Friday, September 2, 2011

Prince of Persia

No, this is not a post about any of the new games that carry this title.  This is about the one that started it all.  Jordan Mechner's original Prince of Persia in 1990.  I have many fond memories of this game from my childhood.  It has aged very well, and going back to it now feels the same as it did in 1990.  The graphics haven't become an eyesore, its easy to get to run on DOSBox, and it still has the same fluid game play.  I took a small break from my Pool of Radiance play through to sit down with this run down nostalgia lane.

The story in this game is pretty simple.  Its not anything really innovative or creative.  Just the standard 'rescue the princess' scenario.  You and the princess have fallen in love secretly, but while the Sultan is away his Vizier Jaffar eyes the throne and sees the princess as an easy way to get it.  He captures you, throws you in the dungeon, and give the princess an ultimatum.  "Marry me or die within the hour."  This sets the scene for the whole game. 

When this game says within the hour, it means within the hour.  You have to beat the game in its entirety within 60 minutes.  When you look at it, it seems an impossible task.  It is more than possible though.  You are allowed one save, and it will always start you at the beginning of the level.  No saving right before a though jump, or before an important battle.  One slip up, and its back to the beginning of the level.  There are 12 levels in all.

I took a fairly systematic approach to beating this game.  You aren't allowed to save the game until the third level starts so it is in your best interest to get through the first two as quickly as you can.  Once on the third level, I saved...  putting the clock at about 53 minutes left.  Once I was able to save, I worked my way through the level, exploring every place I could to determine the best route through the level.  Then I would reload my save and complete the level in the most efficient manner.  Cheating maybe, but effective. 

A fight on level 2.
The game starts you out in the dungeon.  Its obviously not a nice place to be.  As the game progresses, the environment changes.  At level 4, you are in the palace itself.  The style change is nice, and helps to give a sense of advancement.  There are a few setback along the way, but eventually you pass from the dungeons, through the palace, and into a tower. 

Most of the time, the levels are pretty much the same.  You fight guards, find a way to open the door to the next level, and try not to die along the way.  The game is pretty good at putting a few unique situations in front of you though.  For instance, in the third level I believe, there is a skeleton that block your path to the door after you open it.  It is impossible to kill so you have to work your way past it.

Another situation come up a little later on.  After opening the door to the next level, a mirror appears in your path blocking you from continuing.  When you run jump through it, a shadow version of yourself runs away.  This shadow prince hinders you a couple times along the way.  One time, he stands next to a pressure plate to close a gate you need to pass through.  This ends up sending you back into the dungeons to try and escape again.  At some other point, he takes and drinks a potion that gives you more valuable health.

The magic mirror.

He just drank my potion!
There are a couple of other instances that stand out.  While the princess is waiting for you to rescue her, she befriends a mouse.  There is a point where the path to open the door leads you to a point that is very difficult to return through before the gate closes blocking your path back.  This little mouse comes by and open the gate for you if you weren't fast enough.  Also, one guard in the game is larger than the others.  He's become the infamous fat guard on the internet.  Its these little details that really keep the game feeling fresh. 
The Fat Guard!
In the end, the final standoff against Jaffar is a little disappointing.  Aside from his appearance, he could be just any other guard.  It doesn't matter though, it feels good to get rid of him and go rescue your princess.


I completed this game in about 5 hours of playing.  I completed it on August 31, 2011.  This is a game that I will probably pick up a few times again in the future.  Its a game that can be played casually just to pass a few hours of time.  Playing it again hasn't taken anything away from the way I remember it when I was younger, which is usually not the case.  We make the things from our past seem better to ourselves, and experiencing them again as we grow older usually robs us of that feeling.  I look forward to picking this up again in another 20 years, we'll see how it holds up then.

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