Depending on when you grew up, your perception of what a Prince of Persia game could or should be might be radically different. If you’re an old man like me, you’d remember the days when the Prince would clamber ledges and punch out snakes. Most people, though, would have first been exposed to the series through Sands of Time, a fully-realised action game that’s currently having its remake remade again.
So with three-dimensions covered, Ubisoft Montpellier, the crew whose catalogue includes the seminal Rayman Origins, is taking the series right back to its roots.
Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is interesting in that it’s a Prince of Persia game that doesn’t star the titular royal. Instead, his capture is the catalyst for the title’s story, as the player-character Sargon joins his Immortals on a rescue mission. However, it isn’t exactly regular programming at Mount Qaf, a place which holds significance in Arabian culture as the home to the god of time and knowledge. The flow of time doesn’t track as it should, and we’re caught up for the ride.
The Lost Crown, as an action-platformer, is obviously a return to the franchise’s very foundations, although its modern touches are plentiful. Ubisoft does well to tie the game’s combat, which is far more frenetic and pacy than it once was, to its other systems, including the amulets which allow for a bit of choice in how you’ll kit out your soldier. Despite being armed with a sword and a parry system that I’m far from mastering, Sargon also wields a chakram which, through an amulet, you can turn into a whirling trap to help with tick damage.
While it’d be possible to brute force encounters with a singular sword, it certainly wouldn’t be as fun as using all of Sargon’s amulets in concert turned out to be. The team has done well to reward a bit of experimentation to find what works for you.
The build we played definitely gave a taste of everything the game is set to offer when it launches next January. It was, naturally, modified and trimmed of transitions for time and to avoid story spoilers, but it provided a good sense of the game’s combat, how exploration will work, and how great it can feel when it flows together.
As I alluded to, Sargon is a soldier and a member of an elite team tasked with rescuing the actual Prince of Persia and, as such, he’s a capable fighter—even if my inability to time the game’s parry made him look like a novice at times. Unless I misunderstood what attacks could be parried and was doomed from the start, I did find the timing window to be rather tight and I’m not one to struggle with twitch platformers. Without any onboarding in the demo, it’s tough to be sure. Outside of a standard slash attack and my inability to parry, the chakram and bow are a player’s other exhaustible means of offense. You’re able to tinker with the amulets to get the most out of them.
Sargon has a couple of ultimate abilities you’re able to utilise, which both draw from a meter that builds up in your bottom-right corner. The first is a huge barrage attack that obliterates most regular baddies but still chips decent damage from bosses, the other is a healing well you can drop so that you might save your heal potions, which can generally only be picked up from magical trees along the path, for a rainy day.
Although very much still in development, The Lost Crown has a distinct art style that I was enamoured with. The ruins our demo took place in, which is said to be a very small slice of the world at large, looked nice and run down although I do hope the level design poses a greater challenge the deeper into the adventure you get. With the mobility tools at Sargon’s disposal in the build, which includes dashes, wall jumps, and slides, the team were able to create a cool line or two for players to conquer. Without being too tricky, the platforming felt fluid and satisfying in the same way something like Ori or Celeste is.
The Lost Crown is simultaneously a return to roots while delivering on a fresh direction for Prince of Persia as a platformer, with a huge map to unlock and explore, a new hero, and reinvented combat that’d knock the snakes from 1989 for six.
Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is coming to PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Switch and PC on January 18, 2024.
The author travelled to Los Angeles as a guest of Ubisoft for the purposes of this preview.