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Game Review

As we publish this game review, the Disney movie  Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is slashing and backflipping its way into theaters. So, obviously, the gamemakers at Ubisoft are hoping moviegoers will want to take some of that sand-dune swashbuckling home in the form of this new Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands game.

Ever wondered what a video game made in conjunction with a movie based on a video game looks like? Though not directly tied to the movie or the past six major games carrying the Prince of Persia label, this franchise incarnation sort of blends the film's über-slick HD production and a quip-tossing beefcake look-alike protagonist with the games' hyperkinetic wall-scaling, dark monstrosity-battling and ancient city puzzle-solving challenges.

The Sandy Undead
In this tale, the nameless Persian prince protagonist crests a windblown desert hill to visit his brother Malik—only to find that Malik's castle is under attack by a powerful neighboring army. The battle isn't going well, so the prince suggests that everybody flee to fight another day. But his desperate brother refuses to give in and instead uses a ancient relic—a key—to reanimate a vast horde of warriors once walled away by the great King Solomon himself.

Uh, bad move, Malik.

Evil magic swirls around the palace, raising up skeletal fighters from the grains of sand underfoot. Yep, the invaders run, but as you've probably already figured out, this new scary army is far worse. With just a touch of a cadaverous battler's clawed fingers, citizens and friendly soldiers are turned into statues of sandstone. Only the acrobatic prince and Malik are left to defend the kingdom. And even they are separated—each with half the key needed to lock the undead army in its prison once more.

It's evident pretty early on, though, that these two guys aren't going to simply get together and merge their metal. Malik really likes the feeling of the power he's absorbing from his demonic enemies and is loath to give it up. So it's up to our hero prince to figure out how to defeat these fiendish foes on his own, save the kingdom and somehow rescue his bedazzled brother in the process. Apparently, life is never easy for a 6th century Persian prince.

Parkour Magic
Players don the leather and windblown locks of the prince as they make their way through sprawling miles of palace looking for an advantage big enough to help win the day. This prince is without question the original parkour king. He can run along a wall, leap between posts, cartwheel over a 20-foot obstacle and slide down a dangling banner to land lightly once again on terra firma.

Well, he can do all that if you can figure out how to make him do all that. And even though the spring-loaded royal rarely breaks a sweat with his leaping feats, you might as your fingers try to fly from one controller button to the next. That's especially true when you get far enough into the game for the prince to receive—from a mysterious princess named Razia—special powers that supercharge his moves. Reminiscent of the movie, her first gift is the ability to rewind time. Other magical boons include fire, ice and wind powers.

Oh, and if you're wondering whether the mysterious princess ends up becoming a love interest like in the movie, the answer is … no. Razia resides in a magical netherworld of sorts and is more apt to berate the prince for setting the baddies free than to ever notice his roguish beard stubble. It is worth mentioning, though, that she wears a backless, formfitting, silky outfit.

Minion Mashing
When the prince isn't getting help from Razia, scaling precipices, avoiding deadly traps or solving brain-twisting puzzles, he's got his minion-bashing face on. Hacking and slashing at skeletons, oversized insects, glowering fiends and even giant, fireball-belching demons are regular events. An optional Challenge mode pits you against waves of enemy creatures with or without a time limit.

No blood or gore shows up; the bad guys dissolve back into their sandy essence. But one of those giant demons is actually the prince's brother, who is eventually possessed by the dark forces he's been toying with. He swells to a 100-foot horned creature that chants in some otherworldly tongue while roaring out its rage.

That may sound pretty intense, even nasty from a spiritual perspective. And it is. But it's also the friendliest of the Persia games. Certainly it's a huge improvement from the M-rated  Two Thrones game. And this prince actually sports less mess than his movie cousin. Still, I can't help but think he's getting a bit tired of constantly hacking all those shambling undead. I certainly am. Now that Disney's dipped its Mouse toe into these proceedings, maybe the next game will be even tamer. Maybe the action can be moved to the king's summer palace—at Disneyland.

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Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii




May 18, 2010

On Video

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Bob Hoose

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