Whether a fan of portable gaming or not, it's easy to like a mobile port of a good game. It's not a matter of gaming tastes or system preferences. A well-developed, mobile-friendly game has almost universal appeal. The best example, of course, would be the myriad versions of Tetris. Everyone loves a game of Tetris when stuck at a hellishly dull event or when riding the bus. It's just a good game to have on the go.
The reason behind Tetris follows a few basic laws of handheld gaming. It's easy to see, easy to control and naturally mobile-friendly. The closer a portable game, regardless of system, sticks to these laws, the better the game will be. Unfortunately, when it comes to Prince of Persia: Revelations, the first game in the Prince series to hit the PSP, a few of these mobile laws get shoved aside. Not completely, but enough so that it's nowhere near the game it could have been otherwise. It's a hard game to play when traveling, plus it's hard to see due to its decidedly moody color palette. And that's just the beginning.
But first, a brief recap: Revelations isn't a new chapter in the Prince of Persia series. And it's not a remake of the original console game, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, either. It's actually a tweaked version of the second title in the series, better known as Prince of Persia: Warrior Within. Here's the first mistake in this whole deal. While a decent game, Warrior Within isn't nearly as well-designed (read: fun) as its predecessor, and it's not as good as its successor, Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, either. It would have made greater sense to port the first game, to start a PSP trilogy, or even to port the recently released Two Thrones. Either game would have made a better first showing on the PSP.
For those who don't know, you play as the titular Prince of Persia. You're basically an agile guy with unparalleled acrobatic skills. Not only that, but you're a damn good swordfighter and wall-climber, too. Good thing, since a majority of what makes the series great, even back when it was a 2D platformer for the PC, are its smart environmental puzzles. You also fight a ton of enemies using a flexible free-form fighting system. You can perform a roster of cool-looking combos, decapitations and throws. But that's not where the fun really lies. Instead, it's navigating the myriad traps, obstacles, and jumps found in virtually every area in the game. Running along walls, jumping between pillars and leaping between cliffs is at the heart of the series. It always has been.
In this regard, Revelations on PSP gets it mostly right. It's still fun getting past traps and deciphering puzzles. And chances are if you liked the design of Warrior Within, you'll like it here as well, since it's essentially identical. Unfortunately, certain factors hamper the enjoyment when it comes to the most ordinary task in Revelations. So while you're doing the same stuff as before, the difficulty of these tasks triples. In the process of porting over a complex title such as Warrior Within to the PSP, almost every facet of the game has been adversely affected. And not in a small way, either. During the first five minutes of play it's hard to notice, since you'll be gawking at the graphics. Make no mistake; Revelations is a visually impressive game, especially on the PSP's screen. Get past the visuals though, and what you're left with is a port with serious problems. And just to be clear, there isn't a single facet of Revelations that escapes unscathed. Graphics, sound, combat, puzzles; they all suffer to some degree. There's very little polish to mention, and certain aspects of the game are simply broken. Put simply, the game feels unfinished. It's as though Revelations was pushed out the door to bring in those Holiday dollars.
The visuals, albeit impressive in design, suffer from so-so texture work on characters and architecture. And while the game runs at a brisk framerate at times, it often becomes choppy. The problem gets worse the more characters are on-screen, so the game performs best when no one's around. Also, you'll notice a series of tears throughout the game, not to mention a bunch of clipping issues, too. These glitches plague a majority of the game. Furthermore, the game uses a very dark color scheme, making it very difficult to see traps, ledges and other important objects. It's even worse when playing the game outside, or where nearby light sources can reflect off the PSP's screen. Still, the levels and environments are particularly large, just like in the console versions, so it's impressive even with all the visual blemishes.
Sound, on the other hand, is unforgivably busted. Whether you liked Warrior Within's rock tunes or not, they should all still play well in the background. Instead, music in Revelations skips, pops, stutters or cuts out entirely. This just reinforces the feeling that you're playing a rushed, unfinished product. These sound issues don't qualify as slight technical problems; they're huge. You wouldn't want to watch a movie with the sound effects, dialog and score cutting in and out, right? Same thing with videogames. Sound and score make up a huge part of the experience, and here, it just plain doesn't work the way it should.
The most serious offense, however, has to do with actual gameplay. A game like Warrior Within is complex enough where a rushed developed cycle to port the thing over can easily screw the entire experience. And it almost does. The game loads constantly, to start, and it does so at inopportune times. The game can load in the middle of a fight, or while you're making a life-or-death jump across a chasm. It even loads when you're trying to make your way through very lethal traps. It can load just about anywhere. And when most of the experience deals with finesse and careful footing, this is just remarkably bad.
Then there's the bag of bugs. When playing through a retail copy, Revelations froze several times. The first time it happened, Revelations locked up the office PSP within ten minutes. And by locked, you should understand locked. A causal reset did nothing. The only thing that fixed the problem was the removal of the PSP's battery. And yes, this happened more than once, and on different systems, too. Making matters worse, Revelations uses the same save system as Warrior Within, so if the game freezes after you've completed a particularly difficult series of jumps, you're totally screwed. If that's not enough, the game has pretty lengthy load times on startup and when loading a game. There are other bugs, too. Certain traps will disappear and reappear at random, making it very difficult to proceed. You'll sometimes get hit by an enemy without seeing the animation for such an attack. The worst kind of bug, though, sees the Prince fall through the floor or become stuck in a wall. Enemies, too, will sometimes get stuck in a wall or other obstruction. Each of these bugs rips a little bit of enjoyment right out of the package. Problem is, there's a bunch of them. After the third time Revelations freezes on you, you'll begin to wonder why the game was shipped in its current condition.
As for the PSP-exclusive modifications and additions, they're a mixed bag of good and bad. First, the good: since there's no second analog stick, Revelations employs a new camera system where different angles are mapped to the D-Pad. This new system helps tremendously when jumping around the environment. Since Revelations is largely about pausing and studying your surroundings, using the D-Pad to leisurely swap angles works very well. You can also hold down the left shoulder button and use the lone analog stick to manually pan the camera. This is pretty much the system most games have adopted and it works just fine here.
Ubisoft promised 20 or so new levels with Revelations, and while there's plenty of new stuff, it's not very compelling. Many of the rooms you'll encounter don't share the clever design seen in the rest of the adventure, and most of it plays like it was dropped into the game without too much thought. None of it is really terrible, mind you, but it doesn't make much sense within the context of the game. And, more importantly, it's just not very fun. The one thing that is downright unfortunate is that there's no way to circumvent the new areas, making backtracking an even more tedious affair than in Warrior Within.
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