Review: Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands

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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is out this week on Blu-ray and DVD, so I figured now is as good a time as any to finally finish off The Forgotten Sands, the game Ubisoft developed as a marketing tie-in with the film.

Please do not mistake Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands for just another cheap movie game though. Its release may have been timed with The Sands of Time’s theatrical debut and its Prince may look a bit too much like Jake Gyllenhaal from the movie, but those are the only ties. The Forgotten Sands is actually a canon installment in the Prince of Persia mythos, and a return to the dreamy Arabian Nights vibe of the original game.

The Forgotten Sands is essentially a lost story in the “Sands of Time” trilogy, serving as an interquel between the first game, Sands of Time, and the second game, Warrior Within. While you don’t learn why the Prince suddenly turns into the emo rocker he became in Warrior Within, you do see him return to his brother Malik’s kingdom, which is under siege by an invading army and becomes overrun by sand creatures when Malik foolishly releases King Soloman’s magical army in a last ditch effort to save his land. Of course it then falls on the Prince to defeat the sand army and rescue the kingdom himself.

Although it takes place within the Sands of Time trilogy period, The Forgotten Sands has very little canonical value, in that you don’t really learn anything important about the world or characters that would be missed if this lost story was never told. So, in that regard the storyline is functional as a vehicle for cheap video game entertainment, but overall pretty forgettable when held up against the trilogy it has been shoehorned into. However, I do like how Ubisoft used narration as a chief storytelling device. Having the Prince narrate in game as the story unfolds definitely gives the game more character and personality.

The good news is that The Forgotten Sands marks a return to the Prince of Persia’s roots, playing so much more like The Sands of Time – my favorite game in the series – than any of the other games that have come out since. Challenging, acrobatic platforming is back to being the focal point of the gameplay, and I’ll tell you what, the level designs in this game are far and away the best in the series, both in terms of gameplay and aesthetics.

Per usual, the Prince can run up and along walls, swing from poles, and knife-grind down hanging flags and banners – and rewind time should he accidentally meet his demise. But what sets this game apart is the introduction of two new powers which enable the Prince to control water and memory. These powers lead to many complex platforming sequences that are as tricky as they are inventive, requiring plenty of quick thinking and finger agility to conquer.

Using his power to control flow, you are able to freeze and unfreeze water with the push of a button, be they waterfalls you freeze to form walls or streams of shooting water that can be frozen into horizontal polls to swing from or vertical columns to climb. The power of memory, on the other hand, allows you to temporarily reconstruct crumbled pieces of the environment – but you can only restore one section at a time, so you are faced with many situations that require you to jump and rebuild the environment ahead of you while the area behind you crumbles back to its previous state.

Between these acrobatic sections and the interconnecting “hallways of doom” as I’ll call them – these are linear corridors filled with spike and blade traps you must carefully navigate to reach the next area of the castle – you also do battle with hordes of sand monsters in arena-style battles that sometimes put you up against as many as 50 foes at a time.

For better or worse, though, the combat system is a button-mashy hack fest, which I found to be a lot of fun for the limited roll combat plays in this game, but can also see some players thinking it’s too shallow. A simplistic leveling system augments the action somewhat, providing a means for you to advance the Prince along a skill tree to unlock four magical powers – flame trail, ice blast, whirlwind, and stone armor – and passive upgrades such as increased health/energy pools and attack damage boosts. But overall it’s a fairly meaningless addition.

Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands will never be considered as highly as any of its predecessors, and for the most part it doesn’t deserve to be. The story doesn’t really add anything to the series, and once it’s over there isn’t anything truly memorable to go back and relive through multiple replays (a bonus arena combat mode lasting no more than 15 minutes certainly doesn’t boost replay value either). However, the game itself is thoughtfully and competently crafted, from the shallow-but-fun combat to the adrenaline-pumping, reflex-intensive acrobatics that I firmly believe outclass any other action/adventure game of this ilk. The game looks fantastic too, and has an epic musical score to further heighten the cinematic atmosphere.

If you can find it in a bargain bin somewhere, The Forgotten Sands is worth picking up. But I say throw it up on your GameFly queue (or whatever rental service you prefer) and bang it out over a weekend. You’ll enjoy it either way.

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Pros:
+ Inventive and challenging platform sequences
+ Outstanding level design
+ Fun button-mashy combat
+ Booming cinematic soundtrack

Cons:
– Forgettable story
– Combat could’ve used a bit more depth and challenge
– Weak replay value

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also available on DS, PC, PSP, Wii and Xbox 360
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Release Date: 5/18/2010
Genre: Action/Adventure
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!