structure of trilogies allows for a unique entertainment experience. If the
first [game/movie/whatever] is a hit, then the directors tend to experiment a
bit with the second, sure of at least a decent audience of the new faithful.
Then they learn from their missteps on the second and make the third a rousing
success. (That’s how it ought to go, anyway. Star Wars — either
trilogy — suggests otherwise.)

recent reinvention of the Prince of Persia franchise follows
such an arc. The first was a critical success but sold poorly to the public. It
remains one of the most cohesive platforming adventures available, but the
studio decided it needed a broader audience. For the sequel, The
Warrior Within
, they overpowered the delicate pipe and string soundtrack
with Godsmack and injected an unhealthy amount of angst into the prince. They
added more combat to the gameplay, toning down the gorgeous platform puzzles.
Basically, they took out everything enchanting about the first game, making it
a critical and commercial misstep.

set a bit task for themselves by the failure of the second game. They had to
pull of an overhaul of the gameplay, as well as redeem the story and
characters. As a fan of the series, the question on my lips was: could they? (Okay,
the question on my lips was actually: do we get to gaze at more Persian women
in diaphanous clothing?)

The Pitch

answer to both is: Yes! The enchantment is back. With Prince of Persia – The Two
, they redeem just about every poor design decision from The
Warrior Within
, as well as adding a few new tweaks and balances. The
only thing I can fault them for is playing into the hands of their fans, which
makes The Two Thrones a bit difficult to get into for a new player,
from a story standpoint.

It’s rare
for a time travel story to have as wide an appeal as that of Ubisoft’s Prince
of Persia
trilogy. They’re usually stuck full of esoteric jargon or
scatterbrained theories (think Donnie Darko or Primer). Games with time travel stories fare somewhat better, though Ocarina of Time and Chrono Trigger get needlessly confused in their manipulation of the timeline. In terms of
audience connection, these Prince of Persia games have more in
common with the Back to the Future series for one simple reason: character.
Character is one of the things that the studio reclaimed after the failed Warrior
— in The Two Thrones the prince regains
the good-natured confidence that drove the humor and plot of The
Sands of Time
. Rather than letting the plot be driven by the contortion
of the tortured timeline, the writers hitched the progression to the characters
and their relationships. This was a great decision, because it reduces the time
travel to setting, which is where it belongs.

the prince in his travails this time around is an old friend from a previous
game (identity withheld, though the prince doesn’t have many friends), as well
as a brand new foil: the dark prince. The dark prince plays the part of the
prince’s internal editor, who occasionally rises to the surface to exert some
direct control on the prince’s body and, consequently, gameplay abilities. It’s
a fine conceit, because it takes the audience reaction to the contrast between
the first two games and works it right into the plot.

specifics of the story? After rescuing the Empress of Time at the end of the
previous game, the prince returns with her to the
land of Babylon, where he finds that, due to his
endless fuckery with the timeline, an old enemy has returned and laid waste to
his beloved city. Determined to make things right, the prince sets out through
the ruined buildings to have one more last stand against the man who killed his

The Play

I’ve always praised about the Prince of Persia games (old and new)
is the way that the mundane tasks of platforming puzzled are made fun to
perform, even on repetition. Jumps aren’t simple presses of the A button;
they’re balletic manipulations of the environment. Sure, you perform them with
few buttons, but you feel so damn accomplished for pulling them off. It’s a bit
of sleight-of-hand on the parts of the game designers, but it’s completely
effective for an audience that can suspend its disbelief.

It has
been interesting to watch the evolution of the gameplay mechanics throughout
this series. The first emphasized the platforming action and, while it
contained combat, it was poorly implemented and presented in thankfully brief
sequences. The second overhauled the combat engine, making it more "free
form" (think the ability to create your own combos and fighting style).
The problem that time was that there was way too much combat, and it still
wasn’t very fun.

The Two Thrones has
added yet another combat mechanic in an attempt to make those sequences more
engaging: the speed kill. At certain points during gameplay, usually when
you’re sneaking up behind an enemy, the screen will pulse with light to
indicate you can execute a speed kill. You hit the action button and an
animation will begin. During the animation, a couple of prompts will appear
onscreen. If you time your button presses to those prompts, the prince will
instantly and silently kill his enemy; if not, then you’re pretty much screwed.
It’s a nice idea for a mechanic — stealth kills are great for players who
don’t enjoy the combat facet of gameplay. The only problem is that some
sections are nearly unbeatable without pulling off the speed kills within, and
the timing on those is pretty sticky. You’ll find yourself repeating great
swathes of action in an attempt to get that one kill just right.

the combat sections are scaled back a bit in The Two Thrones and such
sequences are separated by lovely chunks of platforming goodness.

another gameplay revision in the offing for this third entry: the dark prince.
This violent, callous half of the prince’s psyche occasionally takes control of
the prince’s body, granting him different abilities, such as more deadly combat
and a bladed whip that you can use to fight and to swing on. These sections are
usually fairly brief, and are always backed by a great internal dialogue
between the prince and his alter ego. Also, these sequences are on something of
a timer, as your life will drop constantly until you return to your normal
form; it can be replenished on the fly by picking up sand refills, though.

the new improvements and additions balance the game a lot more than its
predecessors. I’m still of the opinion that the combat is the spot of tarnish
on these games’ illustrious shells, but The Two Thrones does a good job of
lessening my righteous fury.

The Replay

there’s any reason to dig back into this game, it’s for the story. These games
have always been linear, story-based jobs, and The Two Thrones is no
different. Unless you just feel the urge to fight some of those god damn giant
bosses again, or just feel a hankering for the game’s particular brand of
action, there’s not much gameplay-wise to warrant a return visit.

On the
story side of things, however, is a great deal of impetus to revisit the
prince’s last adventure. The writing in The Two Thrones is just about
dead-perfect (and delivered well by the voice actors, too, by the way.) It makes
sense of the jumbled mess of timelines and furthers the development of
characters who appeared all the way back in the first game. It’s an adventure
with great scope, set during the invasion of the prince’s home city, and paced
with the goal of wide appeal that drives summer blockbusters to success. It
gets even better if you play through the whole series in order.

A small
number of the sequences are difficult enough to put some people off replaying,
because their whole experience will be tainted with the godlike prescience
that, Oh shit, I’m going to have to do that damn puzzle again.

The Presentation

Two Thrones
evokes the Arabian Nights aesthetic. The architecture,
decoration, and costuming all are slightly heightened above reality which lends
a storybook quality. Light bloom returns in full force, fudging away
imperfections. I think the effect is overused, but it doesn’t look ugly — just

The music
is, thankfully, a return to the Middle Eastern instrumentation of the first
game, eschewing and espitting out the modern rock soundtrack of the second. The
score is a delight, shifting smoothly between more prosaic puzzle-solving
melodies and heart-pumping battle movements. It’s a beautiful score all around,
composed by Stuart Chatwood and Inon Zur (and the Ko-Dan Armada, I assume) that
performs in service to the gameplay.

I also
want to emphasize the quality of the voice acting, mentioned above. The
performances are among the better in gaming history, and feature a wide range
of convincing emotion and spot-on comedic timing. Yuri Lowenthal reprises his
role from the first game as the prince, whom you’ll be hearing the most of, and
Rick Miller plays the dark prince. The banter between the two of them is a
highlight of the game.

The Verdict

redemption of missteps that were taken with the franchise? Partly, but The
Two Thrones
has much more in mind than to ensnare fans of the series
who went astray. It’s a thrilling tale, and features gameplay balanced enough
to make entering the game’s world almost seamless. It’s worth at least a rent
from anyone who loves good action (or were fans of, say, God of War) and earns a
great deal more respect from this reviewer in context with its siblings.