Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Prince of Persia (SNES) Review

Written: December 18th-19th, 2012
Year: 1989, 1992 | Developed by: Brøderbund, NCS Masaya, and Arsys | Published by: Konami

All right, I found a sword!  Now I can defend
myself!  =D
Ah, Prince of Persia!  Hard to believe it's been around for twenty-three years now and what an impact it's had on video games, gamers, and challenge found in video games in general, but I digress.  Back in 1989, a man called Jordan Mechner, who also created the critically acclaimed sidescrolling brawling venture Karateka five years prior, crafted and designed a huge maze-like adventure that would go on to be a huge success for many years to come on the Apple II computer: Prince of Persia.  In fact, it was so successful that it wound up getting ports and remakes on pretty much every console around at that period, and some versions are still being made even now.  The version most gamers still resonate with and consider the overall best is the remake made by Masaya three years later for the SNES, which is what I'm going to talk about today.

There are elaborate puzzles aplenty
I remember first hearing about this game (in general, not just the SNES version) several years ago on the internet, and from what I looked up it seemed very interesting to me, and I recall seeing a couple gameplay videos of the SNES version on YouTube, and immediately I became very curious.  Of course, I wasn't loaned the SNES console by my cousin until a couple days before 2009, but even then, despite my interest, there was something that was holding me back from purchasing it.  Over a year later, a new Wii game called Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands was announced, and it was even reported to have the SNES version of the classic as an unlockable; I figured, maybe if I try it on the Wii, then I may get to try the Nintendo 16-bit version as well.  Imagine the disappointment among gamers when the final product turned out to not have the SNES version as an unlockable like it was reported, but a different one entirely.  I didn't buy the Wii game of course, but I digress.  Sometime in January of 2012 I decided to give the SNES game a shot, and in all honesty, I'm glad I did.  So what is it about this remake in particular that has gamers hold it in such a high regard?  *cracks knuckles of fingers and toes*  Let's discover why!

A long time ago, in the land of Persia, the sultan was out fighting a war with his soldiers, leaving Jaffar, his grand vizier, in charge while he was gone.  Wait a minute!  JaffarGrand vizier?  ...  <=/  Wa... Wasn't there a character who shared both that exact name and that exact role in that one animated Disney mov--?  Never mind!  =<  Anyway, the grand vizier has malicious intentions and wishes to take over Persia, but there is one thing which stands in his way of ruling the land: the sultan's daughter, Princess... er, Princess.  While the sultan's away, she also acquaints herself with a traveler (that's you) named... um, Traveler and begins to grow attached to and fall in love with him.  However one day the guards take said traveler away due to Jaffar's orders and summons the princess to her room.
Jaffar asks her to marry him, but she refuses and would rather die.  So Jaffar makes an hourglass appear and gives her two hours (as in actual 120 minutes) to make her decision: marry him or perish.  All her hopes rest on the lover that she's met; fortunately, he's making a prison break right now.  Will the traveler rescue his romantic interest before the sands of time run out?  Will the grand vizier receive his ultimate comeuppance in the end?  And will the traveler become the titular Prince of Persia... Prince??  Well, what are you waiting for?!  Get out there and save her!

I'd look at that pretty view outside those windows,
but now's not a good time
The fortunate thing is that, if you're new to this game (like I was when I first played it), there are five training levels to properly get accustomed to the layout and controls, as well as give you an idea of what to expect throughout the whole course of the game.  In the real game, however, you've got two hours on your plate, so you're timed throughout the whole deal, and if you don't get to her on time, then there will be dire consequences.  The controls of the game are pretty simple and solid, though you're going to have to master them if you wish to prolong your survival.  Your character can run, slow-step, jump forward, jump upward, and after you find the sword in the first level, fight off armed enemies whenever you encounter them.

Exploration and navigation is the key!
Running's the natural way of moving around left and right, but you may not wish to do that all the time, because there are spike traps below you on the ground that could impale should you not be careful.  Not just that, but there are moments when you'll want to climb down a ledge, and running won't stop you to the end (unless there's a wall or a closed gate), otherwise you'll plummet down, then you'll either lose health or die.  If you hold down a button while moving, then you'll step slowly forward, and the great thing about that is that you'll not be killed by the spikes protruding from the ground if you do this; it's also very useful if you wish to get close to the ledge without falling down.  Sometimes you'll be required to make leaps of faith, and so what you do is you run and at just the right moment you hit the jump button, hopefully ensuring that you'll either land on the other side or grab onto that ledge (if you wish to hold on to any ledge, just hold down the other button, but you'll only hold on for a few seconds, so use it cautiously).

Every trap and obstacle will try to kill you,
including fire!  D=
The goal of each level is to open up and reach the exit door, however it's not as easy as it sounds (it never is).  In these levels you must think your way out of each room, and each area is rife with floor switches.  Each floor switch will open up a certain gate, sometimes in the same screen and sometimes it will be a little farther away.  Here's the catch: the majority of the gates will start to close down after a few seconds, and so you have to reach the other side before they are closed completely, otherwise you must try it again.  Watch out for loose tiles, as they will fall down once stepped on; there's a chance that it might land on a floor switch, thereby leaving the gate open forever.  Unfortunately there are also a few floor switches that will abruptly close down a gate, so step wisely and jump over certain switches you don't wish to step on.  You'll have to be quick on your feet if you wish to get past certain gates, and explore thoroughly, because that is one of the vital tools you'll need to survive.  Prince of Persia is one of those kind of games where proper timing matters most.  You can even move while crouching ("crouch-bouncing", as I would like to call it), but it's not as easy to control as the majority of the controls are.

Ah ha!  I've landed a hit on you!!
And now for the sword battles!  =)  Any time an enemy is approached our unnamed traveler/prince will pull out his sword and prepare for battle.  There are two ways of using your sword: as an offense by attacking, and as a defense by parrying the other blade.   This is one of those moments where you must time your attacks in order for the hit to be unleashed.  You can even move forwards and backwards while holding the blade; it's also possible to switch sides if you're careful not to lose damage.  Here's the main downside: if an enemy attacks you and you don't have your blade out, you will die regardless of how much health you've got.  I know, horrible way to go, right?  =(  If you wish, you can even force your enemies onto a trap or make them fall off to their doom.  Of course, strategizing is the key, and using the sword will take a bit to get used to.

Unlike the SNES version of Eric Chahi's Out of this World (or Another World for PAL audiences) where it retained the visual style and look from the original, this SNES outing of Prince of Persia was given a big aesthetic makeover compared to the original version.  I've got to hand it to Masaya, they did an excellent job with this aspect; it shows that they really understand what makes a Persian area, and how they make it atmospheric.  And there is a lot of visual grandeur to be found here.  This version of Prince of Persia is beautiful-looking from beginning to end, and it's one of those few games from the late '80s and early '90s where it doesn't scroll, but it goes from screen to screen.  The cool thing is how there is a lot of eye candy, and there are different areas which sport a variety of looks, style, and feel.  Each level is brimming with detail and each have got their own vibrant color schemes.
With every area there comes a battle
To name some areas, the first one you start out in takes place inside a dungeon, and it starts out all blue save for a few flaming torches on the wall, with the feeling of loneliness and is even littered with dead bodies in some segments.  In another moment you might be in a slightly brighter area, and during a few moments you'll see a nice clear view of the night outside.  =)  The tenth through twelfth levels are colored entirely in red, with variants of said color's hues and shades, and I think it works because it really sets you in the scene.  The first of these levels take place inside a volcano (?), which I don't get; was the palace constructed on top of a volcano, what?  The rest of the areas have really good decor; in fact, a few of them even look mesmerizing!  The level designs are great, and designed so devilishly too at that, but more on that later.
Uh, oh, I've got myself a clone!  =(
The animations the character and enemies display are so smooth and remarkably fluid, all thanks to the ever so famous rotoscoping technique.  In here, everyone looks and animate with close detail paid attention to.  This was made possible thanks to tracing colors over recorded footage, and it is executed smoothly.  I enjoy looking at these animations, especially the running, sword-fighting, and jumping animations.  The hero and enemies each have different death animations, and a couple of them are rather cringeworthy in my opinion (if only because the characters are human).  This game is viewed from the sidelines, yet I like the way it looks; the perspective is shifted a little so you can see what's ahead of you or what's behind you, and that's a very good idea, otherwise it would make things a little harder (this was the Prince of Persia perspective I was referring to in my Porky Pig's Haunted Holiday review).  Simply put, this is a gorgeous-looking game.

Desolate and lonely-looking dungeon
In this version of the game, there is a great amount of background music, with neat orchestration and instrumentation, and I like how Masaya made it sound Middle Eastern, which is evident when you listen to it.  Each song gives each respectful area a fitting mood and a fitting feeling of atmosphere.  The title theme alone sounds fantastic!  Several of the songs are well-written as well.  The first area theme sounds dark and brooding yet mysterious and somewhat inviting.  =)  The volcanic and red area themes sound ominous and even a bit foreboding at times.  A few area themes even sound playful, charming, mysterious, and one of them even sounds epic.  Any time a battle ensues the music will change to a battle theme, which gradually sounds suspenseful the longer you stay in the fight.  The sound effects are great too, like the sounds of the loose tiles that end up breaking, the sound of the hero running, the sounds used when swords are clashing together, and especially the sounds used when the hero runs.

Thoroughly survey the premises to advance
Prince of Persia is a fairly challenging maze-like game, and as far as I'm concerned the amount of challenge to be found here is rather commendable, if not a little taxing a few times.  As was mentioned before, you've only got two full hours to get through all twenty levels and save the princess, otherwise you'll get a bad ending.  The good thing about this game is that if you want to know how much time you have left, a window a pop up every minute to give you the heads up (or you can always press the Y button to see for yourself).  The levels are designed in such a way that it will prompt you to take on its challenge, but the fortunate thing is, despite a few moments where it might feel that way, it's not impossible.  Time will always gradually go down, and getting to the exit door is not a piece of cake.

If you survive this deadly trap, then you're a
real hero
Whenever you finish a level you're given a password so you can resume your progress; there are moments when there are continue points, but for the most part I rely on passwords.  To me there are two kinds of passwords: the "safe" passwords and the "screwed" passwords; by "safe" I mean you're given the passwords with no provisos or conditions, while for the "screwed" passwords not only will let you resume your progress but it also takes into account what you've lost or did not pick up in the process (i.e. time, lives, continues; to give an example, Sparkster on the SNES falls in this category as it takes into account how many continues you lost).  Prince of Persia falls into the latter category, but since all you have to worry about is the time that's been used, it's not such a problem this time around.  =)  Here's the thing, though: any time you lose a life, almost always start the level over by password, and for good reason.  If you do decide to continue without starting over by password then the time will not go back to how you started the level in the first place (to explain it thoroughly, say you had seventy minutes and about five minutes passed before you hit the bucket, if you continue, then you won't start the area again with seventy mintues on the clock, but sixty-five).  It's dangerous, and I often find myself starting the level over by password whenever I mess up.  Thorough searching will lead you to a screen which may have a potion, whether it be one that heals you by one, poisons you by one, and even a full bottle-like potion.  Most will increase your health capacity by one, but be careful which one you take, because you never know what may happen.  The given password takes into consideration how much health bottles you've got as well, so bear that in mind.

I still don't know what this boss is supposed
to be!  It is weird!!  <=/
 So what makes the whole game challenging?  Well, everything, really!  This is one of those games where timing means everything, so a lot of trial and error will be required until you get it just right; and if you mess up you have to start the level over again.  Most levels are filled with floor switches, gates, enemies, not to mention it is filled with traps!  I'm serious, everything will try to kill you, as the hero has to avoid consequences like falling down high heights, being burned alive, getting impaled from spikes, being cut in half by chompers, and of course, getting killed by enemies themselves.  There's this one segment in particular during the twelfth level where you must successfully time it right and run through eight chompers in a row one by one without being sliced, and it is nightmarish as it sounds; did I mention that they all activate randomly here?  D=  Proper navigation and honing your skills with the gameplay will greatly help throughout the course of the adventure.  Sometimes leaps of faith will be required and mandatory, and trying to get through a gate before it closes down will prove challenging later on.  The sword fights are cool, but I honestly felt they were the least challenging bits of the game, and here's why: if an enemy is apart from you a few inches, and you continually slash your sword, then they won't move; but if you wait until the exact moment they begin to move, you can seize your chance to slash them.  I find that to be an effective way of getting through a battle without sustaining too much, if any, damage.  Of course you can move while slashing the sword, but yeah, survival is of the essence; also, if an enemy is at the end of a wall, then simply put, they are a sitting duck (just make sure it does not happen to you).  I know it's not really much of a strategy, but for the most part it works; the only time it won't will be during the final encounter with Jaffar who's got two parts, which means luck will play a role during this part.

Swords clashing
Prince of Persia, overall, is a classic, and deserves to be praised as such!  =)  This is one such game that is absolutely not afraid to challenge gamers, and for that I find it admirable.  The gameplay is largely excellent, the levels are detailed and look beautiful, and the music really helps lend atmosphere to its Persian world.  The trial and error works really well, and the password system is only seven characters short, which is not excessively long, and thank God!  This is one such game that will always keep you busy and will try to throw everything including the kitchen sink at you to ensure that you're stopped in your tracks.  The level designs are spectacular and fiendishly-constructed, but if it were in real life, then it would be highly implausible!  I mean think about it, if it were real life, then how the hell would anyone be getting around; the only level designs I felt were realistic were the seventeenth and the final twentieth levels, solely because they are straightforward.  XD  But I digress!  The sword fights are cool, and what's cool is how there are different branching paths in order to get to a certain part of the level, or even different ways of getting around.  Reaching the end of each level and the game itself will prove to be rewarding in the long run, as perseverance and strength will be required.  Masaya has done an excellent job with this conversion of Prince of Persia, and I salute them, 'cause it's one of the best games available on the system!  =D

Jordan Mechner's classic was so successful that a sequel would eventually be followed on the PC called Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame in 1993, which also garnered some success.  However, it didn't receive as many ports and conversions as the first game, though a MegaDrive/Genesis version was made only to not be released (though the ROM is available) and a conversion was made for the SNES a couple years later, which was reported to be a crappy glitchfest.  The PC original was made available as an unlockable in the Xbox version of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, and I heard it was really good.  Oh, but I don't own an Xbox (I don't know if I can afford another console right now), and my PC is way too updated to play the original.  =(  ...  Crummy SNES adaptation it is, then!
Yyyyeah, I'm starting to have second thoughts on that...  =/
... or rather, TO BE CONTINUED!
Thank you for reading, please leave a comment!  =)

P.S.: The way Jaffar is a grand vizier, orders the guards to send the hero to the dungeon, and asks the princess to marry him in both the game and the Disney movie is uncannily similar.  Surely this must be a coincidence!
P.S. 2: I researched that in the Japanese version there is blood and even a segment of the intro where the traveler gets repeatedly beaten and bludgeoned by a guard that was removed from localized version.
P.S. 3: This game is just that awesome!  =)  What else can I say?

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