Most people think time is like a river, that it takes a team of workmen and an army of earthmoving vehicles to restructure, but I have seen the face of time and I can tell you they are wrong.
When Sands of Time came out, the ability to rewind your game to avoid death seemed new and exciting, and it had the added bonus of fitting neatly into the plot of the game. Since then, the Prince of Persia series has milked that notion, albeit under the watchful gaze of the same story arc, giving you power over time because of the distant presence of these same sands. The Forgotten Sands doesn’t get away with this so well, but at least it feels like part of the series.
The Forgotten Sands, for those who don’t know, is one of those rare things, an interquel. Set between Sands of Time and the emo-tastic Warrior Within, Forgotten Sands concerns the slightly more down to earth Prince’s journey to prove his worth to his father (the entire saga of the last game, perfect worth-proving fodder, having never happened to all but the Prince himself) by shadowing his older and gruffer brother.
The game had a lot to live up to, both in mechanics and in story. Writing an interquel is never easy, especially when the series has actually been concluded, and using it primarily to plug plot holes would be somewhat foolish and wasteful. Ubisoft manage to avoid this problem, however, by making a whole new set of plot holes for you to obsess over.
So the game begins with you fighting your way across your brother’s city, hacking and slashing your way through the evil army of interlopers. Combat in Forgotten Sands is a simple affair. There’s no blocking, weak but plentiful enemies, and a very gamey looking system of magic orbs that spring from corpses and jars. Actually, to be fair, the orbs don’t appear until you’ve collected this game’s magical mcguffin, half of the Key of Solomon, the other half of which your brother holds.
The Key, worn in the chest hole that would later store the never-really-explained medallion of time, allows the Prince to get stronger with each and every kill, absorbing the souls of the sand monsters and allowing you to channel them into upgrades. It’s a typical upgrade system, more health and time reversing power and whatnot, but it has the benefit of at least being explained within the story. In fact, this whole levelling up thing is one of the main driving forces of the entire plot, the Prince striving to warn his brother of the dangers of levelling up. Once I realised that, the game-ness of the system was somewhat negated.
But combat and plot are, and should, be secondary to the acrobatics in a Prince of Persia game. Forgotten Sands does this reasonably well, striking a nice balance whereby the acrobatic puzzles are nice and varied without falling into the trap of increasing his moveset, something the Tomb Raider games have been shoddy with for instance. The Prince doesn’t have any moves that he obtains later in the series, but to provide new challenges Ubosift have given him new ones that are helpfully removed in the final scene of the game.
Gifted upon him by a partially clad Djinn, the Prince is given control over time (again), the ability to place water into temporal stasis for a brief moment or two, a homing teleport and ‘memory of how places once looked’, allowing him to reverse the damage done by time to repair staircases and the like. While these powers are drip fed to you throughout the game, the pacing at which you receive them is a perfect match for the escalation of difficulty. By the end of the game you will be forced to freeze and unfreeze water while flicking various platforms into existence with absolute perfect timing. It provides some interesting puzzles throughout the game although, admittedly, some of them seem particularly forced.
Ultimately, this all adds up to make a game that fits into the series quite well. The Prince certainly feels closer to Sands of Time Prince than Two Thrones Prince, and the story goes some way to explaining his emo-riffic condition in Warrior Within. That said, it is not a neat fit. The ending is abrupt and just screams for a sequel that isn’t Warrior Within, which is somewhat irritating.
Warrior Within begins with an explanation that the Prince has wandered the earth for a few years, learning to fight and avoid the Dahaka, and so there certainly is room for more adventures between Sands of Time and Warrior Within. I had hoped that Forgotten Sands would have been that game, that it would feed neatly into that backstory, foreshadow his dark and desperate future to come, but instead it does nothing but portray itself as the first part in yet another trilogy. A trilogy inside a trilogy.
I digress, an any further comment on the story and its trilogy-ness would get into spoiler territory. The fact remains, however, that Forgotten Sands is a good game, and a definite fit in the Sands of Time universe. Gone is the smarmy Nolan North Prince, with the sarcy and inoffensively pompous Yuri Lowenthal Prince returning, complete with his signature brand of near-possible acrobatics. What innovations there are fit the feel of the game without breaking the continuity in any real way, and while the combat is a bit unusual there are some moments where it makes you feel like an engine of violence, particularly towards the end.
If this is the start of a recursive trilogy-within-a-trilogy, then at least it won’t suck.