Prince of Persia Classic Hands-On

Jordan Mechner's original side-scrolling gem is on its way to Xbox Live Arcade with new window dressing, and it's still making us pull out our hair almost 20 years later.

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Before Ubisoft's Montreal studio reimagined Prince of Persia with 2003's exemplary The Sands of Time, the franchise was known primarily as a 1989 side-scrolling action platformer on the PC from notable game designer Jordan Mechner. This genre was thriving on Nintendo's console at the time, but those games focused less on puzzle-solving and more on button-mashing your way through endless hordes of enemies. By contrast, Prince of Persia was more like the thinking man's platformer. It let you explore relatively complex levels; pull off precision jumps and rolls to bypass pitfalls, spikes, and other insidious booby traps; and engage in sword combat that actually required you to hit more than one button to win. The game was also incredibly difficult, which is at least as responsible for its indelible place in the gaming pantheon as its then-impressive gameplay innovations.

Now, Ubisoft is getting ready to deliver the same experience to Xbox Live Arcade with the aptly titled Prince of Persia Classic. The new game comes courtesy of Gameloft, a development house that's primarily focused on games for cell phones up to this point. But the new Xbox version seems just as fully featured as the original--more so, in fact--and it's gotten a nice graphical upgrade to boot. The storyline will be eminently familiar to anyone who played the old game (since it's the same), and only slightly less so to anyone who played The Sands of Time in the last few years. The evil vizier Jaffar has demanded the princess' hand in marriage, and after she rebuffed him, he cursed her with an enchanted hourglass that has given her exactly one hour to live. You'll take control of the prince, her true love, as you escape the palace dungeon, fight through the vizier's guards, traverse the castle, and rescue your princess before the bad guy works his evil magic.

You're going to die a lot. Seriously.
You're going to die a lot. Seriously.

Anyone who played Prince of Persia back in the day will know exactly what's going on here, since the levels are largely re-created straight from that version. Each level takes place on multiple levels, and jumping up to or dropping down to ledges to access new areas is integral to the gameplay. Expect lots of collapsing floor panels and timed door switches to keep you on your toes, too. The game's controls should feel familiar; there's a slight dead zone on the analog stick before you really start moving, and likewise, it takes the prince a moment to stop his forward momentum. So with all the spikes and deep pits in the levels, you have to be extremely precise with your movements to keep from dying.

Actually, forget that--you won't be able to prevent your eventual demise, and it will happen over and over. You'll miss grabbing a handhold or accidentally roll right onto a bed of spikes, and that will be that. And did we mention that the entire game is on a one-hour time limit? Luckily, this new game spreads checkpoints throughout each level, so when you die (not if), you won't always have to start back at the beginning of the level. Also, the game will save after each completed level, so you can pick up where you left off as you progress through the 14 stages of the game. You can also go back and play any of those levels once you've completed them to go for a quicker time or higher score. The game also offers time attack and survival modes, which will be tracked on Xbox Live leaderboards, so all you Prince of Persia fanatics can prove your mettle in a public forum if you must.

It's basically Prince of Persia with much nicer graphics. We can't complain about that.
It's basically Prince of Persia with much nicer graphics. We can't complain about that.

Again, not much has changed on the gameplay side in Prince of Persia Classic, from the five levels we've played through so far. But the visuals have certainly seen a nice update. Gameloft seems to be using some assets (like the prince's character model) from The Sands of Time--and if they're not actually lifted directly from that game, they're aesthetically similar enough that they might as well be. We're big fans of the 2D-gameplay-with-3D-graphics approach around here, and the developers seem to be using the technique in POP Classic nicely. The dungeon levels have torches that act as nice dynamic light sources, while the more brightly lit palace levels have sunlight streaming through the windows and a variety of other nice effects that complement the action well.

Prince of Persia Classic looks like it's going to be a nice, updated nostalgia piece for fans who remember the original, and it will also be an inexpensive and reasonably good-looking way for newcomers to find out how the whole series started in the first place. The game is due to hit Live Arcade in the third quarter of this year, and while Ubisoft hasn't announced how much it will cost just yet, we're thinking 800 points sounds like a fair price for this one. Not that we're dropping hints or anything.

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