Yahtzee takes the time to explain his remarks about the awesomeness of the Prince of Persia series.
So it seems I might have let slip a few controversial statements about the Prince of Persia: Sands of Time trilogy, what with phrases like "best game series of the last console generation" dribbling out of the corner of my mouth. Since what I actually consider a good game is the eternal question that apparently keeps my correspondents up at night, and since the current state of new releases continues to be like staring into a big empty bucket made of air, I figured it was time to dribble out a few qualifying statements on the subject.
So back in the olden days, when Wolfenstein could still call itself "3D" with a straight face, a young squire named Jordan Mechner took a bunch of pictures of his younger brother running around in pajamas, because this was a simpler time before the Internet when you could still do that without someone calling the police. He then rotoscoped the pictures and created the timeless 2D classic Prince of Persia, the first in the subgenre of "realistic platformer" in which you can't jump more than two vertical feet and falling two stories leaves you with your thighs poking out of your lungs. Fast-forward a few centuries to the early days of full-3D, when executives were scrambling around in graveyards looking for old properties to remake in big, lumpy polygons, and one chap with the stench of death about him suggested Mechner's opus.
The first attempt at a 3D Prince of Persia was the predictably-named Prince of Persia 3D, technically a Tomb Raider clone in the same sense that a bucket of mushy peas and old twigs is technically food. It was horribly designed, with bugs up the arse (a particularly uncomfortable place for bugs) and had a terrible habit of arbitrarily killing the player with leap-of-faith gameplay and unlabeled traps in open defiance of occupational health and safety protocols. Let's be more generous than reviewers of the time and say no more about it, except that it was a huge turd.
A few years had to go by before the huge turd passed through the rectum of general memory, but in 2003, it fell to Ubisoft to take another stab at it and release Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. The driving principle was that since instant-death traps are pretty much a staple of the series, then the player should be given an alternative to constantly smashing quickload with the speed of a pneumatic drill, and this was achieved with the power to rewind time. This served to make the parkour platforming more fun than several barrels of particularly whimsical monkeys, when the irritation of an accidental ten-story drop and splatter death could turn into a surreally humourous aside in which the Prince's shattered bones instantly knit themselves back together and he's so surprised he leaps 300 feet back into the air.
Other pros include beautiful environments that could make a jaded architect leap up and hump the screen and actually really strong characterisation. The Prince was a snotty, arrogant dick (in itself not unusual in games), but it's impossible to dislike him because A) he's snarky while being very humanly flawed, and B) if he ever really pisses you off, you can drop him down a pit as many times as you like. And I still hold up his sidekick-cum-love interest as one of the best female characters in gaming. And not just because her tits are reasonably-sized. She too acts like an actual human being, rather than a MacGuffin princess with no brain or motor skills or a supercilious badass action girl wearing enough armour to cover maybe one-quarter of a person.
The one thing I hate about Sands of Time is that the combat is repetitive and boring. The weird foible of the series is that it's always brushing up against perfection, but for every step towards it, they take another step back. The sequel, Warrior Within, had vastly improved combat, but unfortunately, everything else had been beaten with the angsty stick and forced to write poetry with a pen full of black eyeliner. It seems that Ubisoft decided that emo culture was "in," so they went around the office one morning and fired everyone who was smiling. The Prince was suddenly staring out from under a black Robert Smith fringe and growling angry threats at supercilious badass action girls showing off more flesh than a surgeon's convention. The tonal shift was so unnecessary and contemptible that a critical paddling session followed, which was a shame because the environments were still nice and the gameplay was better than ever. It just goes to show: never stick your dick in a pudding. It might still be good pudding, and you can spend all afternoon explaining that, but no one's gonna eat it because you stuck your dick in it!
The very serious and angry Warrior Within made fans of the first game's lightness of tone very angry and serious (which is ironic when you think about it), and it was with rare wisdom that Ubisoft cocked an ear and wound the angst back in time for the third game, Two Thrones. On paper, it looked like everything we'd hoped for: the Arabian aesthetic and lightheartedness of Sands of Time combined with the refined gameplay of Warrior Within. But then, a lot of things look good on paper, like the little blue dolphin patterns on my toilet roll that fail to distract from the issue that I'm wiping my arse with it. While the gameplay continued to be top-notch, with the possible exception of needless and finicky chariot racing sequences, the guy responsible for the charming dialogue and believable characters had evidently been one of the many casualties during the dark times, and Two Thrones's attempt to replicate the snarky chemistry between the Prince and his lady friend came across as forced and cynical, especially since the princess had evidently been on the testosterone injections and turned into a - all together now - supercilious badass action girl like every love interest and their dog. It was like watching the Hollywood film version of a favourite book, seeing beloved characters and themes boiled down to tired, marketable stereotypes until you want to rub Agent Orange into your eyes just to add a bit of colour to the dowdy, homogenised mess.
Between them, the three Sands of Time games have the ingredients of probably the best game ever, and I don't say that lightly. The first game still very resolutely sits in my top 5 games of all time. But it could have been better. Like a variant of the "uncanny valley" effect, the closer a game gets to Portal perfection, then the more glaring the flaws become, and their attempts to correct those flaws in the sequels were akin to removing flecks of dirt from a birthday cake with a shovel. But we live and learn, so let's move on and hope that the new Prince of Persia will be as good as Sands of Time. And that my arse will sprout wings and fly me into space!
Wears a lot of black clothing: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Also if the Prince of Persia movie they're making turns out good then I will upload pictures of me punching myself in my tiny unsatisfying penis
Identify my top 5 games and you could win my utter disgust
The Sands of Time
The Two Thrones