In many modern games, you rain death upon your enemies; how refreshing, then, that your main task in Prince of Persia is to breathe life into a darkening world. That doesn't mean that the forces of evil aren't on your tail in this open-world platformer, but the most indelible moments of this enchanting journey are uplifting, rather than destructive. Similarly, the latest iteration in this long-running franchise is a rejuvenation for the series, and it's an ambitious one, offering up a new titular prince and casting certain game traditions aside in favor of player immersion. And for the most part it succeeds, eliminating illusion-breaking mechanics like game-over screens and long loading times in the process. This re-imagining comes with a few caveats, however, and if you're a longtime series fan, you'll quickly discover--and possibly resent--that Prince of Persia is, far and away, the easiest game in the series. But if you can clear your mind and let the game's magic wash over you, its easygoing joy and visual beauty will charm you into forgiving a sprinkling of flaws.
The prince's sword is sharper than his tongue.
In some ways, Prince of Persia represents a return to Sands of Time's storybook vibe, which had been somewhat lost in that game's two sequels. Yet our new hero isn't exactly Prince Charming, but rather a wisecracking nomad interested only in his donkey (named Farah, in one of several nods to previous games) and the riches she apparently carries. His royal status is referenced but never fully explored, though his companion Elika is clearly a princess, and as the game progresses, you'll become much more invested in her past than the prince's. Together, they seek to imprison the evil god Ahriman, who has been inexplicably set free by Elika's own father. To do so, they must restore a series of fertile grounds to their former fecund glory, thereby banishing the inky black corruption that has enveloped the land. Storytelling isn't the game's strong suit, and the dismissive, often unlikeable prince is hardly beguiling, a poor fit for the captivating journey ahead. Thankfully, Elika exudes enough charm for the both of them, and the relationship they slowly forge lends plenty of emotional impact to the game's final moments.
This relationship enriches the very core of the experience, given that Elika is not your standard game sidekick. She isn't just a helpless companion, but an important part of a number of gameplay mechanics. As the prince, you will pull off moves familiar to franchise fans: jumping, climbing, scaling, and wallrunning among them. There are also a few new acrobatics to play with, such as the aptly named roofrun, where the prince scuttles along the roof in a vaguely simian manner. But if the moves are familiar, Elika's presence enriches and enhances them. She will jump on your back as you scale across vines, reach for your helping hand as you climb, and perform an elegant pas de deux with you when you need to pass her on a narrow beam. In some ways, this relationship recalls that of Ico and Yorda in 2001's ICO.
While in ICO Yorda was totally dependent on her companion, here Elika is far more helpful to the prince than he is to her. She is, in fact, your constant savior, because she will not, and cannot, allow you to die. Should you fall, Elika will grab you by the wrist and whisk you to safety--meaning the last checkpoint. There is a checkpoint at almost every platform, so aside from possibly having to repeat a few seconds of gameplay, there is absolutely no penalty for plummeting to your doom. You will never see the words "game over," and you won't need to save and reload before difficult sequences. Nor will you need to ever puzzle over how to make it from point A to point B: Elika can fire off a magical homing orb that will show you the precise way of getting to your destination. Combined with simple platforming controls that require a minimum of button presses, these facets make Prince of Persia one of the easiest games you'll play all year.
Some moments are absolutely magical.