In the same way that Ubisoft converted Prince of Persia: Warrior Within to Prince of Persia Revelations for the PlayStation Portable, so too has it released an updated version of Two Thrones for the Wii and PSP with Prince of Persia Rival Swords. The Prince's last foray on the PSP was marred by a litany of sound bugs, as well as some unfortunate load times. These issues were clearly addressed in Rival Swords, and while not entirely resolved, their impact is less substantial. Rival Swords, then, is a great translation of Two Thrones, and no doubt through some time-altering voodoo, Ubisoft has padded out the PSP package with some worthwhile additions, making this the most content-laden version of them all.
Rival Swords/Two Thrones is the conclusion of the Sands of Time trilogy, but the homecoming hasn't gone down according to the Prince's plan. Instead of a sedate life spent getting fat and carousing with the Empress of Time, he finds Babylon burning, a foe once defeated returning immortal, and some maniacal madman installing wicked-confusing elevator systems throughout his city. Vexing for sure, made all the worse when his charge is stabbed in the gut and he inadvertently turns himself into a sand demon. Turns out, using magic to mess with space-time has a nasty way of coming full circle to kick you in the teeth, so by rescuing the Empress from her fate in Warrior Within, the Prince effectively negated his actions in the trilogy's first game, The Sands of Time. What this means is that the Vizier was free to enact his plans of world domination, and, after sidestepping a few plot holes, he promptly does. So, after joining forces again with an old ally for the first time, you're off to rectify your actions by bouncing around all nimbly-bimbly and skewering creeps with a blade--two skills the Prince happens to excel at.
By interfering with the Vizier's machinations, the Prince infects himself with enchanted sand. The power of the sands manifests itself in the form of the Dark Prince, a decidedly sketchy alter ego of the Prince that you'll occasionally morph into, complete with razor-sharp chains encircling his forearms and phosphorescent tattoos etched onto his blackened skin. Along with the new bod comes a new consciousness, which takes up residence in the Prince's head in a schizophrenic fashion. As the Dark Prince, your lethality is greatly enhanced, letting you eviscerate your enemies with a twirl of that enchanted razor wire. The drawback to this nearly unlimited power is that your life essence slowly ebbs away, though it can be fully replenished by picking up the sand charges that are liberally spread throughout the game. Having your life deteriorate certainly adds a sense of urgency to your actions and can increase the game to a near-frenetic pace, as you are pushed through puzzles and forced to find and bust up mobs or jars of sand so as to avoid becoming dust in the wind yourself.
The ability to manipulate time plays a prominent role in Rival Swords. As you progress through the game, you'll accrue sand charges by either killing enemies or smashing jars, baskets, or what have you. By and large, these sand charges will be converted by your newly reacquired Dagger of Time (first seen in the now-defunct Sands of Time) into recalls, which are essentially do-overs that let you rewind time to either have another go at hitting a jump or undoing a devastating combo that some goon has just inflicted upon you. Timeliness is a virtue, however, as you'll only be able to rewind time up to a certain point, indicated by a bar nestled in among your other vitals. The dagger eventually acquires other attributes, such as the ability to slow down time and to massacre several enemies at once, which both have their uses. One of the major setbacks to the game is the way that sand charges act as a crutch for the Prince, often trivializing would-be difficult encounters. While this does help you burn through the game, it also goes a long way in making for sloppy gameplay, as it never really encourages you to think before you leap or become anything more than proficient with the Prince's extensive combat capabilities.
In much the same vein as Sands of Time and Warrior Within, the Prince's primary concern is running, jumping, swinging, sliding, and scurrying his way from one precarious perch to another. One constant regardless of the platform is the Prince's resourceful method of travel, and this comes as naturally on the PSP as it does in any other recent Prince of Persia game. Controlling the Prince hasn't ever been an ordeal, and the default button layout on the PSP handles his movements as well as any other gamepad. During these environmental puzzling sequences, the camera gives you a good indication of where you need to go next, and if the route isn't immediately obvious, you can hold the L shoulder button and spin the camera to your heart's content. Typically, it won't be very difficult to find your way to the next handhold, and even if you do happen to make a misstep and plummet hundreds of feet to your death, you've always got those handy sand charges as an ace up your sleeve. If you run out of charges--though that's not likely to happen too often--the game is very forgiving, since liberal use is made of save and checkpoints. In general, the route you must travel is fairly easy and intuitive to identify as long as you use the camera.
Playing second fiddle to the Prince's unorthodox method of travel are the combat sequences. Standing between you and the Vizier is an army of supersoldiers who are hell-bent on seeing you to an early grave. Flashy footwork is the Prince's fighting style of choice, and to that effect he'll be slicing and dicing his foes in a series of aerial and light-footed combos, which can be easily rattled off by jamming on the square and triangle buttons. Adding a new wrinkle to the Prince's repertoire is the speed kill, which can be activated when you successfully sneak up on an enemy. During a speed kill sequence, you'll be able to lay open an unsuspecting foe's throat or in some other way maim and mutilate him in a twinkle, which is met with a spurting gush of golden sand and smoke. Needless to say, it's pretty cool.
Making the dearth of extras in the Wii version or Rival Swords all the more perplexing are the droves of content padding out the PSP version. Much of Two Thrones/Rival Swords is spent navigating to and then knocking out sand portals to disrupt the Vizier's supply lines. Instead of giving you the free ride you got in other versions of the game, the PSP version has you delving inside these portals to implode them. The challenge here ranges from maliciously difficult to overly simplistic, though they all provide more background on the story. Further padding the package are a chariot race mode and an ad hoc multiplayer mode. While they're not particularly compelling on their own, you'll be able to jump into three chariot races that see you winding through obstacles and fending off the Vizier's henchmen. Each of these three is fairly lengthy, but there's no real incentive to return to them once you cross the finish line. The multiplayer aspect lets you compete locally with a friend to navigate a series of two to five maps. These offer an interesting challenge, as each map offers three different routes that range in complexity and difficulty, and you'll be able to set off traps to hinder your opponent.
Two Thrones was an excellent-looking game on the consoles, and despite the PSP's hardware limitations, Rival Swords captures that look well. Texture detail took the most significant hit in the conversion to a portable format. Though characters' faces are still fairly detailed from afar, the resolution on bodies has been significantly reined in. Cityscapes are about as low-res as it gets, which takes away a bit of the awe of seeing one of the most majestic cities of the ancient world ablaze and reduced to rubble. Texture seaming, tearing, and flickering all occur, and the game suffers from bouts of slowdown. There are also occasional loading pauses that last upward of a few seconds, though these typically occur only as you transition from one area to another. Despite all this, the game has a sharp look to it, and the scale of the environments is just as large as that of console versions. The new areas in particular are vibrantly colorful and creatively designed. Also, the Prince's flashy attacks animate smoothly, and the platforming sections are rarely if ever disrupted by performance issues.
Likewise, most of the sound is carried over from the Two Thrones, and overall it sounds as good as it did in that game. A dramatic orchestral score complements some uniformly excellent voice acting, and the game's sound effects are top-notch. With the added content comes some additional voice work that provides a bit more exposition on the story, and these sound bites were seamlessly inserted into the game. Unfortunately, the PSP version of Rival Swords has more than a few sound anomalies. Though not as disruptive as it was in Revelations, the music frequently blips out. Also, the dialogue rarely matches up with the speaker's animation. These aren't catastrophic issues, but they do disrupt the immersive qualities of the sound and weigh down the otherwise great presentation.
Rival Swords on the PSP is as fully featured as its console counterparts, and it offers a lot of extra content to boot. While not necessarily enough to attract fans of the series who already fought through Two Thrones, the new levels and multiplayer functionality work well to pad out the package and improve upon an already great game. Even with the quirks in its presentation, Rival Swords will have no problems pleasing fans of both Prince of Persia and action adventures.