Every now and then, you play a game which, if you slice it into its individual components, you’d think was merely fine, but somehow is one of your favourite games in a while anyway. There is a lot about Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown that I really don’t like, and yet, when I finish this first playthrough, I already have plans to go back and try to 100% complete it because I’m not ready to leave this world yet.
This is a review in progress, because I’m only around 15 hours in (with what should be another 10ish hours remaining), and there could be something that comes up towards the end that suddenly changes the way I feel about everything. I somehow doubt it – it’s an incredibly consistent game that I love (and love to dislike, and then go back to loving again).
So, let’s cut this game up and see what works and what doesn’t. The review in progress that follows will be spoiler-free.
The Story of Sargon (Not Actually Royalty)
The story is the weakest part of Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown. I do not care about these characters or their hopes and dreams, and the game hasn’t given me a reason to care. I came into Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown wanting to get lost in this world, and while I definitely got lost (more on that soon), the oddly paced dialogue and flat performances did not grab me. There is nothing memorable about any of these characters except perhaps Anahita.
The opportunity for a good, meaty story exists. The way time moves differently for different people in the citadel, how they all react to the passage of that time, the loss of control and agency over their lives, is a fascinating thing to explore. There is so much to grieve and discover. Instead, the story is just an excuse for you to wander around the map, stabbing people and solving puzzles. Which is fine! But I instinctively wanted more.
The story isn’t actively bad, and it doesn’t ruin anything about the rest of the game. I just didn’t connect with it at all. It didn’t feel like it added much to the experience, which is a lost opportunity.
Prince of Persiaowned
For an exceedingly long time, Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown leans on combat is very one note. The game takes much longer to start varying the combat than I’d like, and while I understand the developers not wanting to open everything up to the player too quickly, I don’t think they quite struck the right balance here.
However, the simplicity of the combat throughout the game is a little deceiving. The real challenge is not in choosing when to stab or use your arrows, but in choosing the amulets to equip at the Wak Wak trees (save/respawn points) between fights. The amulets you equip make a real impact on the outcome of fights and require adapting your strategy to suit your power. I found the best strategy is always to knock your opponent into the air and then keep them there as long as possible. However, this doesn’t always work if your opponent is, say, a tree, or other kind of heavy foe.
The different kinds of foes all have such interesting designs, too. I’d love to know more about all of them, and I hope that all their motivations and backstories are revealed towards the end. I strongly doubt that’s going to happen, given the direction things are taking. But I would absolutely read a novelisation that explained it all, should one ever get released.
Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown (And Me, Who Is Also Lost)
The map of this world is incredible. It’s huge, it’s varied, and it’s been impeccably designed. My only complaint is that there’s too much of it, and large sections feel like filler. I get that having to revisit many places on the map is traditional for Metroidvanias, but this got a little excessive. Perhaps there should have been a bit more editing done during the design process.
There is much to be said for having more good stuff closer together, as opposed to having all the good stuff spread very far apart to drag out the experience. The “games are getting too long and require you to spend too much time in empty areas doing nothing while you try to get to the next interesting bit” conversation isn’t a new one, but it’s relevant here once again.
But here’s the good news: We’ve arrived at the part of this review in progress where I tell you about all the things I absolutely love about Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown.
The puzzles are excellent. Extremely challenging, but so satisfying to solve. The elements are simple, but they require skill and timing. I learned so many new swear words as I died repeatedly falling into poison and jumping into spikes, and yet the reward of getting a little better as I learned each new part of the puzzle felt so good that it made up for it.
Striking the right balance between “really hard” and “doable” is an extremely tough skill, and yet I haven’t come across a single puzzle where the devs didn’t completely nail it. Normally, there’s at least one dud, but so far, it’s all been absolute gold.
I love Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, your honour, and I think it’s just because of the combo of the puzzles and the 2D movement. The developers have stripped Prince of Persia back to its roots and found what made the franchise special and then added their own spin. They’ve made the perfect Metroidvania (for me, at least), even though the game itself is technically far from perfect.
Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown feels good to play, that it becomes kind of game you think about when you’re not playing it. Part of it could be that I’m a millennial, and playing 2D Metroidvanias reminds me of going to a friend’s place to play games after school, but I think the amount I love this game is down to far more than just my emotional and cultural baggage.
Satisfying movement, an interesting map, fascinating puzzles, and little hits of dopamine at decent intervals are the main components of a great Metroidvania, and Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown smashes that brief.
Sure, it would have been nice if the combat had been more interesting earlier on, if the story and voice acting had had more depth so the cut scenes felt like the next tasty morsel of a juicy tale instead of just an irritation that took you out of the action, and if the map had had more editing. Were I writing objective criticism, I’d probably give the game an average score (were this scored), but who wants an emotionless look at an experience as emotional as a game?
Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown made me feel a lot of things – irritation, elation, frustration and pride being chief among them. It’s one of my favourite games in a long time, and if you like puzzles and 2D platforming, then it is more than worth the price of admission.
Review conducted on PlayStation 5 using a retail code provided by the publisher.
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