This system of motion and rhythm seems to be meant for players to experiment with different techniques and play styles, but it falters in that aspect on occasion. While PoP can accurately be described as a “quasi-open world platformer”, it’s painstakingly obvious in certain spots that the developers have a path they’d like you to take. You’ll see a ledge, but not be able to jump to it, or mysteriously overshoot it every time. This hinders one of the game’s most novel aspects, and can make exploring and experimenting frustrating. Luckily, this doesn’t happen often, and is more of an exception than a rule.
Of course, it doesn’t hurt that you can’t die in PoP. Early on, you’ll meet Elika, who will be your constant companion, and yes, you’re going to need her. When most games introduce a “sidekick” character it means you’re in for a lot of the dreaded “accompany” and “protect” missions, but not in PoP. Elika is an integral and very welcome addition to the franchise. Miss that ledge or overshoot your jump? Elika will snag your arm just before you fall to your doom, placing you safely on your last checkpoint (and there’s seemingly one every two feet). The same premise holds true with combat — she’ll move you out of the way just before your enemies deal the final blow. While some may think the absence of any real consequence would make the game feel less rewarding, it simply allows for more freedom for exploration and experimenting with the Prince’s wide-range of motions.
Elika is more than just a last minute bailout though — in fact, she’s much more. The relationship between Elika and the Prince plays like an extension of what we know platformers to be, and enriches the experience immensely. Far from your average “helpless sidekick,” Elika is an important part of many of PoP’s integral gameplay mechanics. Need help scoping the area ahead for enemies? A simple button-press sends Elika out into the distance. Think of Elika as your virtual Swiss-army knife. Amazingly, with all the help Elika extends the prince, she never comes off as overbearing or pushy; throughout the entire game, Elika never once took center stage, allowing players the ability to move at their own pace, using Elika as they see fit and not how the developers do.
The game’s simplistic control scheme doesn’t stop with Elika — many of the Prince’s abilities follow the same one-button formula. Each of The Prince’s actions is mapped to one button. There’s one for acrobatic maneuvers, one for sword fighting (with a separate button for the gauntlet melee weapon) and another for magic. This button-scheme makes it easy for players to rely on their instincts rather than worry about combo systems, a problem with many modern-age platformers.
That’s not to say that there are no combos in PoP, in fact, the combat system relies heavily on a mix of the rhythm based combat and combos. Every fight in PoP is one-on-one, and starts off relying on the rhythm system used elsewhere in the game. They key to being successful is learning how to use this system to string together long and powerful combo maneuvers. Learning the system can prove incredibly useful in later chapters of the game, as mastering this system proves essential to boss battles.
There’s no doubt that PoP is directed towards a more casual audience. Some of the puzzles found in past PoP games have become legendary, and you get very few of them here. Instead, the puzzles are very simple and user-friendly (save a few towards the middle of the game). Also, in certain points you can’t help but feel you’re being guided, a shame in such a beautiful world. With a major motion picture based on the franchise in the works, it’s understandable that the developers would want the franchise to be played by a much wider audience, but it’s a shame that they had to sacrifice one of the game’s key elements to do it.
With incredible visuals, innovative gameplay and a deceivingly deep combat engine, this Prince of Persia reboot is a title that should be experienced by everyone. It’s no Sands of Time, but it’s something special in its own right.