himself will also be on the receiving end of some of that criticism. Thankfully not everything looks like bland, and some environments come with some really pretty lighting that shines across beautifully designed Persian architecture.
The fights might never have been the selling point of the series and in The Forgotten Sands they are quite easy to forget. Ubisoft have glanced at, or more likely stared at, the hack and slash genre and the prince faces hordes of skeletons and various monsters made out of sand. The prince do have a couple of different attacks, but it is never as entertaining or responsive as in for example God of War. Add a couple of boring bosses to that and you'll let out a big sigh every time the prince has to take out his blade.
Going back to the concept from Sands of Time sounded promising, but The Forgotten Sands does not manage to go all the way. When such a big part of the relatively short game (you can reach the end credits in about eight hours) is wasted by lackluster fighting, bland bosses and a pretty lukewarm design it's hard to give out a higher grade than a rather weak seven. I'd really like to fast forward time until we get a proper sequel. It is time for the prince to become a king.