Hello Darkness, Say Goodbye
Available On: PS2, Xbox, Gamecube
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Genre: Platform, Adventure, Hack and Slash
Release: 1st December 2005
Ah Two Thrones, if ever there was a meta/on the nose title for something, this was it back in 2005. As if in direct response to the criticisms of Warrior Within, Two Thrones sought to bring the Prince back into the light, both figuratively and literally. Whether intentional or not it has always felt to me that this series has just been one big knee jerk reaction to another. A tonal mish-mash of ideas based off a solid foundation of fluid platforming controls and gradually tighter combat encounters.
I don't want to beat a dead horse and fill this look back full of analogies (too late now but sure look) but despite this solid foundation, it really feels like once Jordan Mechner (who was the guiding hand of the Sands of Time) left the series, Ubisoft just didn't know how to capitalize on the appeal that first game had. At least in a way that made sense, and this title, for all it does right in bringing back a more hopeful Prince, proves it.
At the Gates of Babylon
Right off the bat we see a different yet all the more familiar Prince coming into this one. Gone is the angry, rueful and dour Prince from Warrior Within, replaced with a more hopeful, passionate (and returning VA Yuri Lowenthal) man that has not given into his more violent tendencies. What I commend Ubisoft Montreal for is acknowledging what came before while still charging forward with a lighter direction. Two Thrones picks up not long after the Prince has left the island of time with Kaileena having defeated the Dahaka once and for all.
Of course this wouldn't be a PoP game without something catastrophic happening and no sooner has the Prince arrived, is his home of Babylon ransacked by a reinvigorated Visier and yet another army of sand monsters. Kaileena (From WW) is immediately taken off the board and captured as the Prince once more sets out to save the damsel in distress and undo this and every other mistake made since the start of this trilogy, once and for all.
Rather than simply sweep Warrior Within under the rug, Ubi doubles down, providing a "Dark Prince" persona that takes over during certain portions of the game. From a game-play perspective this acts like a timed challenge mode where the player must be aggressive as the darkness slowly corrupts the princes body, chipping away at his health. Thus creating a literal race against time until the "good" prince can reclaim his body back from the sands. This works in tandem with a character that is at odds with himself, literally arguing with this darker entity about his past actions and what led him to this point. He's conflicted and it feels like a reflection of the series as a whole.
Eschewing the backtracking nature of the previous entries, Two Thrones is all about forward momentum and that again plays into the story. Acknowledging the forever march forward of time and the princes inability to find peace within himself. Game-play is as fluid as ever and the most refined to date. Montreal really struck a balance with environmental navigation, puzzle solving and combat encounters. That isn't to say there aren't issues. I found the dark prince sections to be a bit jarring in their presentation and while they were over quickly it still felt a little....forced at times. It speaks to a Prince returned somewhat to form that I wanted more of that than this dark, health bar leeching, pain in the ass.
All in all, you can really feel the devs attempt to unify all these disparate parts of the series into a single vision. It kind of works too, maybe looking back and seeing how all the pieces flow from one game to the next as opposed to waiting real time helped in that regard. I really dug everything the game offered, the niggling issues that plagued the series from the start like the camera (which I still attribute to that generation of camera controls wonkiness) and sometimes repetitive feeling combat aside, it's solid start to finish.
Dust to Dust, Fade to Black
And with that ends our week long look at Ubisoft's royal backgound. A series that helped shepherd the company into the limelight and just one, of a string of proven hits, that helped solidify their name in the gaming zeitgeist. Understandably things change, tastes change and people move on. A new generation of fans moved in and with that the proverbial baton was passed to the Assassin Creeds, Far Crys, Watch Dogs et al.
However with that change has come its share of negatives. Now,I see a company that has been so mired in one unified vision that it fails to see the value in publishing AAA titles that dare to be different from one another. All for the sake of branding I guess? My issue is not with the specific franchises per se, game development is hard and to create these sweeping open world sandboxes is not easy but, when they all feel the same regardless of genre I believe that is where the issue really lies.
For all its faults, Prince of Persia had a vision ultimately. It grappled with tone from game to game but always wore its heart on its sleeve and dared to shake things up come what ever may. As of this writing, we anticipate the next "Ubi Forward" event for later in the year. There's a lot to be excited for and while this generation ends maybe just maybe we'll see a reinvigorated Prince once more.
Gifs used are taken from recorded game-play and uploaded/edited by me here
All images taken from the Two Thrones press kit found here
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