IGN Review of Prince of Persia: Rival Swords
Ubisoft's Babylonian hero has graced Sony's handheld before, but his PSP debut was less than memorable. Prince of Persia: Revelations was just a port of the console title Warrior Within and its only exclusives were a sluggish framerate and some annoying sound bugs. Thankfully, Ubisoft has put more effort into the official sequel. Prince of Persia: Rival Swords is not only based on an all-around better console effort, The Two Thrones, but the port to PSP arrives with genuine exclusive content and a decent multiplayer mode. Some unfortunate technical issues (not to mention inherent problems with translating a game designed for consoles to a handheld) remain, but Rival Swords is mostly a welcome addition to the PSP library and a title worth investigating.
Rival Swords follows the same story that powered The Two Thrones. You take 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.
The PSP action/ adventure is the mostly the same game as The Two Thrones, which received a rather high rating on our Cube, PS2 and Xbox sister sites when it debuted. 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, Rival Swords 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 back seat to the platformer elements. 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.
Strangely enough, Rival Swords also came out for Nintendo's Wii without any content changes to speak of, but the PSP version actually features tangible additions. In the console versions of Two Thrones and Rival Swords, Prince must knock out portals created by the evil Vizier -- the task is as easy and nearing them and hitting a button. In the PSP build, Prince must actually travel into these portals and take part in a selection of easy and more difficult challenges. In addition, the handheld version includes three new chariot races and an ad hoc multiplayer mode in which you and a friend play as Prince and Dark Prince racing through platform levels. The new portals reveal some extra story snippets, but the chariot races and multiplayer challenges are strictly there for replay value, and they're welcomed inclusions.
Rival Swords is very playable on PSP, but it's clear from the start that some control and technical sacrifices have been made in order to deliver a portable take on the franchise. With the exception of Wii, the console versions of the title rely on a dual-analog setup for simultaneous character movement and camera manipulation -- a feature that is, disappointingly, not possible on PSP. Instead, you control Prince with the PSP's analog nub -- it functions, but it doesn't feel great -- and, when you need to move the camera you must hold down the left shoulder button, at which point the stick is used to direct your angle. In effect, you will always have to stop running in order to direct the camera, which breaks the momentum of the action, which is otherwise very seamless. This by no means a deal-breaker as the game remains enjoyable, but it is a drawback with your consideration.
From a technical standpoint, Rival Swords looks similar to its predecessors, but downgrades have been made in texture resolution and the framerate is noticeably more sluggish. The sometimes-stuttering fluidity detracts from the otherwise very stylistic look of the game, which is filled with atmospheric architecture and impressive character animations.
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