Ubisoft's Prince of Persia franchise saw a full reboot a generation ago with the Sands of Time trilogy and now the series is back with an all-new presentation, storyline and characters, this time for PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. If you own Nintendo's portable, you can also get in on the action because the developer has additionally created a handheld version, Prince of Persia: The Fallen King. The title shares some story elements with its new console brethren, including Prince's journey to stop a dark force from corrupting the vast landscapes, but the DS game otherwise offers an altogether different experience -- one whose fundamentals might remind you of the Persia classics. That is, of course, except for the very new control scheme that forces stylus-based platforming on you despite the fact that in most cases it doesn't feel nearly as intuitive as the tried-and-true digital pad.
The Fallen King features original storyline threads. After a destructive spirit is released into the world, the Prince journeys to a legendary kingdom in order to find the magical forces that might be able fight it off. The sword-wielding hero eventually meets up with a mysterious sorcerer, the magus, who becomes his ally, and the two travel through an endless supply of side-scrolling platformer stages doing battle with enemies, making death-defying leaps, and avoiding a stream of traps. The tale itself is presented via static pieces of art and in-game text overlays -- nothing too spectacular, especially compared to the cinematic display on consoles. It won't thrill you, but it works. Meanwhile, you're able to intuitively navigate an overworld map using the stylus, simply selecting the area you want to explore and if it's unlocked, Prince will travel to it.
I was initially skeptical of Link's design in Wind Waker, but later grew to love it. Sadly, this is not true of DS Prince -- meant to appear more childlike in stature and intentionally deformed via an almost anime-like style for artistic purposes -- who unfortunately just doesn't exude much visual charm. I think, in contrast, that he's the worst looking iteration of the character since the franchise's reboot a generation ago if not since its inception. The stages themselves, however -- polygonal in nature but made to look like 2D classics -- are extremely varied in design, ranging from deserts to caverns, cities, jungles and more, and the 3D engine allows for some detailed environments and relatively fluid animations on Nintendo's handheld. The biggest problem is that with several enemies on-screen at once, the framerate dips noticeably.
Were The Fallen King controlled with the D-Pad, as you might expect, I think it would have proven a much more satisfying endeavor. Even with some fluidity dips here and there, all the fundamentals are in place for a fun 2D platformer, including difficult multi-jump challenges, leaps across dangerous obstacles, a plethora of simple battles with foes, and more. Whether you're running from boulders, jumping over spikes or leaping back and forth between two pillars in order to ascend to the top their top, there's a lot of potential for good fun, a truth accentuated by a second playable character who is handy with magic.
Unfortunately, it seems the developer got a little drunk on the control possibilities of the stylus and the end result is a game that completely ignores simple, traditional D-Pad movement and buttons for lots of touch-screen actions. To run, you touch a spot on the screen far away from Prince; to walk, you touch an area closer to him. To jump, touch the other side of a chasm or above a ledge you want to direct him toward. To leap between walls, you tap one side, the other, and then back again, repeating the process until he makes his way upward. To swing Prince's blade at enemies you simply tap them with the stylus. The list goes on and on and while the setup is ultimately passable, even allowing for some fun moments, it is definitely not superior to traditional controls.
Indeed, I've found it to be less responsive and reliable on most occasions. For example, I know that Prince will always make a jump if I tap a button, but good luck relying on that to happen with touch input. Occasionally, he won't make a leap because your stylus did not touch the ideal area on-screen to make him do so. To counteract this, I sometimes find myself tapping the other side of a small chasm several times just to make sure. The same is true when trying to grab onto a ledge above the character. There are also occasions when you will need to making a diagonal slash with your stylus to swipe through oncoming boulders and other objects, but every so often the system won't recognize the swipe and you'll take damage. Again, not an issue with a button.
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