Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown Review – Top Tier 2D Adventuring

Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown Review - Top Tier 2D Adventuring

Prince of Persia, a series of games that whips out the rose-tinted glasses faster than most games that were originally released over 20 years ago. With Sands of Time receiving critical acclaim alongside such wonderful titles like Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 and Knights of the Old Republic, this action-adventure platformer was a force to be reckoned with as it was touted to be one of the greatest games to be released at the time.

Fast forward to 2024 and we’ve had a bunch of sequels with whisperings of a Sands of Time remake potentially on the horizon. It seems like the perfect time for Ubisoft to recapture the magic with Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown. Sporting a 2D perspective, an engaging combat system with a vast mountain of puzzles to figure out, and a slew of bosses to fight, it piqued my interest when it was announced back in June 2023. I jumped in thinking it would be a fun 8-10 hour trip down memory lane and I ended up experiencing so much more along the way.

Cue the entrance of our main protagonist Sargon, the youngest member of a special group of soldiers called The Immortals. He’s been gifted with extraordinary agility, and a pair of shiny swords to dispatch a variety of foes in his path. Being the youngest member, the rest of the group acts somewhat as mentors to Sargon and all have unique personalities which we learn more about throughout the playthrough 

One ill-fated day, the Queen’s son, Prince Ghassan, is abducted from the palace. The Queen of Persia summons The Immortals to conduct a rescue mission that leads the group to Mount Qaf and its Ancient City. It’s a mysterious land where time doesn’t follow its natural flow. Timelines get intertwined, as all living beings that enter the mountain seem to be cursed by temporal anomalies. Mount Qaf is also the last known home of the Simurgh: God of Time & Knowledge. Unfortunately, the Simurgh has been missing for the past 30 years and the story that unfolds along the way is one that kept me engaged throughout.

But this story takes a backseat to the brilliant combat system that’s been created for this game, and the days of a single three-hit combo are long gone. The developers have created this great flow of attacks that is simple to learn and allows you to be constantly creative with your combos. With this variety, it almost feels like a fighting game as you’re given low, mid, and high-angled attacks, as well as mid-air juggles, bow attacks, and special abilities to keep the flow going as much as possible. It’s like they put Smash Brothers into a Metroidvania game and I was absolutely loving all the way through my playthrough. You’re in a constant state of motion, even before you factor in your time powers and various abilities that you acquire along the way. It’s a very smooth experience, and you have this sense of control over your enemies when you’re juggling multiple opponents or weaving dodges between attacks. But it’s not all about the offensive, and the defensive abilities help manage this get-in, get-out fighting mechanic so well.

Sargon also has access to dodges and parries that are very useful in a pinch as you can’t just hack and slash your way through your enemies. Some foes can do big unblockable attacks and you really need to time your slide/time dodges well in order to get out of harm’s way. Others will have attacks that can be parried, and if done correctly will give you a satisfying counter with a cutscene which will result in some massive damage. This whole package was a delight to experience, and even when it came to the major boss fights with all manner of flashy abilities, Your strong repertoire of attacks kept everything feeling fresh the whole way through.

I will say, the bow is the weakest of the mechanics introduced. Found in a cutscene, it’s not an easy thing to use along your journey and probably isn’t worth upgrading. There doesn’t feel like an auto-aim option or even a targeting reticle to speak of, you just point the left stick and fire from the ground or in mid-air. The issue here though is that you also need to move with the left stick, and you can have situations where you run off a cliff because you were trying to get the perfect angle on the stick for the next precise bow shot.

Luckily if this does happen, there’s no fall damage and that makes falling from a high ledge not too frustrating. It would have been nice to have a time-slow mechanic or an option to position yourself and fire without this issue, but it’s a rhythm that I learned pretty quickly after a few minutes of lost progress each time due to gravity.

When you’ve run out of potions and are low on health, you can return to a Wak-Wak tree to refill your health, arrows and potions. You can also change equipment and save your progress as well. This also respawns all the simple enemies you’ve just fought, so be wary of when to use the trees as they are spaced out pretty evenly across the mountain.

Like most other elements in The Lost Crown, the game doesn’t hold your hand and you really have to pay attention to the world around you. Looking for the next jumping point or the next route to take first while exploring is a learned skill, and those who do explore are rewarded. After playing for a few hours you start to see why there is an option for a “Guided” mode for the game, alongside an additional option for you to save your own in-game screenshots in the form of “Memory Shards” as reminders. Mount Qaf is a big place to explore once it starts to open up and without a wiki or anything to look up for the game pre-release, sometimes you’re sitting there scratching your head wondering what to explore next.

It helps that all the traversal mechanics in the game are fluid and simple to understand which matches up with the combat amazingly well. Wall jumps, dodging traps, and using your time powers are all useful tools to progress through the game. If there’s a place that you can’t get to, there’s usually not some secret jumping pattern that you need to access it, more than likely you just don’t have the tools ready to progress. This is why the Memory Shard feature is so handy as things will be unlocked over time and this limits the frustration of needing to backtrack when things get all jumbled in your head.

You also have access to a teleport system after a couple of hours which allows you to hop around from one area to another without issue, or teleport back to the pseudo home base. These terminals are separate from the resting points known as Wak-Wak Trees and are more sparsely populated, but they are utilised to great effect as the world gets to the size that it does. With 13 unique biomes to progress through, going back and forth at times when new abilities get unlocked, it was a worthwhile feature to have.

Later on, as you get into the more difficult areas of the game, the parkour challenges ramp up as well. But with the knowledge you’ve acquired from the previously explored zones, you’re able to pick things up after only an attempt or two. The game doesn’t punish you for failing these either which is a great design decision. Death only removes a small amount of the game’s currency and sends you back to the last Wak-Wak tree you rested at. For those previously mentioned parkour sections, failure to complete a section just sends you back to the start of the area with a little bit of health missing. It’s a great system that limits the frustration of trying a new area over and over again.

Each new area you experience has a unique theme. From the creepy and gooey Depths to the aetheric Sacred Archives style libraries, each area blends seamlessly and with only a small black fade from one zone to another, it really feels like a massive world that you’re uncovering piece by piece. It’s this unique flavour of level design that makes the whole experience such a joy to play. Climbing up sand tubes and dodging tightly packed walls of crystals feels more claustrophobic than just jumping on some flower petals from other locations around Mount Qaf, and it all seems to blend into a great experience.

Every new ability you unlock links back to a thought you had in the past, or a Memory Shard you made. You get to have that fantastic “aha” moment that makes you go back and explore that old zone all over again which is a delight to experience time and time again. While originally it was frustrating to find all of these dead ends, to the point where I felt a little railroaded when you get to come back and realise how much Sargon has grown strength wise is a worthwhile payoff. But to build up that strength you need to tackle the game’s toughest challenges, which take the form of some awesome boss battles.

The boss battles are really where Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown shines the brightest. Everything that you’ve slowly learned up to the point of the first major boss battle is used to great effect here and beyond throughout the game. While the first fight is just a few simple mechanics, it all merges so well. Sargon has to dodge projectiles, pull off well-timed parries, and have some skilled use of your trusty bow, all without being told what to do in the moment. The game doesn’t hold your hand here and if you aren’t up to the challenge then you’ll be sent back to the nearest Wak-Wak tree with your tail between your legs. 

They’re also varied in the different styles of bosses that you’ll face along the way. Every time you encounter a new one it feels like they are some overpowered monstrosity. But after a few deaths, you learn the patterns and things to look out for, when to dodge and when to unleash your Athra abilities for maximum damage. Each boss feels unique as well without the need for specific builds or set amulets that you collect on your travels. Some are ranged and jump around a lot, so you predict where they will be and set up a time power ahead of time to surprise them. Others take the form of big beasties that require precise timing and parries so you can wrestle them to the ground. It all works so well, and there was never a time when I felt like a death was unjustified. It all revolves around the skill of the player and the mechanics are solid and consistent enough to make the whole package a joy to play.

Finding Prince Ghassan and uncovering the story isn’t the only thing driving you forward in The Lost Crown and the attention to detail in the other areas of the game really shows how much work the developers put into it. There are various side quests, secret doors, additional challenges and a bunch of parkour-related puzzles that you can attempt along the way. Some of the puzzles have you sitting there wondering what your next move will be, or even if it can be completed with your current powers. These usually don’t impede your progress too much, but they do provide various rewards like currency, increases to your maximum health, and some weird and wonderful amulets that you can equip. While these aren’t strictly necessary to complete, it does make the tougher enemies easier to defeat so I would recommend tackling them as soon as possible to keep Sargon powered up for the next boss battle. Unless you want to change the difficulty to make things easier for yourself.

There are 5 difficulty modes in a game and The Lost Crown neatly adjusts them by using sliders to show how much harder the game is going to be at a glance. Enemy Damage, Health, and dodge windows can also be custom-tuned depending on your chosen difficulty level. If you want the enemies to have twice the health but do half the damage, then that’s an option for you and you can adjust your gameplay style accordingly. This alongside the “Guided” gameplay mode, high contrast mode, and turning off things like screen shake, really helps with providing great accessibility features to a wide variety of players. The guided mode in particular was especially true for someone who doesn’t have a Wiki at their disposal and gets stuck 2 days before the review is supposed to come out.

There are two ways to play the game, with “Exploration” mode being the more “pure” experience where you explore the world around you and figure out your next step through feeling and recollection of areas. For those who might be time-poor, or in need of a little assistance, “Guided” mode displays map icons that show which paths have been opened up with the acquisition of a new ability, or where your next main quest objective should be located to give you a heading.

Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is an amazing game that could potentially be put at the same level as games like Hollow Knight. The amazing blend of solid combat mechanics, Interesting time powers, various beautiful locales to explore, interesting characters to meet, and a slew of awesome boss fights leaves me wanting to explore the mountain more and more. I was able to put 20 hours into the game before the final boss stopped me in my tracks and a more thorough run where I focused on completing all the puzzles could easily give me another 5+ hours of amazing gameplay.

Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown was reviewed on PC with code kindly supplied by Ubisoft Australia.

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