Approximate Release Date: November 1, 1992
Developer: Arsys Software
The controls in Prince of Persia are infuriating.
Prince of Persia is a very difficult platforming game where you run, jump, and swordfight your way through mazes filled with traps. There are similarities to yesterday’s game in that players primarily progress through trial-and-error. But unlike Out of This World, this one has a two-hour time limit. No matter how careful you are and how good you are at figuring out where to go, if you can’t do it quickly you might not be able to beat Prince of Persia.
I’m iffy on omnipresent timers in games. In most games, I’d rather just be able to relax and move at my own speed. But time limits are effective at encouraging risk-taking behavior in players because every second counts, and every second that can be saved now might be key later on. Games like Dead Rising and The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask do this well. Prince of Persia does not, if only because I find myself fighting with the controls instead of consciously racing against the clock.
There are so many things I hate about Prince of Persia‘s controls. A directional tap away from the direction you’re facing will make the prince turn around. Anything more than that will cause him to start sprinting for several inches. There’s nothing in between, so lining up jumps will lead to walking off cliffs over and over. The trick to getting around this is to hold down the L button, which causes the prince to crouch and let you move step by step. All of this looks great on account of good graphics and some impressive animation, but it looks silly to have to frog-walk a few steps forward to be able to grab a ledge.
The jumping is especially atrocious. I don’t know how many times I’ve hammered on the jump button as the prince runs toward a pit and he just never jumps. There’s a timing to it that I was never able to properly grok, and if I’m struggling this hard in the early parts I don’t want to see what the later levels are like. The first level already has a pit that if you enter it from one side you die.
Having a few training levels available through the main menu is awesome. These stages are designed really well. Prince of Persia never tells you how to do anything, but introduces new concepts gradually and organically. I don’t think it’s perfect, but modern video games could benefit from this philosophy.
Listen, Prince of Persia is a classic. And despite everything I’ve written above, and despite how much I dislike playing it, anyone who hasn’t tried this game really should. Prince of Persia is very influential and was technologically impressive when first released in 1989. I just think it’s a nightmare to play today.
If you want to read more about Prince of Persia, specifically the game’s development, check out The Making of Prince of Persia: Journals 1985-1993 on Amazon. I haven’t read it yet, but designer Jordan Mechner is a supremely interesting fellow and I’ve heard the book has a lot of neat behind-the-scenes details about this classic video game.
Tomorrow: Gosh, it’s been a few days since a racing game. It’s time for Road Riot 4WD!