The prince's acrobatic exploits have been brought to the third dimension in recent years, but he started out leaping across pits and shimmying up poles in a two-dimensional world. The PSP version of The Forgotten Sands brings the most agile member of the royal family back to his 2D roots, and this iteration captures the imminent danger and exhausting relief that made its forebearers so memorable. Deadly traps impede your progress at every turn, and you need sharp reflexes and strong determination to make it through unscathed. Unfortunately, control issues sometimes get in the way of your fun. It's tricky to use your time-manipulation powers on the fly, and certain sections require you to coordinate these abilities with your jumping prowess, which leads to many aggravating deaths. Because of the sometimes unfair difficulty and boring combat, this is a fun but frustrating entry in the long-running series.
Why are fire demons so ill-tempered? The prince is out to stop an angry creature intent on killing his family, but the story takes a backseat in this game. The only important element comes in the form of a companion you meet early on in your adventure. A kindhearted fairy named Helem is on a quest to save her spritely sisters, and you two combine your abilities to rescue those you care about. Thankfully, though Helem is very small, she is brimming with power. She can speed up and slow down time, and you take advantage of these abilities to make your way through these danger-filled levels. Unlike in previous games, the prince is not directly affected by these powers. Rather, you use them to manipulate the environment. For instance, speeding up a fountain of sand can create a geyser that's strong enough to move a rock blocking your path, while slowing the trickle down freezes it into an ice cube you can push to reach higher ground.
Much of the game is spent figuring out how to take advantage of your newfangled abilities, and it's a lot of fun to tweak the environment until it conforms to your needs. Unfortunately, it can be tricky to use these powers because the targeting is so inconsistent. Any object you can manipulate can be highlighted, but the game does a poor job of autotargeting. For instance, you may need to slow down a swinging spiked club to jump over it, but you may automatically focus on the stream of sand right next to it instead. You can toggle between your targets using the analog nub, but this is a clunky solution. It can sometimes take a few seconds of fiddling before you can target the right object, and though that's fine when you're standing still, there are many times when you have to manipulate objects while moving.
Even with some control issues, The Forgotten Sands is usually fun because of the well-designed levels. This is not a game where you can turn off your brain and just run through levels with childlike glee. There are small puzzles scattered throughout the stages, and just figuring out how to reach the next section takes a bit of thought. In the early going, you should be able to make your way through most levels without too many problems, but the difficulty ramps up significantly later on. In a lot of ways, the harder levels are more fun than the simple fare of the initial stages because it's so satisfying to get by a particularly tricky section. Unfortunately the checkpoint system can lead to frustration during some moments. You have a finite number of lives, and once you run out, you have to go back to the previous checkpoint. But that respawn point is sometimes quite a ways behind you, and replaying a tough section just to have to face the same daunting challenge that stumped you earlier is a real pain. This problem doesn't crop up too often, but when you factor in the tricky controls, it adds a layer of aggravation that clashes with the fine level design.
Aside from the platforming action, there is some combat thrown in to give the game diversity, but this are sadly the weakest portions of the game. It is simply not any fun to fight enemies. You can defeat most of your foes by jumping on their shoulders, tossing them to the ground, and hacking at their soft spots before they can stand up. There are a few that require you to use your magic abilities, such as flying creatures that must be frozen, but combat destroys the smooth flow of running, jumping, and problem solving that makes up the bulk of the game. The few boss fights are just as tedious. It's certainly enjoyable to figure out how to damage these demonic beings, but once you learn their weak points, it's just a matter of repeating the same basic action over and over again until they finally die.
It's a shame the combat is there to distract you from the jumping portions, because most of The Forgotten Sands is quite fun. There are also collectible orbs in every level, and it's worth replaying previous levels to find them all just because the levels are so well designed. And that's really the most important aspect of this game. Even though there are control issues and unforgiving checkpoints, the stages have a diverse array of obstacles that require you to tread carefully in order to pass them. This leads to a satisfying experience that never lets you rest. The fighting and controls certainly get in the way of your enjoyment at times, but this is largely an enjoyable game with many interesting platform puzzles along the way.