As a lifelong gamer I always fear the Nerd Police will come and take my membership card away when I admit I’ve never played a 2D Prince of Persia game. The 3D iterations are good, sure, and from what I understand represent the franchise’s roots quite well, but everything I hear about the classics tells me I’m missing some truly awesome gaming by continuing to skip.
Maybe that’s why Prince of Persia Shadow&Flame disappointed me. Because of all the hype, I came in expecting a solid port of a well-loved title… then left wondering what all the buzz was about. The problem is that, without that critical frame of reference, I’ll never know if the end product is a bad remake or a good one with slightly-above-mediocre source material. Will the question keep me up at night? No, because even I’m not that big of a loser. But I still sure would like to know.
The Prince and I
The Prince of Persia series has always been known for its focus on semi-realistic platforming. Unlike Mario, who spends his time dodging lava and squishing bad guys’ heads, or Sonic, who’s, you know, a bipedal rodent with bright red sneakers, the laws governing the Prince’s world seem at least kind of similar to our own. When it comes to physics, that is. Plenty of parkour kids scramble up walls and do backflips across dangerously wide gaps… nobody, as far as I know, has battled a skeleton in a booby trapped cave. I wish they had, though, because that’d be fricking awesome.
On that end, anyway, the game delivers. You do a whole lot of running, climbing, and jumping in Shadow&Flame. It even feels pretty fluid after a little practice, though I will note the wonky controls (discussed in the next section) kept things from ever truly feeling like second nature for me. For those of you asking: Yes, you also battle skeletons. Someone was asking that, right?
Graceful He is Not
The default control scheme in Shadow&Flame is gesture-based. Ostensibly, this should make your trip through the Prince’s enchanted world that much more fluid. In practice I found the optional joystick-and-buttons setup to be more accurate and far less confusing. My problem lies with the sheer number of gestures you have to learn to use every move at the Prince’s disposal. Why spend time learning new commands when I can press an illustrated button on the screen and get the same results?
Combat: Just Shy of Fun
The fighting system shows some promise. Unfortunately, some of it is crippled by the plodding pace governing the battles. To attack you swipe the screen; to parry you press a button. Despite running for miles at a stretch without stopping to take a breath, the Prince takes a long time between sword swings until you save (or buy) enough gold to buy an upgraded weapon. Things pick up as you progress, of course, but if you’re like me there’s a good chance you won’t get to that point unless you’re playing the game for a review.
Not Terrible, Not Great
Whining aside, Prince of Persia Shadow&Flame has several okay things (and a few great ones) going for it. I very much liked the branching level paths, which invite multiple playthroughs and come packed with bonuses for gamers willing to expend the effort. I also thought the finishing move system was a cool way to end fights, especially after I saved enough gold to buy some upgraded moves. Those weren’t enough to keep me hooked in the end, however. For three bucks, the game is far from a ripoff if you don’t expect a mind-blowing amount of entertainment. I did – at least at first – and I’m sure it had a hand in my final opinion of the title no matter how hard I tried to factor it out. Damn you, Internet hype machine. Damn you.