The Prince is a very odd character. We’ve seen him in plenty of poses, from the pile of pixels in pajamas that leaped over pepper-holder floors back in 1989 and up to his trendiest rendition, a supermodel that’s perfect for Japanese deodorant commercials. The common denominator was almost always the trap-ridden course that you used to traverse with the declared romantic purpose of banging the princess.
Sadly, I’m starting to feel that once this objective got altered in more recent titles, the motivation lost a strong pusher. And that’s not because I’d have some special weakness towards pre-rendered bosoms, but because I get this “platforming for the sake of platforming” vibe. Ever since The Two Thrones we’ve been forced to follow some cardboard character or floating wisps for some ambiguous and not really personal concept of a greater good, and I’m saddened to a certain extent by the fact that the adventure lost its soul.
What’s true is that technically speaking, everything is much better modeled, the moves are considerably more natural and the control scheme is very intuitive and easy to learn. Once you get used to the animations’ tempo, the mechanics and positions from which you need to leap or run along walls are really easy to figure out. It’s a hopping session both accessible and thrilling and, for many, it might just be enough to buy the game.
But the storyline in Forgotten Sands, placed in the ten-year gap between Sands of Time and Warrior Within, is extremely slim. It promotes itself as the beginning of a trilogy, which, considering how little I was drawn to the narrative in this pioneer game, doesn’t seem to mean much else than another cash cow for Ubisoft.
The Prince, in his rendition as a slightly wiser lad after the events in Sands of Time, comes across the eternal recycled invasion of a powerless kingdom, used as a narrative catalyst for like four games now. In our case, Malik’s kingdom, the Prince’s older brother. This theme of a brother’s love, envy and loyalty has been explored in a way better manner in countless other stories, and it’s only here as a superficial breeze. Ironically, even the blockbuster that Disney recently launched has much more vivid and well-penciled characters.
The intrigue revolves around a new reckless decision (oh, dear sirs, less originality or I’ll feint), which this time around doesn’t release a sand demon army (Sands of Time) or some mythological entity representing all that’s evil in the world (Prince of Persia 2008), but rather a sand demon army led by a mythological entity representing all that’s evil in the world. And that’s about it. The elder, wise character is a fairy djinn with a pretty neat rack, and the new mechanics come in the form of elemental powers you successively get throughout the adventure.
Actually, that’s Forgotten Sands’ big bump – the array of modifications the platforming mechanics get thanks to the Prince’s abilities. You can “freeze” water, summon platforms or walls and dart through the air towards remote enemies in order to leap across gaps. And when all these toys start alternating in a single hopping session, you’ll understand what I say when I appreciate this Prince of Persia as being the most interesting in terms of platforming.
Truth be told, there are no special traps or complicated obstacle courses. Aside from the elemental abilities that alternate the world in real-time, nothing substantial was introduced, and the difficulty of the “security systems” is debatable at best, especially if you have a larger life bar, which allows you to make a few mistakes without getting back to the last checkpoint.
On the other hand, the architecture of the running and leaping sessions is executed with a mastery that’s hard to ignore, perhaps the only flaw being the fact that it stays too simple in approach most of the time. It’s somewhat varied, the learning curve is pretty comfortable and there’s really no excuse to waste time sitting around: the next platform always stands out. Even if we don’t have the dagger anymore, we can still rewind time, but since it’s not the game’s central element, there are no other ways to manipulate this concept. At least now Jonathan B. can’t blow sand in Ubisoft’s face because he uses their concept in much more intricate mechanics.
The problem is that you don’t have that momentum from Sands of Time or Warrior Within, where even the backtracking sessions were motivating thanks to a story twist: a new hypothesis in the theory of changing destiny, a princess to save (or beat the pulp out of) or some evil vizier who holds the best-rated artifact since the Holy Grail.
In Forgotten Sands, much like in the Two Thrones, you’re always chasing a demon, somewhat motivated by family ties that aren’t very well described or explored. If the Prince was interviewed while jogging in the oriental royal garden X, he would always answer the course question by: “Do you see that shiny beast over there? Well, I need to get to it. For that I need to cross the royal baths, the royal prison, the royal gardens, the royal casinos and the royal bingo halls to fight it in a generic context that reproduces fixed mechanics in logic and approach since the beginning of the franchise.”
I would have expected Ubi to begin a character evolution arc that ties the philosophic speech at the end of Sands of Time to the goth clothes, hairstyle and expression from Warrior Within. Sadly, the sendoffs to SoT are extremely slim, all the characters are unnaturally flat and the only dialogues are formed from a series of puns that continue to stray the series away from Persia and tie it to a Kevin Sorbo sitcom. And that’s not the only chapter in which Forgotten Sands proves to be drier than its reputation.