Xbox One, PS4, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS5, Xbox Series X|S
January 18, 2024
It’s been a long time since we’ve had a Prince of Persia game – 14 years in fact – and it’s been even longer since we’ve had a 2D entry in the long-running series. So quite understandably, a lot of people were excited by the announcement of Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown back in June of last year.
The announcement not only boasted a return to 2D, but also a Metroidvania-style game structure, which seemed like a great way to adapt the slow, methodical platforming of the original title for a more modern era of gaming. Even though it seemed promising, whether or not the series would come back better than ever was still up for debate, especially with a Sands of Time remake somewhat lost in the ether.
Exploring the cursed mountain
Unlike most other games in the series, players don’t take control of the titular Prince of Persia, instead playing as a warrior named Sargon, a member of a very exclusive group of fighters called the Immortals. There is a little downtime in the opening to speak with and learn more about all the members of your team, and you even get to fight with them a little bit during the tutorial to gain an understanding of what skills they each bring to the Immortals.
Quite quickly though, the actual Prince of Persia, Ghassan, is kidnapped and taken to the mysterious Mount Qaf and the ancient city surrounding it. A place once lauded for its beauty and magic, it has been turned dangerous and there also seem to be some very serious time shenanigans at play. Simurgh: God of Time & Knowledge who once resided in the mountain has been missing for a very long time, and many of the characters you meet within the ancient city claim to have been there for years, when Sargon knows they could only have arrived a few days prior.
While the story does have an interesting premise, and there are lots of very intriguing questions being asked, it does take a long time to get going. Being a Metroidvania means that story beats come in chunks with long stretches of uninterrupted gameplay between and a lot of the focus is put on why Ghassan was kidnapped in the first place, but what I was really interested in was everything surrounding whatever time paradox encompasses the mountain and a great deal of the story beats don’t focus on that at all.
The level design, on the other hand, does an outstanding job of capturing what a diverse and hostile place Mouth Qaf has become. Each new area makes great use of colour pallets and lighting to create a very solid mood that keeps them distinct and easy to remember which is very important in a Metroidvania. One particularly inventive area towards the end of the game makes great use of the time paradox and the many ways it is affecting the areas surrounding the mountains, but there are also many smaller examples such as huge statues being frozen mid-way through exploding into pieces. They hang high in the background, half destroyed as you run past, and I could never resist stopping to just marvel at them.
All of the background vistas are spectacular; breaking out into the sunlight and seeing the entire ancient city and its surrounding mountains in the distance gives Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown a very effective sense of scale, the world feels big and like it continues well past your screen. Enemy variety also helps to establish the world and setting, there is a wide collection of enemies to find across the different areas and each of them makes sense within their locale, while also provoking questions about what kind of place Mouth Qaf may have been before Simurgh disappeared.
While the character designs are all very distinct, the stop-start nature of the story makes it difficult for any of them to get any real chance to shine. I would argue that the cast might be a little bit big for the kind of game that Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is and that a smaller selection of characters would have made it easier for players to become attached to and invested in each of them. The voice acting is solid for the most part in both English and Farsi, Sargon in particular is very well acted and there is a lot to like about him as a character even though I wish he was a little more three-dimensional.
Harnessing the powers of time
From even the first few minutes it’s incredibly clear that combat and platforming in Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is fluid, fun and outstandingly intuitive. The basic attack feels punchy and the three-hit combo is satisfying to throw out. Movement is a joy as well with precise and fast-paced wall jumps, slides and backsteps that merge with the combat to create an absolutely enormous number of ways to tackle any encounter that only grows the more you play.
“Combat and platforming in Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is fluid, fun and outstandingly intuitive.”
All of the moves in your kit are quick to activate and easy to understand meaning there is very rarely an occasion where failure feels unfair. My only complaint would be some lack of clarity around Athra moves. These are special attacks, two of which can be equipped at any time and the game makes it seem like they can be used so long as the meter is fully charged. This is not the case, however, as once the meter is charged, each ability also has a cooldown that is not very well displayed and it took me about half my playtime to figure out why my Athra Moves were not activating half the time, and it turns out they were just still on cooldown.
As you progress further in the game, you also begin unlocking what are called Time Powers, new abilities that unlock different ways to interact with the world and tackle enemy encounters. While many of them just provide new movement options such as an air dash or double jump, there are some truly interesting ideas in here. One ability called the Shadow of Simurgh allows you to create a copy of yourself, and then return to that copy with the click of a button. It was so exciting the first time I was stuck in a boss fight with seemingly no way to dodge an attack and then realised oh, if I place a copy on the other side of the arena, I can just teleport back there once the first half of the attack is over! It’s always satisfying to do and also is a key element in some of the more interesting puzzles in the game.
I really enjoyed one where you have to reach the end of a platforming section that is not possible to complete by yourself. You get three attempts, and each attempt remains persistent as you start the next. So a lever that you pull on your first attempt, will be pulled by that copy of yourself on your second attempt as well. You have to be clever and make good use of Shadow of Simurgh in order to get everything completed within the time limit, and it’s a lot of fun.
There is plenty of variety to be had in each of Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown’s boss fights as well. Each one presents a well-crafted challenge that encourages you to make the most of each new ability that you unlock as you play, and learning how to best evade their attacks and when to find time to strike in between is incredibly rewarding. While it did take me a few attempts to beat most of these fights, a bit of practice was all it took to eventually get over the line, at least on the standard difficulty. This is not a criticism, however, I found the fights hard enough that they felt like a satisfying challenge, but never so hard that they broke my flow or left me stuck for hours.
Exploration is also handled very well, with all major areas on the map not only coloured distinctly but also displaying images of key landmarks in each area to make it easier to remember where everything is. The ability to mark the map with icons is also incredibly useful, especially alongside the Memory Shard feature that allows you to instantly capture an image of the screen you are currently on. These screenshots can then be viewed directly from the map without having to leave the game and let you know instantly why that area was previously inaccessible. Even without these features, Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown does a very good job of guiding you in the right direction even though it is ostensibly a fully explorable map.
For example, When you are near a Wak-Wak Tree, essentially a save/recharge station, you can see some of the tree’s golden leaves in piles on the floor, and caught up in a gust of wind blowing back towards the tree. It’s a great way of letting you know that respite is just around the corner, and of keeping you on the right path without any active direction.
It’s a very solid Metroidvania on all fronts, keeping the world open and not directly telling players where to go, but still being careful about ensuring the correct path is always obvious and it’s not too difficult to find your way back if you do manage to get a little lost.
- Outstanding flow in both combat and traversal
- Gorgeous vistas and area design
- Engaging and challenging bossfights
- Story isn't very engaging
Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is an incredibly pleasant surprise. Brilliant gameplay and gorgeous visuals make it utterly addictive to play, and in my time with it, I never wanted to put it down. The only fault the experience really has is the story, and while it is perfectly serviceable, it’s never sufficiently engaging, even if the gameplay itself is enough to keep you going. If you are looking for a new Metroidvania to sink your teeth into, this is one I can highly recommend, and a strong return to form for the previously long-resting franchise.