Reviewed: December 6, 2003
Released: October 28, 2003
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time recently released for all the major consoles, and much to my surprise and delight, also arrived on the GBA complete with special features accessible only when you connect this game to the GameCube version of the same title. I had already played and finished the Cube version by the time the GBA edition arrived so I already had a good idea of what to expect…sort of.
While Ubisoft did an admirable job of porting an epic quest such as this to a handheld platform the limitations of the GBA are undeniably present. One obvious benefit of the GBA version is that the designers were able to return to the 2D roots of the series making this version feel much more akin to the side scrolling games from the early 90’s than the new next-gen 3D sequel.
While the GBA version of Sands of Time is certainly a quality game, it in no way attempts to offer itself as a substitute for any of the other three versions. If anything, this is meant to complement your GameCube version by adding unlockable bonus features on each when you interconnect the two systems.
The story remains the same although it is now told through static screens and text boxes. The prince was unwittingly duped into releasing the Sand of Time unleashing all sorts of evil upon the kingdom. Now he must set things to right and the epic journey begins.
Ubisoft has done an amazing job of updating the franchise for the 21st century and the trend of fast-paced gaming. The original Prince of Persia was considerably slower than this game, as you carefully moved through dangerous dungeons, navigated traps, and engaged in some of the most realistic sword fights ever seen on the PC. Sands of Time steps up the pace giving this game more of an action feel than a plodding adventure.
To encourage you to take more chances, or at least reduce the penalties for failure, is the unique aspect of time shifting. With the magic dagger and enough sand you can freeze, slow, or even reverse time. This means that there are no more deaths due to falling off a ledge, missing a jump, or getting sliced up in a trap, unless you run out of sand that is.
Slowing and freezing time has definite advantages and the designers have included plenty of encounters and traps that encourage, if not downright insist, that you manipulate time in some fashion. But don’t dismiss this as just another “bullet-time” fiasco – this game actually pulls off the concept flawlessly.
One thing GBA players will get to experience is the Griffon boss battles that crop up frequently throughout the adventure. For some reason this creature was removed from the console versions so GBA owners are going to get this exclusive “bonus”. Each time you encounter him he will be tougher than the last time and you will constantly have to change your tactics, which almost invariably involves time shifting.
Other than the boss battles, I found the combat to be far too simplistic. You basically have two types of enemies; those that move and those that don’t. Killing the ones that don’t move just means you have to dodge their projectile attacks and move in for a few simple strikes. Ones that do move will come to you requiring even less effort. For as complex as the sword duels were in the original game I was hoping for something more or at least “as good”.
As with any good adventure game The Sands of Time features plenty of puzzles, most of which revolve around switches and doors. Most of these are obvious and don’t take a lot of brainpower. To test your reflexes there are plenty of jumping puzzles. These aren’t quite as clever as the sliding stone ledges of the original game, but they do offer a traditional jumping challenge that you might find in any current crop of action games. The ability to rewind time takes the edge off of most of these challenges.
Perhaps my favorite part is the inclusion of a second playable character that you must work with in tandem to solve a few puzzles and help out with a few battles. This new female character doesn’t play a huge part in the game, but she is a nice diversion in those rare moments when her skills are required.
In a clever twist if you have both the GBA and the GameCube version of The Sands of Time and hook them together you get several immediate and unlockable bonuses. The most obvious benefit is the automatic health regeneration on the GameCube version connected. There are also special switches on the GBA edition that will unlock the classic original Prince of Persia on your GameCube when you find and flip them all. On the GBA side of things there are a few bonus GBA levels you can unlock when connected to your Cube.
I’ve already mentioned the lackluster presentation made up of captioned slides, but this is a limitation of the hardware and even so, the images are still interesting and nice quality – it’s just not as captivating as the stunning CG movies on the GameCube.
The gameplay features some excellent animation, both for the prince and everyone he encounters during his adventures. The animation for the prince is especially fluid and lifelike; truly a tribute to the original game that set the benchmark for human animation back in 1989.
The HUD is non-intrusive and contains just enough information without invading your gameplay experience. The levels are large and fairly complex but you will often see repeating designs and textures giving you frequent cases of déjà vu. For an added bonus there are some excellent special effects tossed into the mix that test the limits of the GBA’s graphical capabilities. These are used in just the right amounts so they are indeed “special” effects and never grow stale.
The sound is rather disappointing considering the production values in gameplay and graphics. A few of the musical tracks are noteworthy but just as many are forgettable. Sound effects are duly noted and work quite well, but the entire audio package just left me feeling a bit unimpressed.
The Sands of Time is a large and complex game with many challenging and puzzle-filled levels that will provide 15-20 hours of adventure. There is also the added value of new levels, gameplay enhancements, and even a complete buried game locked away waiting for you to connect the GBA and GameCube versions.
I was most pleased that Ubisoft released Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time for the GBA. All too often these big budget titles tend to forget about this niche market, but with games like Splinter Cell, Metroid Prime, and now The Sands of Time, it’s becoming quite apparent that Nintendo and many developers are starting to commit to the shared bond these two systems have.
While this latest Prince of Persia game is still best played on the console, the GBA version is a perfect way to accessorize your game and even take the adventure with you the next time you leave the house.