IGN Review of Prince of Persia: Rival Swords
Publisher Ubisoft has finally brought one of its biggest and baddest franchises, Prince of Persia, to Nintendo's next-generation console. We're Prince fans and thus, this is exciting news -- or it should be. After all, Sands of Time was an outstanding project that seamlessly blended action combat and truly remarkable platforming elements into one stylistic package. Even now, we can look back upon the game and appreciate its groundbreaking level designs and fluid character animation. Ubi followed Sands with Warrior Within, which introduced a darker, "edgier" Prince and heavy metal guitar riffs, but not much else -- and it was predictably something of a disappointment. But in late 2005 the company debuted The Two Thrones for GameCube, PlayStation 2 and Xbox, a sequel which added the mechanic of a light and dark Prince (each with unique abilities), tightened up the controls, expanded upon the platform-heavy stages, debuted a chariot racing mode and ultimately proved to be a worthy follow-up to the let down that was Warrior Within. Rival Swords for Wii is more or less a port of The Two Thrones with added Wii controls to boot, so we should be psyched, right? You'd think that, but it takes a little more than a year-old port with a sometimes-fun gesture system and censored content to make us stand up and cheer, even if we freely admit that the core game is still as engaging and entertaining as ever.
We've done the math and any way we approach it, the numbers don't add up. If you want Prince of Persia: Rival Swords for Wii, you're going to pay $49.99 for it and you're going to find that the added Wii controls don't do much -- in fact, they sometimes detract from the overall experience. (We'll explain below.) You're also going discover that the bloody sequences in the M-rated Two Thrones (same game, different name, remember) have been toned down so that sliced and diced enemies now bleed sand -- not a major deal for us, but seriously, why do that? And the kicker is that even if you only own Wii, you've got a better choice. You can pick up the uncensored, traditionally-controlled Two Thrones for GameCube and it'll play fine on Wii. Best of all, the GCN title will only cost you $19.99, by the way. So as we see it, unless you absolutely must swing your Wii remote and nunchuk controller up, down and all around to execute Prince's arsenal of moves, you can skip this too-little-too-late port altogether and buy the GameCube effort, which has been available on store shelves for more than a year.
And yet, Rival Swords for Wii is not a catastrophe or even a bad game. It is, quite the contrary, a good one that just so happens to be mostly unchanged from its predecessors. In some cases, the new Wii controls better the experience and in others they worsen it, but all said and done the project remains as enjoyable today as it was a year ago on other systems.
You take on the role of the Prince as he's thrust into a somewhat convoluted storyline that's easier to follow if you've played the first two games, but by no means out of reach if you haven't. The Prince is returning to Babylon and to glory as the title begins, but his hopes of peace and prosperity are soon dashed. As he sails ever closer to his city, he discovers that it lies in ruins. Even before he can gather himself, his ship is attacked and his passenger, the beautiful Kaileena, kidnapped. You will eventually learn that Prince has unwittingly reversed the fates of the first two games and in doing so returned his arch-enemy, the Vizier, to the realm of the living. The storyline unfolds cinematically in real-time thanks to a solid 3D engine that draws atmospheric worlds and characters, not to mention voice actors who deliver their lines with convincing dramatic tone and flair. Rival Swords carries over what has become a franchise trademark, which is the telling of the story through Prince's inner-monologue even as you jump across chasms and duel against enemies. We prefer this approach because it's not intrusive -- you begin to understand more about the character and the tale even as you progress through the quest at your own pace.
Rival Swords is the same game as The Two Thrones, which received a high 8.8 rating by our GCN, PS2 and Xbox sister sites when it debuted for those respective systems. What this means for you is that the same great level designs, which are filled with intense platforming challenges and showered with opportunities to dual-wield blades against foes, are back. If you have never played any Prince of Persia game before, you will be amazed by just how interactive the game world is in Rival Swords. Ubi has imagined a Babylon overflowing with architectural ledges, poles, drapes, and gaps that can be jumped to, swung from, slid down and leaped across at any given moment. Prince is able to fluidly traverse the environment, acrobatically running up walls, shimmying across narrow pathways, and more, all the while avoiding deadly booby-traps like rotating blades and spikes that spring from the flooring. It's classic Prince of Persia reborn in the third dimension and made better than it ever was in 2D - high praise when you consider that people adore the original titles.
Still, the title is not perfect. As with every Prince game we've played, we find that combat, which has definitely improved since The Sands of Time, still takes a backseat to the platformer elements in Rival Swords. It is, frankly, just more fun to explore the environments, navigate the architecture and accomplish death-defying leaps after running across a wall and swinging from a pole. Obviously, the big (and really, only) difference between The Two Thrones and Rival Swords is the newly implemented Wii controls. Ubisoft has mapped many of Prince's moves to gestures on the Wii remote and nunchuk. In some instances, these new motion controls enable a more immersive gaming environment. For example, Prince is able to sneak up on enemies and execute stealthy death strikes, which were previously assigned to buttons. In the Wii game, you motion downward with the nunchuk to begin the attack and then swipe down twice with the Wii remote in coordination to on-screen cues to stab enemies. It seems like a trivial change, but it feels good and it's fun. Later, when you transform into the Dark Prince, a meaner version of the character, you can leap from ledges and swing down with the nunchuk to shoot out his chains, which grab onto poles and enable the anti-hero to swing forward. Again, the controls are very responsive and feel right. Even the simple sword-swiping actions, which have you making quick swing gestures - they needn't be grand; a flick of the wrist will suffice - are intuitively implemented.
That noted, Ubi has been challenged with the task of porting a dual-analog game to a console whose controllers lack two analog sticks. In the Two Thrones, the left analog stick maneuvered Prince while the right one operated the camera. In Rival Swords, the nunchuk's analog stick still manipulates the hero, but there's no stick for the camera. As a result, Ubi has been forced to sloppily map camera controls to the motion-tilt on the Wii remote; twist it in a turn-key motion and the camera will swing left; twist it right to go in the opposite direction. It doesn't feel good and the response time on the camera is imprecise, so you may sometimes overshoot your desired camera view. Thankfully, as an alternative, you can use the Wii remote's D-Pad, which is a much better solution. However, even that presents problems because you'll find yourself thumbing from the D-Pad to control the camera and the A button to make Prince jump - both actions cannot be performed simultaneously. Meanwhile, if you need to pull back for a wide camera - a useful operation during some platforming situations -- you'll need to press the 1 button, which means you'll have to reorganize your grip on the remote entirely.
In spite of these irksome control issues, Rival Swords is still entirely playable. It is, to be sure, still fun. But given the choice to play the title with the Wii remote / nunchuk combination or a traditional controller, we have to be honest: we'd choose the latter. And we're the Wii guys. Given that the port's only advantage are these new controls, that's a true disappointment.
From a technical standpoint, Rival Swords looks like its GCN, PS2 and Xbox predecessors. There are no major graphical upgrades, which is unfortunate since Ubisoft had more than a year to up the visual presentation if it so desired, and Wii is certainly more capable. The art style is still beautiful and the animation as fluid and seamless as ever. The game's engine enables large 3D environments with impressive architectural designs coupled with a wide range of lighting and particle effects. But at the same time, the game is a year old and the texture work is showing its age, as walls and characters tend to blur up close. The game does run in 480p and 16:9 widescreen on Wii. Otherwise, the only notable difference in presentation is the baffling omission of blood from Rival Swords - a decision undoubtedly made so that the title could score a more attractive T rating. Odd, when you consider that Wii's user base is much older than GameCube's and that two of the most violent games of the year, Manhunt 2 and No More Heroes, are more or less exclusive to the platform.
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