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Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands Hands-on

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PAX East 10: Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands Hands-on

Ubisoft hearts platforming, and we heart the developer for it.

by Greg Miller

March 24, 2010 - I stopped playing the piano for Prince of Persia: Sands of Time – true story. Back in the day, there were these periods of time when the videogame industry just went dark and basically no games came out. During one of these times, I took up piano lessons and found myself getting into tickling the ivory keys. Then, Sands of Time came out, I discovered how slick the platforming was and how awesome rewinding time could be, and I stopped going to piano lessons. I didn't even call them to tell them I was quitting; I just wrapped myself up in a blanket on my ratty college couch and stared wide-eyed at the screen while I moved the Prince through these polished animations – wall running and so on – that were some of the best I'd seen.

The platforming in Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands brought back that feeling of wonder. If videogames weren't a 12-month-a-year hobby these days, I'd gladly drop whatever knitting class I would have taken up to leap around in this game.

Set in the seven-year period between Sands of Time and Prince of Persia: The Warrior Within, The Forgotten Sands has the Prince team up with his brother Malik to stop some folks from invading Malik's kingdom. When things get rough, the brother unleashes a sand army that turns the tide in the brothers' favor, but it also turns everyone in the kingdom to sand and basically declares war on the boys. Fortunately, they're protected from the transition to sand by the medallion they each wear, which also gives the brothers mysterious powers.

Want the full 411 on the Prince's latest adventure? Watch this.

When I picked up the controller, I only had one of my super-abilities activated – namely the ability to control water – but it was super-sweet. You might have seen this move in use in some of the trailers here on IGN. Basically, the Prince has a little meter that allows him to freeze water for a certain amount of time. Sound unimpressive? Think about the platform opportunities this opens up. Suddenly, waterfalls you were just walking through are now solid walls that you need to spring back and forth between to reach high points, water spraying out of the side of walls can be frozen to make poles the Prince can spin around, and water columns will become your best friend for navigating some of the more open areas.

To freeze the water, all I had to do was hold down one of the shoulder buttons and make my moves before the onscreen meter ran out of juice. It was tight most of the time and a few leaps required a retry, but for the most part it seemed easy enough to get from one water pillar to another to a piece of solid ground and let the meter recharge. Of course, this was just in the early parts of the game – the "easy" parts. Just as I was building my confidence, I ran into a section where I had to freeze the water so the Prince could spin 'round a pole, unfreeze it while he was in the air and clear of the pole so that he could smash through a waterfall, and then refreeze it as soon as he was through the waterfall so he could grab another water pole and not fall to his death.

Yeah, and that was still super-early in the game.

Still, I'm getting away from the heart of why I'm excited for Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands. This game feels a lot like Sands of Time, except improved. There's the same (or at least similar) footfall sound I remember of the Prince's foot scraping against stone and sand, everything's got that golden tint to it, and Yuri Lowenthal is back to voice the Prince.

However, even the controls have been tweaked to be familiar but better. In this game, when you're straddling a pillar and need to leap from it to another suspended pillar, you don't have to scoot around until your back is lined up with where you want to jump; you can just press the direction of the pole you want to go to, jump, and get going. Let's say you're hanging on a wall and need to climb up it. Rather than hold up and hit jump – a move that sometimes ends with your character leaping off the wall and falling to his death – you pull the trigger that's assigned to wall run and watch the Prince scale the slope.

This tornado rocks.

Sounds great, right? Well, it is. The platforming's clever and so much fun to pull off, but I have some serious doubts about combat, a major part of the game. Granted, this was IGN's first hands-on with The Forgotten Sands, so this is not necessarily representative of the final product, but I do need to point out how flat the fighting felt. Like you'd expect, there's a light and heavy attack button, and you use them to pull off nifty little combos that whittle the sand army from looking normal down to looking like sculptures on the beach. Rather than have a block button, you need to dodge out of the way of attacks and leap over bad guys, even walking on their shoulders a la Dead Rising. All of that sounds fine, but it doesn't feel right. First off, the bad guys weren't challenging so I was mopping the floor with them even though it was my first time playing, and secondly, they didn't feel like they were moving at the right speed. It was like the Prince was from another dimension or something and had nothing to fear from these telegraphing bad guys.

As I stabbed foes with my sword and pulled off some decent looking combos, I did find that I dug the Prince's four fighting abilities. Summoning power from the elements earth, wind, fire, and water, the Prince can unleash special attacks that gobble up one of the spheres on his meter (the spheres you can also use to rewind time). You can make a rock-like shield around him or send out an ice wave to decimate the baddies. Hands down, though, the coolest power is this tornado the Prince can call down. He touches the ground, and this massive tornado springs up and sucks in all the enemies in the room.

As a Prince of Persia fan, I'm both excited for and leery of The Forgotten Sands. The platforming is spot-on. Running along walls, dodging traps, and trying to figure out how to get from Point A to Point B is a blast and the controls feel more natural than ever. However, the fighting doesn't seem to be on the same level. Stabbing and dodging didn't seem that tough, and it didn't seem to be moving all that quickly. That's worrisome as when you're not platforming, you're fighting and earning experience points to upgrade the Prince's abilities. Still, I'm holding out hope that Ubisoft can work out the kinks and make stabbing downed foes as much fun and leaping from half walls a massive enemy just blew apart.

As reported by IGN.
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