Ubisoft's Prince of Persia is one seriously bad dude. He has been through a myriad of adventures over the years--ranging from his early PC quests through the dungeons of ancient Iran to last year's smash console hit, where he added the ability to control time to his already imposing repertoire of tricks. The prince has also appeared in a few mobile games courtesy of Ubi's mobile counterpart Gameloft, which has experienced great critical and commercial success. By all indications, both the prince and the developer geared up considerably for Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, which will be simultaneously released for console and mobile. This game expands upon Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time's excellent framework in almost every conceivable dimension; it adds more moves, more levels, more puzzles, better graphics and sound, and more replay value to a product that had already been buffed to a high sheen. Unsurprisingly, this level of effort has resulted in one of the finest platform games ever created for mobile phones.
It's rather difficult to discern exactly what your goal is in Prince of Persia: Warrior Within. Using a series of short cutscenes between levels, the game tries to elucidate the prince's epic battle against an evil empress, but the setting jumps between past and present like a fractured fever dream. Suffice it to say that the prince will have to pick his way through about a dozen trap-filled environments, slay numerous haunts composed of enchanted time sand, and resist the advances of several winsome, scantily clad maidens, before all is said and done. Luckily, the prince has cowboyed up considerably since his last outing: He now sports dual scimitars, new combat skills, and a swarthy, antiheroic image.
Prince of Persia: Warrior Within's gameplay is fundamentally very similar to that of its antecessor. After you complete a quick tutorial level to master the prince's maneuvers, you must dash through a series of large environments, searching each area for the time warp that will deliver you to the next. In a nice concession to the learning curve, the first couple of levels provide you with small navigation arrows that indicate which direction you should take at each intersection. The game will also frequently give you written hints to keep you moving through some of the puzzles--most of which involve finding switches to remove barriers. There are a few tougher obstacles that you'll need to figure out on your own, but the challenge level remains quite manageable throughout the adventure.
The prince returns with all of his basic platforming tricks intact. He can run, sneak, jump, crouch, roll, hang off of and climb ledges, and cross larger gaps by running across walls. Advanced tricks like wall-running deplete your blue stamina meter, which will recharge slowly when you're at rest. There are also a few new moves to spice things up. For instance, you can now attack enemies while swinging on chains, and you gain a new combat technique after you complete each level. The game provides you with a button-press recorder in the upper left-hand corner of the screen to help you execute these maneuvers, which uncork a short animation and then deliver a razor-sharp surprise to your foes. These moves are easy to access with simple button combinations. Some combinations are definitely more useful than others, but they all help to keep your frequent battles with sand beasts and other enemies interesting. You will find yourself making frequent recourse to such moves as the blade dervish, which chops enemies on either side of you, and the heart render, a brutal stabbing attack that will dispose of almost every enemy in the game. Toward the middle of the game, the prince also gains the ability to stop time for short periods. However, this power seems underutilized, as there are only a handful of situations in the game where it's necessary.
There isn't a huge variety of enemies in Prince of Persia: Warrior Within, but there are enough to keep things interesting. The game's clever level designs also help to spice things up. There are a couple of different types of sand monsters, like foot soldiers and axe-throwers, as well as invisible swordsmen, bats, and a few boss baddies. These enemies usually take only a few attacks to kill, especially if you knock them off of their feet and deliver a stabbing deathblow. Strangely, this seems to hold true for most of the handful of enemies that are supposed to be impervious to your bladesmanship. In any case, combat feels very intuitive. Once you draw your swords, the game switches up the controls a bit to provide you with combat moves like blocking and agile backflips. Most of the damage you'll sustain, however, will be chalked up to the game's insidious traps, which include blades, spikes, hammers, pits, and moving ledges of every variety. Many of these devices will kill you on contact, forcing you to restart from the nearest checkpoint. You have an unlimited number of lives to complete the game, but each time you die, you'll lose some points from your final level score.
Warrior Within also has an additional arena mode, which is a straightforward slog through 15 concurrent levels of pure combat. This mode is actually very challenging, and gives you an additional combo attack if you make it to the end. The rating system at the end of each level also boosts replay by scoring you on a number of criteria and assigning you a rank.
The graphics and sound are both marvelous on Series 60 Java handsets. The environments are sharply rendered in a range of fairy-tale bright colors, and there are numerous instances of extra visual detail--like the mice that crawl in and out of the holes for spike traps--that really add a lot to the overall presentation. Furthermore, all of the game's complex, highly varied animation runs comparatively smoothly through the entire experience. Prince of Persia: Warrior Within also has first-rate music and sound effects. It's rare to find a Series 60 game that uses both elements effectively, but this game does, juxtaposing snippets of music against the groans and clanks of hand-to-hand combat. The game also includes a vibrant opening theme to prime you for your journey to the Middle East.
All in all, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within is a highly advanced and technically ambitious mobile platformer that has been executed almost flawlessly. In the past, the weak spot of similar Gameloft platformers has been their relative brevity. By contrast, this game feels only slightly on the short side, and even though there's no adjustable difficulty, the adventure is large enough to keep most players occupied for several hours. Prince of Persia: Warrior Within is a dominant game on its own merits, but it's identical to the first game in one respect: Anyone who is remotely interested in playing an action game on their handset should download it.