Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones has hit store shelves with amazing authority across all main platforms. Critics have been hailing the title as a must have, scoring huge here at IGN with an 8.8 across Xbox, Cube, and PS2. When the announcement was made that a Prince of Persia title was coming to the DS as well, it took many of us back to the days of 2D platforming. However, while Prince of Persia has finally come to the DS, fans will wish they could turn back the sands of time once again and recreate what Prince of Persia should have been. Rather than an amazing and intriguing 2D adventure, fans are given a card/strategy game which feels forced, bulky and uninspired. Battles of Prince of Persia may look and sound like the console versions, but it offers nothing to fans of the true classic.
It is easy to sit and complain about the choice made to go with a combination card and strategy title for DS rather than creating the original style for the franchise. However, while it is a valid complaint that no action will be found in the Prince's DS debut, it wouldn't be fair to bash the design if the final product was strong enough to stand with the rest of the franchise. Unfortunately, the franchise seems like a skin that has been put over someone's vision of creating a hybrid of Advanced Wars, Fire Emblem, Magic The Gathering, and Final Fantasy Tactics, and it simply doesn't hold up to any of its inspirations.
There are many great ideas that have been taken from classic strategy titles which could have all fit well in Battles of Prince of Persia should the execution have been stronger. Players take control of the Prince in a campaign mode much like AW or Final Fantasy. Before each battle story elements are given through cut scenes much like the Fire Emblem series, and the battle is then taken to the field. Once on the main map, allied troops are selected and then places ala Final Fantasy Tactics, and the fight is ready to begin. Everything from swordsmen to archers, knights and heroes are included. The hybrid card/strategy is a great idea, giving the player control of a deck which determines what can be done for each turn. Depending on what cards are chosen, a certain number of troops can be moved for that turn, and a ton of different affects can be used, much like a single turn CO power in AW. While this is a great idea, there is just too much to deal with when trying to form strategy. What cards will come up after others are used? What do all these cards do exactly? The entire system is incredibly deep, and while strategy can be used to an extent it doesn't have the checks and balances feel that Advanced Wars does. There isn't a solid strategy to use against others, and the system ends up feeling like a cluster of stats and possibilities that will slow the action down and complicate the experience to no end rather than aiding the player in movements. Other tactics are incorporated into the battle system as well, offering push-back if an army does exceptionally during a skirmish. This actually moves the defending army back a space, and lets the attackers take that zone. It is a great idea, and one of the main strengths that this design actually has. It is too clunky and slow to enjoy, however, and battles never come close to feeling as epic or intense as its inspirations. It all boils down to the on-screen controls, and in the end it just isn't fun to play.
Battles of Prince of Persia is also hurt by the lack of personality it contains. All on-screen armies are displayed as a box with an icon in it. All of the presentation that could have been taken from the larger Prince of Persia titles is thrown out the window since the main playfield has players looking at tiny squares rather than characters. Sure the actual armies make an appearance during the scripted battles that show on the top screen, but they don't come close to the beauty and cinematic flair that Advance Wars has shown. Even the battles themselves feel clunky as players run at each other and exchange blows. The game is presented like it was a low-budget title with no development time, and that doesn't work with such an ambitious design. The levels suffer from load times which are actually longer than some Cube games and the core controls are slow and unintuitive. The main playfield is small and basic, putting an army on one side and the other and letting them run at each other with very little room to innovate and provide clever strategy. Add in terrible navigation controls and the overall experience is painful to say the least. To move the screen the D-Pad must be held up, and then the stylus is used to move the camera. Rather than having the stylus drag the map around like a piece of paper, the camera is pushed in the direction of the stylus which feels awkward. Battles of Prince of Persia tries to achieve too much rather than focusing on making a smaller but more solid strategy experience.
Graphical presentation is one of the product's serious weak points, and only adds to the frustration. As mentioned above, tile art litters the battle map, and actual on-screen icons offer no visual appeal. When the battle heats up it gets to be near impossible to tell which characters are facing which direction, and who is doing what. This is a DS title, and it needs on-screen characters. Rather than looking like a next-gen product it simply screams Game Boy Color. The battle sequences are the only part of the action that couldn't be shown on cell phone technology, and even then the characters look like first generation GBA art. The main playfield looks entirely too basic, as if it was thrown in at the last second, and offers no immersion into the world it supposedly represents. In fact, the only aspect of Prince of Persia that stands up to par is the sound production inspired by the console versions, much like the entire game should have been, and manages to deliver an extremely strong quality of audio.
Ubisoft's design attempts to add strong replay value for fans, but it simply doesn't matter due to the poor gameplay. A multiplayer mode has been added, and just like the campaign missions extra cards can be earned for use in future battles. Players can also customize up to three main decks which adds a good chunk of strategy to the later levels since different cards can play to different situations. There are nine generals to play as offering a good amount of quick-play using each character. Since the heroes themselves take to the battlefield along with the soldiers they command it is crucial to pick a general that works with the specific deck created. We have to admit it is highly entertaining giving a huge booster card to the Prince and watch him tear through enemies on his own. The problem is that these areas are just too few and far between, and the poor gameplay makes the core adventure boring and unappealing. Obviously fans would have loved a full 2D action/adventure, but this design could have been amazing as well and really been a great strategy challenge for gamers who have had their fill with Advance Wars. Despite the rare moments of entertainment and the focus on replay value, it still misses the mark.
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