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The first time publisher Ubisoft spoke to us about the new Prince of Persia game, we’ll admit we feared it was going to stink so badly we’d staple week-old roadkill to our faces to try to mask its smell. The super-macho Prince, always the center of this platform adventure series, is being hobbled with a new sidekick character whose help you require for basically everything? You must rely upon her to help you do your high-level attacks, to heal, or even to jump over long chasms? Considering that non-player side characters in every other game still mostly act like idiots, giving one so much power and responsibility sounds like a recipe for total disaster.
What we didn’t realize was that Elika is different. Waaaay different.
Elika is, simply and dramatically put, the smartest non-player controlled character we’ve met. She doesn’t constantly say “protect me!” then charge ahead into a swarm of enemy attackers like so many others, forcing you to into suicidal rescue missions. She doesn’t get lost or stuck. She doesn’t constantly repeat stupid things.
Not only is Elika not a burden, she’s actually helpful. If you miss a jump and find yourself plummeting Earthward, she magically plucks you from mid-air and returns you to safety. When in battle, she’ll swoop in at your command and launch you into the air for a full-gravity skullcrusher or lay down some magic. And if you’re about to get your own face caved in by a killing blow, she yanks you away so you can regroup. If you’re lost in the giant open world, she can magically point you in the right direction. And as if that isn’t enough, some of the game’s levels are only accessible once Elika – not you – has activated magical plates that enable you to fly, sprint, or super-jump to a new location.
Even with all that, many gamers will argue that the most impressive thing about Elika is how lovable she is. Not puppies and kitties lovable, or big-eyed anime super-cute and excitable lovable. We mean actually lovable, like a real woman with a realistic personality, who’s compassionate and vulnerable, but also brave and capable. Unless your heart is made of stone, she will genuinely endear herself to you and you will care deeply about her.
“Okay,” you say, “we get it – Elika’s cool. What about the rest of the game?” Well, it looks phenomenal, especially in motion. The graphics are difficult to describe – they look almost like cel shading, but with a greater level of detail and a pencil-stroke look to many of the textures. Add in the smoothness with which everything moves, and you have a simply glorious visual style.
Speaking of movement, Prince of Persia focuses much more on the process of getting from one place to another than have previous games in the series. There are few puzzles, and those that are here are fairly small in scale and simple in scope when compared to previous Prince titles. This lack of puzzles is one of the game’s few disappointments, but the new focus is still compelling. The emphasis here is on you and Elika bounding around the world like tandem free runners, pausing only to dispatch a squad of enemies or one of the four recurring bosses.
Even combat retains the game’s ballet-like style, and once you’ve latched onto the timing, you’ll be busting out sophisticated team combos with a grace that would shatter the minds of even the most talented gymnasts and martial artists. True, we would have liked to fight a greater variety of enemies. Each boss reappears several times, which is repetitive and frustrating – we want to kill bosses, not push them off a cliff or have them just run away. Plus, once you understand enemy attack patterns and the game’s slightly slower than you’d expect timing, the level of challenge decreases dramatically. This, combined with the fact that Elika literally won’t let you die, could make things feel too easy and auto-piloted for some die-hard hardcore players. But we didn’t mind, and would still recommend Prince of Persia to everyone – it’s too good, too beautiful, and too charismatic to pass up.
Dec 3, 2008