IGN Review of Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
It's certainly not uncommon for the Nintendo console to get a "different" experience from Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 – in fact, it's pretty much expected, not just due to the controller but also its technical capabilities. But it's rare form when a developer completely steps it up with a Wii design that's different in design but just as in epic scope. And that's exactly what Wii owners are getting with Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands.
The Wii version of Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands is a design that's completely unique to the franchise and not a port of the HD console's edition. Ubisoft took the Wii version of The Forgotten Sands seriously; this is just as much of a "big budget" production as the Xbox 360 and PS3. Ubisoft Quebec – a team that's been known for its more casual kid-friendly games like Battle of Giants – had a chance to cut its chops on a hardcore-focused adventure and it completely embraces it.
The Forgotten Sands is a side-chapter that runs parallel to the Xbox 360/PlayStation 3 version, taking place after the events of 2003's The Sands of time. The game opens on an incredibly high note, a wild escape from an enormous structure sinking into the sand. This is only a taste of things to come, as you are thrust into a flashback to before these events. In this tale, the Prince has befriended a devious genie who's granted him immortality, his own kingdom, and a princess to love. In classic Arabian Tales fashion, there's a hook to the genie's reward: while the prince can now be magically revived after "death," the kingdom he's awarded is an ancient wreck: a land cursed by a mystical plant overrunning the castle. And the princess? She's in peril and needs a bit of rescuing.
The story within The Forgotten Sands is filled with some clever twists and turns as it unfolds slowly but steadily through dialogue between the Prince and his genie…as well as comments from an unseen narrator. All this happens as the Prince (that's you!) explores his palace and fends off the enemy infestation. In true Prince of Persia fashion, players can climb walls and ledges, run across walls, and spin off flagpoles to explore his surroundings. He's also a powerful swordsman, so expect to get in a few scuffles along the way.
The fights do play second banana to the exploration and puzzle solving, and if you're not big on controller waggling this game won't change your mind. Using the right hand motion for sword swinging and left hand for punching is a capable fighting system. There are special moves and combos to pull off, but by the time you power up the prince you'll probably just end up waggling both controllers together for the powerful "whirlwind" move.
The real hook in the Wii version is the addition of three unique powers. The first is the ability to conjure sand spires that send the Prince upwards, gaining him access to ledges that were out of reach from standard jumping and wall climbing abilities. The second is the ability to place magical hooks along the walls, turning pretty much any surface into a ledge you can grab. At first, these powers restrict their use to specific spots on the floors and walls, but deeper in the game you'll actually be given the freedom to place hooks and sand spires on pretty much any wall or floor: simply point the Wii remote at where you want them, and click. Very late in the game you'll earn the ability to cast a sphere around the Prince that will make him float in mid-air at the point you conjured it. This is a very handy power that gives players the ability to save the Prince from a punishing fall.
When you combine all three powers, you have the ability to create your own path -- you're no longer restricted to the specific line that's been laid out by the level designers. If you can figure a way to get from Point A to Point B without going the way the developer intended, go right ahead. Granted, by the time you do get all three powers the level designs are still laid out in a specific way that requires the use of the hook, spire, and sphere one after another, but it at least feels like you've been given freedom to do what you want.
These powers are a fantastic addition and work well to the Wii's strengths. The designers came up with something Wii-pointer focused that fits seamlessly within the Prince of Persia design. They even tore a page from the book of Mario Galaxy and let a second remote in: player two can help out by holding traps back or slowing them down, and they can even draw magical lines and circles to point out spots in a level to the main player.
Oh, there will be unfair deaths and infuriatingly frustrating moments in Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands on the Wii. This I cannot deny. Ever since the series moved from Jordan Mechner's original 2D design into the 3D world no one, not even Ubisoft and its incredible Sands of Time reboot, has ever been able to nail a seamless "works every time" control scheme for the Prince of Persia series. And the same can be said for The Forgotten Sands. I can't tell you how many times I screamed "oh, BS…" at the television when the Prince landed too close to a harmful wall and took damage, or simply leaped out into nothing and died when I was clearly pointing at a safe ledge to grab.
I think the biggest control issue comes from the use of the special powers on the same button: if the Wii pointer is accidentally aimed at a wall and you try to activate the sphere while leaping outwards, you oftentimes find yourself plummeting to your death. I learned the hard way that you're better off aiming the Wii remote away from the TV whenever you want to use the magical sphere. It's an unfortunate side-effect to the design decision of keeping control simple.
But even with these little problems, The Forgotten Sands is still a stunning and rewarding adventure on Wii. It offers a wonderful spin-off chapter with unique Prince of Persia skills that work well within the established universe, possibly even offering potential in finding their way as canon to the franchise in future installments.
Also, the game is deceptively extensive: the adventure just keeps going and going and going. When you think you've come to the end, another story arc appears and you're exploring far more than you ever thought could be held inside an ancient kingdom. The storyline will take at least 12 to 15 hours the first run through, and that's just going by the in-game clock that doesn't take into account all the deaths and restarts that will inevitably happen. If you're worried you'll blow through this one the first time through in a day, forget it. It's not going to happen.
Third, the game completely embraces its history. And not just by linking itself to 2003's The Sands of Time, either: Ubisoft Quebec's design throws back to the franchise's 2D roots. You'll start with an unlockable version of the original Prince of Persia, which is a modified version of the Super NES edition that plays exclusively with the Wii remote. But the classic nods continue with several surprisingly fun retro style side-scrolling maps, both woven within the core adventure as well as segmented out as a separate, unlockable challenge.
And that's leads us to Great Thing Number Four: the Wii version is jam-packed full of extra goodies. There's an achievement system ticking off all of your accomplishments (my favorite: "This is Persia," a clever nod to a familiar scene in the movie 300), but there are also several unlockables: you can change your player model and his weapon to the one used in The Sands of Time or Warrior Within, as long as you've accomplished the task that'll get you that little bit of gaming fun. There are side-challenges that open up as well: a survival mode that pits you against an endless onslaught of enemies, and a "speed run" that's clearly a wink at the VR-style time-trial missions that bleed their way into games like Bionic Commando Rearmed and Shadow Complex.
But most of all, the Wii version of the game is a Prince of Persia that's taken seriously as a full-scale product. Usually the Wii gets the short end of the stick in big budget third-party console titles; as far as technical prowess goes, sure, the Wii edition is not going to be as impressive. But when it comes to Wii third-party standards, this is an absolutely massive game that looks great, is an incredible challenge, and worth a play even if you've blown through the 360/PS3 version of The Forgotten Sands.
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