Ubisoft placed themselves in something of a quandary when they released the 2008 re-imagining of their revered Prince Of Persia franchise. By tailoring it to an entirely new audience, they proceeded to alienate a handful of the more vigilant fans of the series’ much-celebrated Sands Of Time trilogy, from the previous console generation. The 2008 release was a piece of outstanding entertainment to be sure (and it remains one of the best-looking console games on the market, even now) but by scaling back the puzzling and combat and focusing primarily on the platforming, they’d deviated away from the merry nucleus of a series that had previously produced three of the finest, and most justly lauded, videogames of all time.
But The Forgotten Sands represents a near-faultless compromise, and its attempt at fusing the two conjoined properties together is an almost total success. The ridiculously satisfying and fluid (and thrilling) acrobatics of 2008’s platforming mechanic make a welcome return, as do the simple-but-rewarding swordplay and the sharp (and often nefarious) puzzles that played such a large part in the success of the original Sands trilogy. The story is set between Sands Of Time and The Two Thrones, and though it’s a trifle light on genuine surprises, the core plot (involving the Prince’s brother’s summoning of the sand demons in an attempt to save his kingdom from a bloodthirsty approaching army) is thoroughly involving, with the Prince’s sibling’s descent into a mild form of power-hungry dementia being a particularly compelling aspect.
The ‘Dagger Of Time’ makes its welcome return (and you’re able to utilise it from almost the very beginning) and flashy combat results in a wealth of experience points, that can all be spent within the game’s uncomplicated upgrade scheme. There is a surprising amount of environmental content, and you’re seldom asked to re-visit an area that you’ve already completed. This gives the game something of an epic aura; a mannerism that has blessed almost every game in the series since Sands Of Time, and has slowly become something of a franchise trademark. After around an hour or two of play, The Forgotten Sands reveals its trump card; the inclusion of ‘elemental powers’. These flights of pure imagination are nothing less than sensational, drum-tight exemplars of peerless videogame design.
The Forgotten Sands starts strongly enough anyway, but as these elemental powers come slowly into play, the game excels far beyond expectations. Although many of these powers are largely combat-based (including a dash move and an empowered shield) the most consistently ingenious skill involves the ability to solidify water, and use frozen jets of the blue stuff to manoeuvre through some truly brilliant puzzles. They aren’t all mere brain-teasers either – some of them involve the kind of finger dexterity more frequently demanded of you in an intensive fighting game like Street Fighter IV. Regardless, the puzzles are never as tough as they were in The Sands Of Time (a game that included one cog-based puzzle so fiendish that several players never returned to it) but you are certain to be challenged in unfamiliar and entirely edifying ways. Survival and Time Trial modes round out the experience, and both qualify as pleasant and very well-designed distractions.
The pedantic may be keen to point out that this isn’t in the same league as the likes of Sony’s Uncharted double-whammy (a series which stole liberally from the Sands trilogy in the first place) and they’d be right. But to dismiss The Forgotten Sands for not living up to two of this generation’s finest would be a huge (and hugely stupid) mistake. Ubisoft have done everything they can (including side-stepping the inherent pratfalls in making a potentially more lucrative movie tie-in instead of a franchise ‘interqual’) to ensure that the hardcore Sands Of Time fans are warmly welcomed back into the fray, whilst also making sure that new devotees brought in by 2008’s edition are never out of their depth either. Trying to appease two sets of people should have resulted in disaster, but it hasn’t. Whatever you are looking to get out of it, The Forgotten Sands just works.
Watch the Prince Of Persia: The Forgotten Sands trailer here…