#09: Prince of Persia: The Fallen King (Nintendo DS)
Genre: Platformer, Action
Platform: Nintendo DS
Release Date: December 2008
Platform: Nintendo DS
Release Date: December 2008
Developer: Ubisoft Casablanca
Falling within the second reboot of the Prince of Persia franchise in 2008, The Fallen King marks the Prince’s return to the two-dimensional world after the highly-rated Sands of Time trilogy embraced three dimensions and revolutionised the action-adventure genre. Being the first proper Persian outing onto handheld consoles (one turn-based strategy spinoff aside), fans will welcome the opportunity to dodge traps, leap chasms and die frequent jaggy-rock deaths while on the move as well, not just from the comfort of their sofa.
The Prince starts off alone and powerless, only his acrobatic and combat skills to guide him through the early action which follows the standard 2-D Prince of Persia fare. Soon though, the Prince stumbles across Zal, a masqued wizard who joins him on the quest to defeat the major antagonist, Ahriman, and rid Persia of a chaos known as the Corruption. As a tool to contextualise the action, the story serves well enough and it’s heartening to see a handheld spin-off title given some decent time and effort towards encapsulation; not just a simple hack-job of the main points from the console franchise. To boot, there’s some punchy, well-written dialogue holding it all together, including some captivating build-up of both main protagonists. Zal’s accompaniment adds powers of magic to the Prince’s normal repertoire, ranging from block-moving to disarming enemies; eventually leading to the ability to manipulate the level scenery itself. Transit through the current level is displayed through a progress bar occupying the upper screen of the DS, while the platforming action takes place on the lower. The Prince is steered entirely with the stylus (while Zal’s magic is deployed by pressing the face buttons while directing with the stylus), meaning that there’s no haven of fine D-pad and button controls to navigate the treacherous Persian sands. Press stylus to lower screen to make the Prince run yonder; tap to jump, and slash an enemy to dice it with your sword. It’s filled with just as many misinterpreted commands as you’d expect, and too often resulting in spiky chasm instadeath. If there’s anything to be said of The Fallen King, it’s that this incarnation certainly lives up the classic Prince of Persia spirit.
The ongoing story is presented through on-screen text accompanying some rather endearing and beautiful chibi-style art (see screenshot above). Both graphics and art follow that of the 2008 Prince of Persia reboot, and the three-dimensional(ish) graphics deployed in-game actually look rather good transplanted onto the two-dimensional plane. The Prince is nicely animated as he leaps and bounds across the sands, though if you’re running on the ageing DS Lite processor, you’ll notice some crippling slowdown when enemies appear onscreen or when things are particularly fast-paced. Such lag doesn’t inspire confidence in the controls, which are already subject to some significant stability issues. While the scenery is pretty enough, it suffers badly from Cut-and-Paste Level syndrome, and platforming round the same deserts, caves and ruins soon starts to grate. The rest of the ambience keeps up the façade for longer though, with some distinctly dramatic Middle-Eastern themed music and sounds wisp through the background; including some particularly stomach-churning sounds of breaking bones when The Prince falls too far. The gameplay is relatively pleasant and challenging for the majority, at least until things begin to grow stale during longer gaming bouts: Play flows smoothly and cordially while it continues to engage the player, but soon drops off once you’ve played through the same, identikit levels tackling the same baddies with the same tactics. While it manages to capture your attention, however, The Prince will be jumping, running and sliding through caves, castles and sands, genuinely managing to capture the fluidity of freerunning when the game’s in full swing. There’s none of the time-rewinding action of the Sands of Time trilogy, but more a raw, two-dimensional platforming experience, and after a lot of the more extravagant console outings for Prince of Persia, this feels like a return to its roots.
Baddies don’t patrol the level, but instead create ‘instances’ where enemies appear out of thin air, requiring you to vanquish the before The Prince can once again progress. Although this is alleviated near the end, but the range of enemies on show is disappointingly small, and level-by-level progress is interjected by standard ‘boss’ fights; tackling huge, colossal beasties in isolated chamber. There’s an often-criminal tendency to dump you into these skiffles with no tutorial, zero indication of how to advance and the Prince’s usual blade skills ineffectual: You’re typically required to use Zal’s magic in some way that’s rarely clear and the strategy is largely one of trial-and-error until you stumble across the correct solution; while countless deaths stack up and an enormous spike is thrown into the otherwise-gentle learning curve. Platforming wouldn’t be platforming without collectables, and along the way the Prince will be hoarding gold coins to unlock health upgrades: In the absence of any ‘lives’ system and with bountiful checkpoints available in each level, extra health pips are largely redundant aside from right at the close, when a whole new batch of Corrupted beasties are introduced which deplete health at a merry pace. It’s also a major disappointment that, upon completion, there’s no option to return to previous levels or charge through extra content (some ‘time trial’-style challenges would’ve worked a treat), but since there’s little to return for collectibles- or bonus-wise, the replay value is minimal anyway.
The Fallen King is relatively well-paced in terms of both engagement and challence, developing both plot and gameplay elements, and there’s plenty of fun to be had throughout. Alas, however, in longer bursts it quickly stagnates, and while there’s plenty of content to amuse for the game’s duration, it never really gets any more exciting than it does on the first play. It’s by no means a failure, but neither a triumph; at least, not compared to The Prince’s usual high standards.