A Royal Disappointment.
There’s a reason that action-platformer/puzzle series Prince of Persia has been around forever on consoles and PCs. Between the stunning visuals of the newer iterations, some of the coolest puzzles found in video games, and an all-around satisfying combat system (did y’all play that cel-shaded version from a few years back? It was brilliant!), the long-running tale of the prince and those crazy undead sand-monsters hell-bent on killing him has been a pleasure to play for generations of gamers – until now.
Prince of Persia: The Shadow and the Flame backflipped its way onto an iOS device near you recently, and is practically a course on how not to make a game. A remake of the 1993 sequel to the original Prince of Persia, Shadow and the Flame finds the prince on a quest to once again thwart the evil Jafar, the baddie from the first game. Easy-to-make Aladdin jokes aside, it’s rather a cop-out of a story. “Oh no, everyone!” says the prince. “We have to stop that same evil vizier dude from last time from, ummm, pretty much doing the exact same thing he was trying to do before!” But even this lazy storytelling would be totally excusable were it not for the absolute tedium found in every single mechanic throughout this train-wreck of a title.
Presented in the “Metroid-Vania” style, you’ll run and jump back and forth through environments like a market completely devoid of merchants or shoppers, a visually bland system of caves, and more. Both running and the confusingly included “cautious walk” maneuvers are imprecise to the point of misery and will find the prince plummeting into bottomless pits or off of tall buildings constantly. The idea here is to prime your jumps by holding down a virtual button on the screen, but for a game that has long been a shining example of movement fluidity, being forced to stop completely just short of an edge, search for a button and then hold it before jumping not only breaks up the action, but it becomes a downright chore.
So let’s say that you’re OK with the jumping issues and wish to give Shadow and the Flame another chance. Fair enough. You can explore areas above or below the main path via platforms accessed by swiping up or down when near them. It will often take multiple attempts for the game to read that you wish to do this, however, and even then, you’ll probably have to launch an expletive-laden speech at your device before it happens.
Combat, believe it or not, is even worse. Every so often you’ll come face to face with a sword-wielding skeleton, an action that prompts the prince to unsheathe his sword and enter a sort of battle mode. Here you must swipe toward your enemy until his life bar is depleted, but other than your foe occasionally blocking your attacks or attempting a few weak jabs, there are no surprises and a complete lack of depth. There is a defense button which, when timed properly, will stun enemies and leave them open to a three-hit combo which culminates in one of three power attacks performed by swiping either up, down, or back on the screen. The timing needed to land these crushing blows is ludicrous, inexact, and just in case that wasn’t frustrating enough, each is so indiscernible from your basic sword swipes that they may as well not have been included.
Granted, the ol’ lifebar belonging to your enemies will empty a little faster, but even Prince of Persia games from two console generations ago had more fighting pizzazz. On top of that, the block-to-stun mechanic is so easily executed that there is no reason for experimentation whatsoever. You’ll be left wondering what’s worse—that these fights are few and far between, or that they even exist in the first place.
Eventually you will be able to upgrade the prince’s abilities and weapons, but the in-game store requires so many coins earned through battle that most gamers probably won’t make it far enough into the campaign to reap the rewards. And even if they do, they’ll be canonized for patience so fast that their new saintly duties will preclude them from gaming at all.
Music represents the least disappointing aspect of Shadow and the Flame, and that’s saying something. It is that David Lean-ish, Lawrence of Arabia-esque pseudo-epic style that one would expect from the setting, and even though it sounds tinny, it does at least provide miniscule levels of dramatic tension here and there.
There are so many things you could buy for $2.99 – a candy bar, a couple of lottery tickets, or most of a bottle of Charles Shaw wine. Any of those would be a more sound investment than Prince of Persia: The Shadow and the Flame. For a company like Ubisoft—one that usually releases fantastic games on multiple platforms—to drop the ball like this can only mean they’re cashing in on a fairly renowned series as quick as they can, leaving Prince of Persia fans feeling burned hotter than the Persian sands.