There are many “series” that have developed in the history of video games. The most successful games usually end up spurring a string of titles which will often span over the course of not only numerous years, but often numerous hardware generations. Even though the list of series continues to grow with each passing console era, few titles have managed to last as long and span as many (console) generations as Jordan Mechner’s Prince of Persia (PoP). The original game, which launched way back in 1989 set the stage for numerous titles across a ton of systems including the Apple IIE, Nintendo Entertainment System, Sega Genesis, and TurboGrafx-CD. The original game is undoubtedly one of the true classic titles in our industry; unfortunately few of the sequels have managed to live up to the greatness of the original, let alone surpass it. There is one in particular that does, and its two sequels were pretty close.
Many PoP fans have no qualms about labeling the Sands of Time trilogy as the pinnacle of the series. The three game tale, which started with 2003’s Prince of Persia: Sands of Time and concluded with The Two Thrones is largely considered not only the best of the series, but many consider it to be among the best of the PS2/Xbox generation. The Prince of Persia Trilogy brings all three titles back in one convenient package. Players are treated to three separate titles: Sands of Time, Warrior Within, and the Two Thrones one the same discs with a fresh coat of paint / bump in resolution, added PlayStation trophy support, and even stereoscopic 3D for televisions that support the feature.
I have to be up front, I am not going to thoroughly critique each title individually in terms of its gaming content in this review. The games have been out for years across a wide variety of platforms and reviewed countless times on their own. Instead, I intend to give you an overview of the games as they have been perceived by the gaming public and then critique the package that Ubisoft has put together as a whole.
The Sands of Time is the first game and titular pillar of the package. The title is widely considered a masterpiece and set the standard for not only action of games of its generation but also the entire genre. Critics and gamers alike applauded the game's masterful presentation style and production values. The game sucked you into its tale and didn’t let you go until the credits rolled. In addition to telling an incredible story, the gameplay elements introduced in the game took the action and platforming genre to a new level when it came to games in the third dimension.
Perhaps the greatest contribution that the original game brought to the table was the use of time controls, using the Sands of Time. Players were able to trigger a mystical dagger, once acquired, to literally turn back the clock and rewind the action if and when things didn’t go exactly as planned. Other time control elements were introduced as the game progressed and included in the remainder of the series as well. To this day, the PlayStation 2 version of the game maintains a Metacritic score of 92, which puts it among the highest scoring video games of all time.
The second game, subtitled the Warrior Within, is often considered the weakest episode in the series despite garnering critical acclaim in its own right. The title took the story into a completely different direction by adding a grittier presentation featuring pounding rock music and over-the-top violence. The game also took the difficulty level of the first game and turned it up to eleven. The game really caused mixed feelings among fans and critics; they loved the overall package but had a hard time overlooking the numerous technical issues and glitches which marred the experience. The reviews were still high and the game earned a spot of one of the standout titles of the 5th console generation but it paled in comparison to the Sands of Time.
The finale of the tale came in the form of 2005’s Prince of Persia: Warrior Within. Most considered the final entry in the trilogy the perfect blend of the previous two games; Ubisoft managed to capture the story telling charm of the original title and the refined combat of Warrior within into a well polished farewell. In particular, the game is often credited for having astounding visuals for its period which is further proven by the fact that there isn’t that much of a difference between the original release and the HD version in this package. The gap between the two is noticeable, but nowhere near as visible as with the other titles in this package.
The fact of the matter is that this package survives solely on the strength of the original source material. These are really bare-bone ports of the original titles. Absolutely nothing has been done to address the issues that existed in the original games. Nearly every issue and concern that existed with each title still hampers the experiences all of these years later. The Warrior Within in particular is still hampered by glitches and issues that can force you to restart the game as you approach the end.
As I mentioned above, each of the games has received a resolution bump which brings it into the HD generation. Unfortunately, a resolution bump is far from the same thing as having the graphics completely redone. The games look nicer but cannot hide behind their age. Both Warrior Within and the Two Thrones look stellar, but the visual improvement appears counter-productive in the Sands of Time. The increased resolution really gives the game a cartoony look, which I think works against the mature atmosphere created by the stellar story. It looks nice, don’t get me wrong, but just doesn’t have the same “feeling” in its graphical presentation as players got out of the original release. Unfortunately, the resolution bump felt in the gameplay portions of the game isn’t used in the full motion video sequences featured throughout all three titles. The videos, which are used extensively in each game, look extremely dated and downright bad given today’s standards. Despite these complaints, there are still moments of graphical brilliance throughout the compilation especially in the Two Thrones, which rival the competition in the market today.
The new versions of the game have developed some major audio issues in their transition to the new generation. Each game is haunted by a sound issue which makes the audio sound as if it were being blasted in a tunnel. There is a “tinny” echo quality prevelant throughout all of them. It was very hard to realize the issue when playing the Sands of Time as much of the game occurs within the walls of an open palace, where one would expect an echo to exist. When that same effect is audible out in the open world of other parts of the game and the other two titles, it becomes apparent that something is out of place. There are even points in the games where it gets so bad that the dialogue becomes nearly impossible to decipher. It seems very odd that these issues exist in this port of the game(s) when they didn’t exist in the original issues, on any of the various platforms that they were released on.
In a strange decision, Ubisoft has removed some of the additional content gamers were treated to in the original releases. The Sands of Time in particular lacks the unlockable games that the original release included, such as Jordan Mechner’s original game and as well as a 3D replication of its first stage. Just as I was amazed the “enhanced port” of the game(s) seemed to develop some strange audio issues, I was equally amazed that the lost features as well. This just doesn’t make any sense. I am also confused at how the disc is set up in terms of game selection; you choice of game is made upon the initial boot of the disc and there is no switching once that decision has been made. If you wish to play one of the other titles, you will need to back out to the cross media bar and re-launch the game. This is extremely annoying and something that could have been easily remedied from a development standpoint.
On the bright side of things, Ubisoft did a stellar job of adding both trophy and stereoscopic 3D support to the games. The trophy support in particular, wasn’t just tacked on but instead instituted with some serious thought. Each game has its own platinum trophy and accolades are awarded for not only hitting milestone points in each game, but for performing various acts and achievements in each title. You won’t earn each trophy by simply playing through each titles; just as with most games in today’s market, there will be necessary variations in your gameplay methods required to get them all.
Despite my complaints with this package, I cannot deny the fact that I had an absolute blast playing through each of these titles again. The fact of the matter is that all three games have managed to stand the test of time and feel just as good today as they did years ago. Ubisoft should be very thankful for the work that the original development crews did on these titles because it is their strengths that make this compilation as good as it is. The minimal upgrades that have been made have only ensured that they feel and play just as good as I remember them being. It just saddens me when I think that it could have been even better than this; other companies are taking these HD compilations from the last generation and truly remastering their titles and making them stand up against the competition of today’s market. Had Ubisoft taken the time and done just the same, this could have easily ended up being on of the must-have titles of 2011. Instead it is nothing more than a solid package of three great titles, which obviously isn’t a bad thing… but it could have been a great one.