GerbilMechs 167: ...She Said

17Jan06 (Monthenor): For good or ill, GerbilMechs ends next week.

Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones: I did a good job articulating my feelings on this game over at Insert Credit, but I'll expand on that text a little bit here:

I...I almost forgive Ubi Soft for making Warrior Within. I would have to play Sands of Time again to be sure, but I think Two Thrones might even be better than that.

I will clarify: Sands of Time had snappy dialogue and was a more pure platformer, i.e. the fighting system was primitive but largely ignored. The running and jumping was wonderful and responsive, while monster incursions were unwelcome but easily solved with the "freeze and cleave" dagger move. Most of all it had a beautiful ally mechanic with Farah actually following you around within the stages and helping in battle. The witty banter was just perfect. Perfect. The graphics are a mite dated by now, but it's still an awesome game.

Warrior Within had an upgraded battle system but didn't do much for the platforming. I didn't hate it as much as others did, but I can also confidently say that it is now officially the worst game in the series. Or rather, it is the game most unlike Prince of Persia. If it had been a game titled, say, Rocking Raja in the Haunted House, you give the main character or villain a guitar to explain all the Godsmack...yeah, that could work. It would have been reviled for the atmosphere, but people could say "Yeah, average beat-em-up with some awesome platforming puzzles" without all the history of PoP weighing down on them.

The Two Thrones brings back everything that made the first game great, keeps the tension of the Dahaka chases with the Dark Prince segments, and adds a few key structures that complete the platforming picture. Its story is an exspoogesion of temporal mechanics and personal demons. The fighting is brief and exciting rather than the drag it was in WW. The final boss quite obviously tests your skill in every aspect of Prince of Persia, and the final level is a perfect denouement to the series. Farah is back (OMG spoilerz!), not as big a help as she was in Sands of Time but still the main reason to keep the dialogue turned up.

Award for most-improved platforming: Dagger Plates. When I started playing I hated the dagger plates because they were so easy to latch onto. You could press the dagger button anywhere within a ten-foot radius of the plate and Prince would latch on. Eventually I came to respect them for what they were, namely the ability to switch direction in mid-wall. Dagger plates alone really freed up the level designers to make some awesome sequences.

Award for most-improved fighting: Speed kills. Two Thrones adds in timed-button-pressing stealth kills if you sneak up behind (or above!) an unsuspecting baddie. The animations are brutal but move quickly, and there's nothing like the feeling of killing three or four big warriors in under thirty seconds without taking a scratch. By giving you the option of skipping the regular battle system through skill, they make each potentially boring fight your fault.

That last comment could stand some more explaining. Make no mistake, the bloated and combo-centric battle engine from Warrior Within is still there. If you try to bully your way through it will feel exactly like the big wastes of time they were in the last game. What speed kills are is an admission by the developers, their way of saying "We're sorry, we know the Prince is more of a gymnast than a warrior, and if he could he would probably stab enemies in the back." I would estimate 70% of the fighting in the game can be skipped with stealth and speed kills, and the other 30% is found mostly during Dark Prince segments or near the end of the game, after you get the one-hit-kill sword. So each time you get stuck fighting three or four enemies at a time, you probably screwed up the speed kill the developers laid out for you.

It's definitely worth playing if you liked Sands of Time.