The Rogue Prince of Persia is an unlikely roguelike slant on the 35-year-old series from one of the best genre developers in the business

The Rogue Prince of Persia
(Image credit: Ubisoft)

I didn't see The Rogue Prince of Persia coming. And while I can't speak for anyone but myself with any degree of certainty, I'm not sure many others did either. 

Developed by Dead Cells co-creator Evil Empire in partnership with Ubisoft, The Rogue Prince of Persia is a super-stylized roguelike slant on the 35-year-old series whose focus is tight combat, tight platforming and tight traversal mechanics. Having now played an in-development preview build for around 45 minutes, I reckon anyone fond of roguelikes, Dead Cells, and indeed old school Prince of Persia will be at home here. I'm still unsure of why this is a Prince of Persia game, but we'll explore that further down the page.


The Rogue Prince of Persia

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

First, let's talk about The Rogue Prince of Persia in motion. Just like its spiritual forerunner Dead Cells, The Rogue Prince of Persia controls like a dream. According to its creators, recreating the signature wall-running mechanic of the series' 3D trilogy – The Sands of Time (2003), Warrior Within (2004), and The Two Thrones (2005) – was important, and its nuanced interpretation within this game's two-dimensional landscape is brilliant. Easy to learn but (I'm sure) difficult to master, holding L2/LT lets you climb or dash along walls, but only when there's background scenery immediately behind the player. Ropes, ledges, flagpoles and more aid traversal further still, meaning getting around, exploring, hunting treasure and getting the drop on foes looks different every single time. 

Story-wise, the premise is pretty straightforward. You fill the shoes of The Prince, son of King Peroz, and must rid Ctesiphon of invading Huns – a ruthlessly brutal bunch who also happen to be masters of shamanic magic. By utilizing time travel, and thus adhering to the multi-run format of the roguelike genre, the Prince is able to avoid permanent death and continue throwing himself time and time again into a war of endurance against his enemies. 

In combat, a familiar spread of light and heavy attacks, kicks, punches, and dodges make up the core choices on the front foot in The Rogue Prince of Persia, while primary and secondary attacks can be mixed and matched as the moment dictates. In one particularly fraught encounter, I leapt from a high platform into a gang of thugs with a ground punch. As they struggled to their feet I kicked one foe to my right, who in turn bowled over his mate. In a flash, I moved to my left and did the same to three others, who, like dominos, fell into one another before I unleashed a few well-timed arrow shots from my bow, eventually staggering my aggressors into a spike wall trap. This gave me a small window to dash back to the first pair of offenders who were now far easier to overcome with a volley of fists and feet in a 2-v-1 brawl.

The Rogue Prince of Persia

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

In the short stretch of The Rogue Prince of Persia I got to sample, I made my way through three distinct levels each with their own set dressing, shops, environmental quandaries and enemy types.  This made up one run, as per the usual roguelike framework, where death sent me back to a hub-like camp that let me gather myself, buy restorative items, and improve my weaponry before setting off to try again. Upon death, enemies spill coins that can be used out on the field to pick up extra weapons and health items too. 

At the opposite end of each run stood an end-of-zone boss named Berude, a hulking brute with a ram skull helmet whose strength and traveling shockwave-like attacks were not to be reckoned with. Unable to reliably dodge his ranged offense in my first few attempts, I eventually worked out that wall running was key – using the environment to climb over the boss before landing a few preemptive strikes. Whenever he turned to face me again, I simply started the process all over until his health bar was emptied.

Brand new 

The Rogue Prince of Persia

(Image credit: Ubisoft)

"And so my ultimate parting impression of The Rogue Prince of Persia following my short stint with it is one of longing."

All of the above looks and feels great, which is full testament to Evil Empire's astute understanding of what drives the roguelike genre. Evil Empire is among the very best at what it does, and elsewhere is again sharing development with Motion Twin on their upcoming Dead Cells: Return to Castlevania. With Motion Twin also working on Windblown, Evil Empire's focus otherwise lies squarely on The Rogue Prince of Persia, however I'm unsure that this game needs to be a Prince of Persia game at all. I don't have any problem with it being one, but as Ubisoft continues to reestablish the PoP brand, The Rogue Prince of Prince feels like an unlikely, perhaps even odd offshoot as players continue to await the long-promised remakes of the 3D trilogy. 

When Ubisoft announced Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown at Summer Game Fest last year, I was convinced Ubisoft Montpellier's metroidvania slant on the abiding franchise would serve as a stepping stone towards the much-anticipated Sands of Time remake. As you may have read in our Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown review, I was pleasantly surprised by that game's scope as it helped to reestablish the PoP brand for a modern audience – even if I remained convinced Prince of Persia is best suited to action-adventure.

Given how closely the metroidvania and roguelike genres can play at face value – in this instance with 2D side-scrolling, platforming, environmental puzzles and heaps of melee combat – The Lost Crown and The Rogue Prince of Persia, while visually distinct, feel quite similar, at least in principle. As such, I'm not sure we needed a roguelike game in the pantheon of Prince of Persia at this exact moment in time. Still, all of this said, if anyone was to be given the responsibility of doing so, I don't think there's anyone better suited than Evil Empire, Motion Twin aside. 

And so my ultimate parting impression of The Rogue Prince of Persia following my short stint with it is one of longing. For me, it may be an unlikely offering in the grand scheme of the 35-year series, but it feels like a good one with all the hallmarks of a solid and promising roguelike nevertheless. 

The Rogue Prince of Persia enters Steam's Early Access initiative on May 14, with release on other platforms to follow at some point down the line

If this tickles your fancy, you should check out our rundown of the best roguelikes on the market right now 

Joe Donnelly
Features Editor, GamesRadar+

Joe is a Features Editor at GamesRadar+. With over seven years of experience working in specialist print and online journalism, Joe has written for a number of gaming, sport and entertainment publications including PC Gamer, Edge, Play and FourFourTwo. He is well-versed in all things Grand Theft Auto and spends much of his spare time swapping real-world Glasgow for GTA Online’s Los Santos. Joe is also a mental health advocate and has written a book about video games, mental health and their complex intersections. He is a regular expert contributor on both subjects for BBC radio. Many moons ago, he was a fully-qualified plumber which basically makes him Super Mario.