A Prince of Ubi's Past: The Sands of Time (Feature)

Updated: Feb 19

Can anyone explain exactly what, in the hell, Ubisoft has been doing lately? From announcing some very strange Prince of Persia tie in’s, in the form of a VR escape room game called Dagger of Time and then again recently holding an event for their medieval multiplayer brawler For Honor. That had players battle it out with a new version of the Prince himself, only to show exactly nothing at their Ubisoft Forward event this year I'm more than a little confused. That isn't to say it isn't appreciated, we could all use more Prince in our diet but why the silence? WHAT ARE YOU HIDING... Sorry #notbitter.

Anyway, if you're not too familiar, this series has laid pretty much dormant on modern consoles for nigh over a decade. Not including a half-hearted attempt to stay relevant with the ironically titled Forgotten Sands, a tie-in itself to the not so good, maybe shouldn’t be talked about, Prince of Persia movie. What I'm talking about here is the early 2000's Prince of Persia trilogy of games that started off with a bang in 2003 and yet somehow managed to fade into obscurity by the third entry. Not a peep since the Assassins Creed franchise picked clean the parkour movement and combat system from the bones of it's progenitor and took off running (heh) with it forever since.

It's just...it's been a bad time to be a PoP fan (don't get me started on Splinter Cell and you know what...I'm sure Beyond Good & Evil fans are a bit miffed right now too). I don't want to rag on Ubisoft too much, they've managed to reinvigorate their franchises consistently over the years with the newer installments to the AC pantheon and to a lesser extent Watch Dogs. But, they've really done wrong by the brands that put them on the map to begin with in my opinion. You literally don't get AC without this trilogy of games (which actually started life as a spin off / new direction initially) and what shocked me personally was realizing I'd forgotten how much I loved this series and how much it impacted my taste in video-games going forward until I sat somewhat slack jawed at the end of the conference, not knowing why nothing happened.

To that end, rather than vilify a company for going where the money lies and bemoaning a lack of fresh content for the series, I'm taking a quick look back at each game (this is a 30 year old franchise mind you) and celebrating what came before. If Ubisoft really are gearing up for a new something I'm already on board so, let's dive right in!

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Dusting off a classic

Platform: PC

Available On: PS2, Xbox, Gamecube

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal

Genre: Platform, Adventure

Release: 30th October 2003

Let's get the bold statement business out of the way, Sands of Time is one of the granddaddys of the modern 3D platformer. I was never a Nintendo kid growing up, I dabbled here and there but didn't even finish my first Mario until Odyssey (great game) on the Switch. I get it now but just some context for this simple casuals opinion going forward. The reason I bring this up is because Sands of Time more than your Sonics, Crash Bandicoots or Jak and Daxters of its time introduced me to the genre. It perfectly balanced the often whimsical nature that most platformers exude (which I found to be a barrier as an angry young kid) with a pseudo serious plot revolving around a prince in a literal race against time to save his people and undo his fathers, and his own, mistakes.

It took itself seriously but knew how to have fun with it and honestly felt like a slightly more "gritty" (you'll see this word again trust me) animated Disney classic. The biggest difference however, that separated this game from the rest of the pack, was its time manipulation mechanic. You see the Prince, through a series of unfortunate events, manages to get hold of the dagger of time. With this dagger the Prince has the power to rewind or slow time itself to the advantage of the player. Make a bad jump and impale your hero on the spikes below? No problem, with the tap of a button you can undo just about any costly mistake you make. Think of it as the Ctrl + Z solution to all in game problems.

What this achieved was more than just a nifty little escape button, it worked in the narratives favor too. It allowed the world to show just how dangerous it is by violently halting progression while at the same time leveraging the video game conceit of the game over, continue screen and multiple lives logic of literally every game ever made and built that real world design logic into the game. The bedtime story telling nature kept things light as the prince narrates over his situation and feels like he is directly talking to the player as they save their game, all culminating together to build a solid foundation and a timeless classic.

A Royal Homecoming

17 years later there's very little I have to say that negates what I felt all those years ago. It holds up in all the right places and the only real issues stem from it's combat scenarios. You'll regularly come up against sand demons, distorted dusty versions of the palace denizens, having been ravaged by the sands and now out for blood. Combat was always the weakest part of the game for me, it worked simply but feels clunky (especially by todays standards) and the round based style encounters where you'll fight 2 or 3 different enemy types a handful of times each really drags in the back half of the game where they are more frequent.

It's my only knock against an otherwise brilliant game and I'd argue it should stand as a testament to it's core design that all I ever wanted to do was more puzzles and platforming. To explore as much of the palace and overcome its hazards and traps, to uncover all of its secrets. This will become more apparent as we go on but the soundtrack was a lot edgier than I initially remembered. It still has the whimsical choir, strings and flute arrangements but during combat it's got this hard edge rock too it I wasn't expecting. I don't know whether its jarring or a sign of things to come but it's good. There's more consistency throughout this series than I initially gave it credit for!

Also, shout out to Yuri Lowenthal (Spiderman PS4), the voice actor for the Prince who is clearly having a lot of fun here and really gave him a personality and charm. So beginning our first look back at this once princely series. Will you see more puns? Definitely, will you stick around for more? I hope so! Check back in during the week for more!

Gifs used are taken from recorded game-play and uploaded/edited by me here

All images taken from the Sands of Time press kit found here

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