This no-fail state takes on different proportions during combat. Exclusively one-on-one affairs, Elika will save the Prince’s skin again and again during combat, but this saving grace also regenerates some of your enemy’s health. Fights can turn into long, protracted engagements if you’re having an off day. But on that same token, if you set down the controller and leave the room, you can return anytime later and see that the Prince has not died even once during that time. This has been entirely too much for some critics to wrap their heads around, but ultimately this approach makes for an all-around friendlier Prince of Persia experience. Again, it just depends on if you require sharp peaks and valleys to garner a sense of accomplishment.
The boss battles, though, manage to be far more than the typified “hit the glowing spot” encounters. Taking place across multiple stages and multiple battlegrounds, the bosses are surprisingly well-fleshed-out for the amount of onscreen time they have. Never once are they merely bad guys to beat in order to open the next door—rather, they’re integral to the growing story unfolding within the City of Light.
Sadly, the middle game doesn’t hold. It manages to turn a rewarding activity like collecting “light seeds” into a door-unlocking grind. Once the awe of the new experience wears off, and before the understated but strongly-written end game kicks in, travelling about the City of Light sees its charm wear thin.
And this is where the visual details hold the experience together. One section of the map, The Vale, is stacks of towers slapdashed together from the creaking hulls, tattered sails, and cargo netting of seagoing ships; the low-rise badlands in the backdrop simulate a dusty clutch of ocean wake; seagulls caw overhead. The Royal Palace is blistering with Arabian Nights flavor; a place where you’d expect Sheherezade herself to emerge and begin telling 1,001 tales to a beheading suitor. The Sun Tower has immense flames of rock arcing towards the sky, and immense windmills harnessing the constant wind. And the Ruined Citadel–a reminder of a people’s wrongs–is enclosed from the bright outdoors, with a murky palette painting it dimly like a stalagmite in the corner. My only regret with the camera is that (while flawless for the purposes of navigating the terrain) it’s often hesitant to show off the long-distance vistas in and beyond the City of Light.
While admirably confident in its new direction, the Prince relies too heavily on the lifesaving Elika and the endgame story to carry the entire tale.
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