Like the other Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands games across various consoles, the PlayStation Portable version takes place during the seven-year gap between the previous Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and Warrior Within. What makes this one unique is that it's a side scrolling 2.5D platformer where you're essentially on rails as you navigate through a 3D world. Even though your path is pretty obvious, some puzzle-solving is required to get to where you need to go and there are some tricky platforming sections that will take time to master. It's a change of pace from exploring vast 3D environments, and the stages are broken up in such a way that you can easily replay them to perfect your score.
The story takes place after the prince's adventure in Azad, where he finds out that many of his cousins have mysteriously disappeared. The culprit is a powerful fire spirit who, legend has foretold, would eventually be defeated by a lonely hero with the blood of a king. Knowing this, the evil spirit has been killing every man with royal blood to ensure its survival. As the young and brash prince, you receive help from a female spirit by the name of Helem, who offers to lead you to the one responsible for hurting your family in exchange for helping her free her sisters from imprisonment. By joining forces with this enigmatic spirit, you'll also gain the power to manipulate time to help you along with your quest.
Helem is like a firefly that circles ahead of you and will highlight points of interest. When you gain the ability to manipulate the flow of sand, you'll use her like a cursor and can only control the target that she hovers over. This is similar to the water freezing ability in the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC versions of The Forgotten Sands where, in this case, you slow down time to solidify the flow of sand, as well as use it like a pole from which to vault. By speeding up time, the sand will shoot out and you can use it to push enemies or bring you to higher ground if you happen to be standing on a geyser. This power can also be helpful to slow enemies and traps, so you can make short work of them with your sword or move quickly past spiked columns.
You can replenish your health at fountains, which also serve as checkpoints and places to upgrade your health or abilities. As you go through the levels, you collect elixirs, which can be traded in to give you more health or upgrade to stronger attacks. Each time you finish a map or stage, your score is calculated based on the number of elixirs, the number of recalls, and the amount of time you spent, so you can always go back to try to perfect your score. You're given a limited number of recalls, which can be increased as you progress through the game and allow you to continue from the last checkpoint in case you die. When you're out of recalls, you're bumped back to the fountain, which can be quite far back.
Our demo build gave us a variety of levels to play through so we were able to check out the stages that were more combat heavy as opposed to some that were all about perfectly timed jumps. Combat is straightforward; you use the square button to slash, and if you can time it right, you can execute some effective combos. The circle button is used to block or do a dodge roll if you're moving. You can also use it to toss an enemy over your head by jumping on its head first with the X button. You use the right and left shoulder buttons to manipulate the flow of sand, as you pull off graceful acrobatic maneuvers along stone walls or conveniently placed poles.
The art style in The Forgotten Sands is similar to the other games, and though the graphics can't compete with the other consoles, it still looks good on the PSP. There's more of a hand-drawn style to the cutscenes and menus. Even though we were limited in terms of exploring various locales because we were stuck on one plane, there's quite a bit of detail regardless of whether we were in the wind swept desert or the mystical ethereal realm.