Prince of Persia is a franchise that began in the late eighties, spanning many games up until around 10 years ago, including a film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and even a graphic novel. The last proper mainline entry in the game series was surprisingly way back in 2013 – that is until the Ubisoft Montpellier studio began development on a fresh reinvigoration of the series. Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is the latest entry in the franchise, dashing its way into the IP.
We had the opportunity to spend three hours hands-on with Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown ahead of its launch and I’m pleased to say we definitely would’ve spent longer playing if we could have. The Lost Crown is a daring leap for the series that makes itself at home in the Metroidvania genre instantly.
Check out our hands-on preview footage below!
Our time with the game was from the beginning, allowing us to experience the early story without any spoilers. We meet Sargon, The Lost Crown’s protagonist during a brutal war with the blood-thirsty Kashans from the east. After this, the story follows Sargon and the other immortals on a quest to Mount Qaf to rescue a Persian royal, Prince Ghassan. Already, The Lost Crown’s animation and art style breathe life into the world by no longer focusing on that hyper-realistic style seen in other franchise entries. Seeing further sections of the game build that world out into the backgrounds, allows for the 2D-platformer to further immerse the player in its depth. Seeing Sargon move through the platforming sections also adds to that sense of exploration into the unknown.
“Sargon’s movement skills include running, jumping, sliding, dodging and wall-running which give him an agile nature.”
We’re shown how to control Sargon during the opening. He wields dual blades that allow him to slash, parry, perform charged attacks and even stylised finishers including power-up abilities, all of which feel comfortable and familiar. Later in our play session, we see other combat abilities that continuously expand his kit. Sargon’s movement skills include running, jumping, sliding, dodging and wall-running which give him an agile nature. In our time with The Lost Crown though we didn’t see any player-based time manipulation abilities. In other later entries in the franchise, time and ‘changing fate’ are integral to the narrative so I feel as though these might show up later on if they aren’t just story-based.
The opening ends with Sargon taking on General Uvishka, leader of the Kashans in the first boss-style battle you’ll come across. Seeing the attention to detail in the battles as well as the platforming sections this early feels as though we’re being teased of things to come later. Later in our play session, we did see this developing and paying off too. Sargon is a formidable fighter, meaning the obstacles presented have to be equally steep to ensure the challenge.
The game isn’t afraid to build out The Lost Crown’s canon, either. It feels as though we might be seeing the early groundwork for what would make a series following Sargon. To me, playing this game knowing there’s been a real investment into what makes Prince Of Persia tick gives me hope that this Metroidvania styling is just the reboot fans have been hoping for.
As a further note, I was very impressed by the accessibility settings. While including standard things such as subtitles, the platformer has also honed in on how players of all ability levels might approach those sections of the game. A feature I’d love to highlight would be the option to skip challenging platforming sections altogether; this allows Sargon to portal from one side of the area to the other, bypassing the difficult jumping sections with ease.
The fully-voiced cutscenes as well really flesh the characters out as well. While Prince Ghassan isn’t present for long before being kidnapped, he feels very earnest towards Sargon in the section we played. The character development present in the dialogue and gameplay allows The Lost Crown to focus on Sargon’s inner journey as an immortal with a reputation that precedes him. Prince Ghassan sees Sargon as more than this, stating that he attaches no importance to Sargon’s reputation, before reframing him as the “winds carrying seeds of future harvests”. There’s a fledgling bond between the pair that I’m excited to see grow in the full game. While I doubt we’ll see it eventuate into anything past a brotherly bond between them, the focus on this connection rather than rescuing a princess for instance adds to the overall ethos.
One of the other Immortals soon becomes the antagonist. Anahita is fleshed out as being concerned by the losses on the battlefield and feels it’s only a matter of time before the Kushan return. The other Immortals also feel like individual characters, rather than a collective grouping of the same spiel. Later in our play session in Mount Qaf, we see the heroic squad begin to unravel as Sargon explores the Citadel. Time in this section of the game seemingly moves differently for those around Sargon.
As Prince Ghassan is kidnapped, we see the enemies change. Anahita summons a demonic knight through a symbol that is only a taste of things to come. The Immortals set out for Mount Qaf to the old Citadel. Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown further teases that mystical quality like the previous titles in the franchise. Already, the Immortals sense that something is not right with frozen statues and corpses rotting that have been dead for mere hours. Sargon is left alone to explore the Mount Qaf temple, but not before corpses reanimate in the area.
Upon further exploration, the platforming and combat continue to challenge Sargon as he explores. It’s not long before we unlock our first golden Wak Wak tree that allows players to adjust amulets worn by Sargon. These give special boosts to your abilities that cost slots to equip. When players die, you respawn at the last tree you visited so it’s a great idea to stop by these when moving around Mount Qaf.
“Exploring Mount Qaf feels true to the Metroidvania genre.”
We also meet Fariba, a young girl who is not at all scared of Mount Qaf. She gives you an Eye of The Wanderer that allows players to map Mount Qaf as well as how to use Memory Shards to save points of interest. As a Metroidvania, having the ability to track cool stuff to return to later is integral. She’s also just one of the NPCs in this locale. Another standout is The Mage who aids Sargon with upgrades and other uncommon items. Exploring Mount Qaf feels true to the Metroidvania genre. Sargon navigates out from that first Wak-Wak tree into each region of Mount Qaf unlocking more trees along the way.
When we did venture into the Lower City we came up against a boss we weren’t expecting. The Undead Prisoner is a beefy boy, wielding a column he took a few tries to take down but as players will learn in the full game, Sargon’s agility and parrying allow him to take advantage of perfectly timed openings to make quick work of bigger foes. One can really appreciate just how stylised Sargon’s fighting style is. A lot of work has gone into creating fluid animations and camera angles that show off his strength against these otherworldly foes.
The first major location players unlock in Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is Hyrcanian Forest. Stylistically, this area is a lot different from Mount Qaf, featuring untamed plants and gorgeous foliage aplenty. The enemies here take on an untamed vibe that adds to the sense that the forest here is gradually eating the ruins within it. Here we meet Kamil who calls the Wak-Wak trees home. They bestow Sargon with a new charge ability. Further exploration of the forest reveals a smaller boss.
“Time here is moving differently.”
Players also receive the bow. Sargon is quite perplexed and again it feels as though we’re being teased by the games slowly unraveling story. The bow belongs to another member of the Immortals yet he finds it with a seemingly dead version of his self. Upon seeing Menolias again, it’s evident there’s more to this place than meets the eye. Not only is he alive, but he still has his bow. Time here is moving differently.
Menolias also reveals his bow’s hidden ability. You’re able to throw a Chakram of Menolias that functions in puzzles as well as combat. It’s a projectile that’s able to rebound off surfaces. I had the most fun with this ability in comparison to the other weapons in Sargon’s abilities because of its rebounding qualities. While this is the only other weapon from the Immortals we saw in our play session, I hope this means that each of the other team’s abilities are just as fun to use. It does however have me questioning about what might befall the other members of the Immortals later in the game.
Returning to the Citadel after exploring the forest means we’re finally able to revisit the floating statue and activate the next platforming section. The Upper Citadel leads us to the game’s first prominent boss though – Jahandar, the guardian of the Citadel! This manticore-styled beast is no joke compared to the Undead Prisoner, the Boar in the Hyrcanian Forest, or even General Uvishka which was somewhat of a shock to me. It took me more than a few tries, having to utilise the finisher system to really eat away at Jahandar’s health. Defeating the creature feels like a huge reward as it’s a challenging battle that blows away all the other tough encounters seen so far. After defeating the boss, players receive a mystical feather that grants Sargon the rush ability. This furthers his movement in the game, allowing him to reach new areas.
Sargon also meets another of the Immortals here, adding more detail to the game’s bubbling timeline. Artaban scoffs at Sargon saying it’s been only hours. According to him, it’s been three days! He’s also not shocked that Sargon says this, which has me thinking maybe the other Immortals have learned that Sargon is experiencing time here differently. This is also an awesome narrative component as a player because it validates you playing the opening hours while also framing you in the world of The Lost Crown.
It feels like it has been a long time since we stepped into the world of Prince of Persia. It’s exciting to see the franchise return as a Metroidvania game, and as a 2D platformer, I am thrilled with how it plays. In this adventure, Sargon faces a formidable and insurmountable task. The story has only just begun, and I hope the pay-off will be worth it when the game releases as it has certainly set the bar high thus far.
Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is set to be released on January 18 on PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo Switch and PC. We’re excited to see where Sargon’s story leads in this new reboot for the series.
Ubisoft flew the journalist to Sydney for this hands-on preview.