20 years in the past, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time proved we don’t want remakes

Kath Santarin
12 Min Read

No no no, that is not what occurred. The thought of a complete story informed in flashback has been used many instances in cinema and books, undoubtedly much less so in video games. However there are a lot of methods to inform a narrative, so even the improper ones could be thought of. What about if the story takes a sudden flip and the primary character dies? Effectively, he would haven’t any different alternative than to interrupt the flashback, break the fourth wall by speaking on to us and wind the story again earlier than that premature demise.

That was one of many fascinating narrative gadgets which fueled the return of the Prince of Persia sequence in 2003’s Sands of Time. I’m right here to look again at what made that return so particular and nonetheless warrants a recent playthrough, some 20 years later.

Has it aged nicely? We’ll allow you to determine.

First, allow us to pause and return to the late 80s. What made the unique 1989 Prince of Persia particular? Was it the gripping narrative? Or maybe a trustworthy recreation of a palace in historical Persia? No, these undoubtedly wouldn’t be the proper decisions. Moderately, they’d be the excessive rhythm motion gameplay, the extremely easy motion of the prince, together with the beautiful graphics. Effectively, for the time.

Nonetheless, allow us to not overlook Sands of Time was not the prince’s first foray into 3D area. In 1999 Purple Orb introduced us Prince of Persia 3D: whereas principally forgotten at the moment, it was nicely acquired by critics as a puzzle-heavy various to Tomb Raider. However the public didn’t appear to understand the sluggish rhythm and clunky fight mechanics. In 2001, after buying the license to the franchise (12 years after the unique’s debut), Ubisoft questioned: how can we make individuals care about Prince of Persia once more?

Sands of Time constructed upon the unique’s strengths, whereas additionally engaged on new options that may make sense for the viewers of 2003. It was not going to be a easy beauty improve or leaping on the bandwagon of one other profitable motion sequence. Certain, Sands of Time does characteristic stunning graphics, together with easy motion for our principal character. However, after 36 months of labor, a very powerful twist on the franchise’s tried-and-true gameplay got here to be time rewinding mechanics. To assume it got here from a mission which didn’t even have an artwork director after virtually 12 months into growth!

You possibly can’t argue with the sport’s aesthetic.

Whereas the primary jiffy appear to be a plain 3D motion title, when the Prince cracks the hourglass and at last masters the time rewinding mechanic, it modifications step into a distinct motion platforming vibe altogether. Now, you’ll be able to return earlier than assembly an premature demise or, merely, to repeat a soar or come out of a combat with barely extra well being. The sport doesn’t restrict your prospects; the rewind can be utilized in any state of affairs (so long as there’s sufficient sand, in fact).

The rewinding of time was not simply an ingenious gameplay mechanic, but in addition a central narrative motif. With a narrative constructed upon a flashback, and the concept of going again in time to warn the Princess of the Vizir’s betrayal, a wiser Prince would look again on the actions of his considerably youthful and extra reckless self. The story was completely in service of the motion, because the gameplay was by no means paused to let the characters speak.

Unique Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner, who served as a author on the mission, recalled how the unique plot was rather more advanced, that includes 9 totally different characters with opposing political factions and aims. These concepts would finally be dropped in favor of an easier and stronger story, which was stored as grounded as doable and in a single single location. Dropping the lengthy narrative cutscenes, to essentially bolster the concept that Sands of Time was an motion title initially, was the directive that Mechner noticed to implement first – after scrapping the unique story.

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Among the many many inventive narrative concepts, the Prince himself ended up being the one liable for activating the traps within the palace. Mainly, you simply make the entire sport harder for your self as you play, since you blindly comply with a guard’s recommendation. The princess, Farah, was additionally a second participant character for a very good chunk of the motion. Not a easy damsel in misery, she is a real sidekick who helped by fixing traps and preventing guards. The banter between the 2 would serve to show their respective narrative arcs and their slow-building romance – a way that may be employed by many extra Ubisoft video games sooner or later.

The sport had a extremely pleasing color palette.

Together with stable fight mechanics, a contemporary and exquisitely written narrative, and candy platforming mechanics, there was an awesome soundtrack by Stuart Chatwood. Personally, I used to be at all times mesmerized by the closing monitor – “Time solely Is aware of” – which might not have felt misplaced in an epic romance drama. An aching love tune which bookended the bitter and aching observe of longing the sport concluded on that, maybe, anticipated the darkish flip for the prince which might come later.

20 years later, Sands of Time remains to be an incredible lesson in bringing relevance again an early 90s platforming title. As a substitute of a straight remake – or a reboot which modified the whole lot – the workforce determined to deliver again what made Mechner’s video games legendary, elevating their ideas, whereas nonetheless preserving them difficult for the participant, each in narrative and gameplay phrases. Regardless of the talked about growth issues, Sands of Time ended up being an surprising success for Ubisoft and would sign the start of a trilogy, whereas additionally inspiring the Murderer’s Creed framework of narrative and gameplay.

One would assume that such a superb idea and gameplay mechanics would simply translate into a transparent path for a profitable sequence of 3D motion platforming video games, however… no no no, that’s not what occurred. The primary sequel, Warrior Inside, downtuned its guitars, switched out the Arabic tunes for Godsmack, and took a sudden flip into bizarre out-of-place nu-metal vibes. The prince was now an anti-hero, on the run from his “darkish self”. Gameplay-wise, it wasn’t horrible, nevertheless it appeared to operate as a showcase of questionable design decisions. To not point out the writing which appeared to cater extra to angsty teenagers quite than the mature viewers of the earlier title.

The unique trilogy was accomplished with 2005’s The Two Thrones, which dialed again the anger to some extent, feeling like an half-assed apology: a design ret-con which ended up as a bridge between the 2 video games. In 2008, the sequence got here again with a self-titled retread, with much less emphasis on motion and fierce fight and extra on a kind of poetic movement of platforming and motion. Because the unique trilogy’ story was accomplished, Ubisoft opted for one more reboot, however this time the inspiration was clearly Ico, quite than platforming video games from the MS-DOS period. Whereas it was appreciated by critics, the general public didn’t embrace this new poetic Prince in any respect, and the deliberate (second) trilogy by no means obtained off the bottom.

The unique Sands of Time was developed by a small 10 individuals workforce, which later grew to 65. It was the product of gifted designers, left alone to work on one thing they cherished whereas additionally receiving important design and writing assist from the unique creator of the franchise. The outcome? A singular product of its time, a gathering of abilities which sadly didn’t repeat for any of the following video games that may comply with.

Given all this, it’s maybe not stunning that, versus 2003, the Ubisoft of at the moment (or nicely, that of 2020) opted to deliver the sequence again with a straight remake of the unique Sands of Time. In all probability the one choice which made sense from a enterprise standpoint: why threat investing on an thought which may spectacularly fail, when you’ll be able to simply financial institution on the tried and true worth of nostalgia?

Can one other remake seize the magic that made the 2003 sport so particular?

If something, modern-day Ubisoft, ever because the announcement, appeared to battle in understanding what sort of message they needed to offer to the viewers. Was Sands ‘20 going to be an easy remake or a completely new expertise, whereas nonetheless being trustworthy to the unique? The reply was in all probability the entire above. Three years after that first announcement, the destiny of the remake hangs within the steadiness or, maybe we should always say, frozen in time.

In what path may a up to date Prince of Persia title head in direction of to seize again its viewers? Maybe going again to the profitable blueprint of Sands of Time can be a powerful thought to begin with. For instance, Ubisoft may have simply imagined a metroidvania, with the Prince exploring faraway lands with rocking Arabic tunes within the background, an engrossing story enriched by tasty 2D graphics and – why not – time controlling mechanics. May which were the proper injection of life for a franchise which, at the moment, feels all however buried within the sand? Effectively, because the prince would say… “Wait, what did I simply say? That did not occur. Let me again up a bit.”

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