Prince of Persia (2008): A Shacknews retrospective

It's a big day for the Prince of Persia series, as the original PoP debuted 25 years ago today. Shacknews celebrates by remembering the 2008 Prince of Persia and examining how it has hit cult classic status.

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Today marks a milestone in one of the most recognizable franchises in gaming. It has been 25 years since the Prince of Persia first ventured onto the Apple IIe. His first adventure was a hit with computer gamers and the Prince has undergone various evolutions over the past 25 years, with the 'Sands of Time' Prince arguably among his most famous incarnations.

Once the Sands of Time trilogy wrapped up, however, Ubisoft was ready to kick off another Prince of Persia series. It was decidedly different from the previous one that wrapped up and the reception was lukewarm, to say the least. Sales paled in comparison to the Sands of Time trilogy, so much so that Ubisoft didn't even bother bringing the game's Epilogue DLC to all platforms. As a result, Ubisoft left the new Prince stranded in the desert before reviving the 'Sands of Time' Prince a year later.

However, time has proven to be the Prince's ally once more. The 2008 Prince of Persia now stands as an underrated cult classic, one in which fans still clamor for closure, given that it ended in an open-ended fashion.

So just what makes the 2008 Prince of Persia worth re-visiting?

Arabian Art

The Sands of Time trilogy featured a modern look, saturated with darkness. It was a dark, gritty art style that veered further in that direction as the series progressed. However, the 2008 game went in the other direction.

The 2008 PoP game featured a more cel-shaded art style, focusing more on vibrant colors and a brighter atmosphere that more reflected the devil-may-care attitude of the new Prince. It was a rich world that would blossom further as the game progressed, with the Fertile Grounds returning to their former glory with the defeat of each boss.

The art style and the narrative played hand-in-hand. The kingdom was overcome with Corruption, because the Mourning King had forsaken the land by destroying the Tree of Life and freeing the demonic god Ahriman. Thus the purpose of the story was to help restore the land's former lush, colorful, lifelike state by removing the darkness. Much of 2008 PoP's most artistic sequences were saved for when Elika healed the land, not only making the art style something to savor, but also something to work towards.

Appearing less like a gritty revenge story and more like a cel-shaded Aladdin, the 2008 PoP carried a distinct visual charm. It would be one of its most underappreciated features.

Death-defying

Whereas the Sands of Time Prince had become synonymous with the fabled sands that would allow him to rewind time and cheat death, the new Prince needed no such help. That's because Ubisoft Montreal decided to eliminate death completely, an idea that flew in the face of the previous trilogy and shocked series fans. The result was outcry that the studio was catering to too casual a crowd and that the new PoP game would be too easy.

Those that played the game, however, will attest to the 2008 PoP's difficulty. The platforming sequences were just as unforgiving as its predecessors. Eliminating death didn't make those jumps any easier and, in fact, the 2008 PoP featured some brutally difficult sequences that would cause just as much frustration as ever before. The only difference was that the loading screens that resulted from death were now gone. The Prince would simply return to the previous checkpoint, where he would be forced to try again. There was just as much frustration to be had with the game, thanks to the many failed jumps, wall runs, ceiling crawls, mistimed leaps, or errant traps that littered an entire playthrough.

The removal of death also implied that the boss battles would be inconsequential, but this wasn't the case, either. Instead, boss battles were imagined differently. They weren't a matter of one side lasting until the other fell. Rather, the boss battles had become precision-based puzzles that needed to be figured out, just as with any other aspect of the game. It wasn't as much a traditional platformer as it was an action-packed test of the mind, in the vein of something like Shadow of the Colossus.

In fact, not only did the removal of death not matter in the end, but it wound up enhancing the 2008 PoP experience. That's because of someone that acted as both one of the series' most memorable characters and as one of its most refreshing game mechanics.

Princess Power

The Prince, himself, has proven to be a divisive figure. Some appreciated the lighter tone that Nolan North brought to the role and others groaned at the goofy chucklehead that was now standing in for the mighty Sands of Time warrior. With that said, both sides often agree that Elika is the true standout character of this game.

Elika quickly proved herself to the standout of the heroic duo by virtue of her role as the Prince's savior. Since the game's platforming sequences were often tough as nails, she would wind up saving the Prince an awful lot over the course of the adventure. While that wasn't solely what made Elika a strong character, it does highlight what makes her so vital, in that the Prince literally cannot complete his journey without her.

That's more evident in some of the tougher stretches, in which the Prince and Elika must utilize tandem moves to get across difficult gaps. Watching the Prince and Elika perform their acrobatic moves was a thing of beauty and something rarely seen in games at this time. Many of the most memorable heroes in games were one-person shows, but the Prince and Elika forged a true symbiotic relationship over the course of their time together.

Ubisoft Montreal also forged a compelling backstory for Elika. There was a reason she was as strong and capable as she was and much of it was because of her origins. Without spoiling her story, it fits in with the Arabian Night aesthetic and serves as a tragic fairy tale. The task of defeating the demon god Ahriman fell to her, with the hapless Prince tagging along on more than he ever bargained for. The Prince may have been the main protagonist and the game's playable protagonist, but Elika was undoubtedly the game's strongest character.

The Next Chapter

Without spoiling the specifics, the 2008 Prince of Persia did not end conclusively. If anything, it set up for the next chapter of the series. Though the Epilogue DLC may have implied a tying of loose ends, it only further helped build to a climactic second chapter. The dark lord Ahriman still loomed large over the land and the next installment was supposed to look into how the Prince and Elika would defy the odds and overcome the darkness. Unfortunately, this second chapter would never come to be.

Fans know what happened next. Underwhelming sales happened and Ubisoft shoved this incarnation of the Prince to the side, never to be spoken of again. Disney and Jerry Bruckheimer would collaborate on an ill-received theatrical adaptation of the Sands of Time story, with Ubisoft capitalizing on the chance to bring the Sands of Time Prince out of retirement for 2010's The Forgotten Sands. And while Ubisoft Montreal says that the series is simply taking a break, it's unlikely that the 2008 Prince will ever fight another day.

The Legacy

The 2008 Prince of Persia leaves a lasting legacy with Ubisoft. It was released shortly after the original Assassin's Creed, a game that was littered with bugs and unrefined mechanics. The parkour elements that would comprise the 2008 PoP would eventually be molded to suit future installments of the AC series. And indeed, Assassins Creed II and its subsequent sequels exercised much of the platforming prowess that was on display in 2008's Prince of Persia. Ezio may have descended from Altair, but he had the acrobatic skills of a Prince.

Meanwhile, those looking for more parkour-driven action would find another game to latch onto: Mirror's Edge. DICE would fill the void left by the Prince by introducing its own strong female lead, one who could leap, wall run, and fly with the best of them. Like the 2008 PoP, however, Mirror's Edge's sales also floundered, but its cult following was such that Electronic Arts eventually acquiesced to calls for a sequel, putting Faith one step ahead of the Prince.

The 2008 Prince of Persia also, arguably, had a more infamous effect on PC gaming. Much was made of DRM and piracy at the time and this Prince of Persia famously launched without copy protection. While Ubisoft did not directly attribute its lackluster sales on PC to piracy, there was a subtle implication through the publisher's next major action. Less than six months after the 2008 PoP's release, Ubisoft implemented its always-online DRM, an often-loathed feature that would require an active internet connection at all times, even for single-player games. Ubisoft faced major fan backlash until it started relaxing this requirement back in 2011.

As for this incarnation of the Prince, he remains on the sidelines with the "cult classic" label. While many consider the Sands of Time trilogy to be the definitive take on the PoP franchise and others opting for the original classics, the 2008 Prince is not to be forgotten and deserves to be celebrated on this milestone anniversary.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
  • reply
    October 3, 2014 11:00 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Prince of Persia (2008): A Shacknews retrospective.

    It's a big day for the Prince of Persia series, as the original PoP debuted 25 years ago today. Shacknews celebrates by remembering the 2008 Prince of Persia and examining how it has hit cult classic status.

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      October 3, 2014 11:11 AM

      PoP2008 was indeed underrated. I didn't mind that the game didn't let you die. The game was all about exploring and absorbing the breathtaking world. When I think of this game, I think of Demon's Souls, which released a year later. They're polar opposites, but each deserved praise for different reasons.

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        October 3, 2014 11:45 AM

        i *LOVED* PoP2008. So sad that it just died so quickly.

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        October 3, 2014 11:51 AM

        Loved this game. Played it through on PC and PS3. Just a joy to play aside from the odd combat. And Elika is in my top 5 favourite co-op NPCs.

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        October 3, 2014 12:18 PM

        I thought it was silly that people complained about the game not letting you die. I mean, all it did was play a short cutscene of Elika "rescuing" you and then put you back on the last stable platform you were on before you died. There are a bunch of games that let you die and do the exact same thing. All this game did was provide context for why you are magically back on the platform you were on before you died.

        I thought it was an excellent game though. Deserved much more praise than it got.

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        October 3, 2014 12:29 PM

        I think I encountered a "collect 50000 of these orbs" part and stopped. Maybe I should go back to it.

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          October 3, 2014 12:45 PM

          It really doesn't take as long to collect X light seeds i.e. the "orbs" as you might think.

          The game is more open than the other Prince Of Persias and the light seeds also act as an indicator of where you've been. Seed gone? You've been here/done that jump/puzzle.

          You only need around 500 light seeds, if I remember correctly, to beat the game, but need a certain amount to unlock each area or sub area.

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            October 3, 2014 12:49 PM

            It doesn't take as long, and collecting them is fun. You don't just walk around and pick them up. You run along walls and perform all sorts of acrobatics. Collecting them is more a puzzle than a conventional video-game chore.

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      October 3, 2014 11:43 AM

      Thanks for this! Third-person games like Prince of Persia 2008 seem to be my game of choice as I get older, and I LOOOOOVE this series. (Being an Ubi fanboy doesn't hurt either).

      One of a few games that I enjoyed even more (than the first) on repeated play-thrus.

      I didn't really understand how the portals worked and how the hubs COULD be opened more efficiently up until my 2nd playthru.

      I hope that some Shackers can go even further back and give Warrior Within and The Two Thrones another chance.

      Now I want to replay them all but I don't think my nerves can handle all of the fighting in Warrior Within, especially the final boss battles.



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      October 3, 2014 11:55 AM

      Anyone else love Sands of Time?

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        October 3, 2014 11:57 AM

        Loved the combat in that + PoP 2008. Fun games.

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          October 3, 2014 11:58 AM

          I'm annoyed Sands of Time doesn't have *any* support for widescreen resolutions.

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            October 3, 2014 5:45 PM

            To be fair, not a lot of people had widescreens in 2003.

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        October 3, 2014 12:02 PM

        One of my favorites... it barely missed my top 15 in watcherxp's poll.

        Climbing the Tower of Dawn is almost exactly the kind of thing I like best in games.

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        October 3, 2014 12:05 PM

        Loved it, but after playing all of the sequels it's like trying to go back and replay GTA III after GTA V.

        The puzzles/parkour that seemed so cool in Sands Of Time are quaint. The game seems so.... quiet, too.



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          October 3, 2014 12:09 PM

          Does the 2008 version have the same type of platforming and exploration? If so I'll check it out.

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            October 3, 2014 12:17 PM

            If you've only ever played Sands Of Time, and want to jump back into the series, then definitely give the 2008 reboot some attention.

            But you might find that the 2010 game "The Forgotten Sands" is closest to the "Sands Of Time" you remember. Although none of the games really capture that original game's tone again.

            If you enjoyed the Prince/Farrah relationship, you will like the 2008 reboot more.

            If you want to get your ass kicked, play Warrior Within.


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            October 3, 2014 6:30 PM

            No. Sands of Time is a much better platformer.

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        October 3, 2014 12:13 PM

        I should finish it. It was a beautiful game.

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        October 3, 2014 1:17 PM

        Brilliant game.

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        October 3, 2014 6:07 PM

        Sands of Time would have made my top 15 list on watcherxp's poll... if I noticed it was ONLY PC games. Missed that.
        I also loved the quick kills introduced in The Two Thrones.

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        October 3, 2014 6:45 PM

        One of my favs.

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        October 6, 2014 7:42 AM

        SoT was terrific. I still have the original Xbox disc and need to replay it some day.

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      October 3, 2014 11:58 AM

      That game is beautiful.

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      October 3, 2014 12:20 PM

      I remember loving how morally ambiguous the ending was, and then reading the Internet and finding out everyone else seemed to hate it.

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        October 3, 2014 12:51 PM

        The ending is fantastic.

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          October 3, 2014 1:04 PM

          The ending was wonderful......as a set-up to the sequel.........that will sadly never exist. /sadface

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      October 3, 2014 12:40 PM

      I loved this game.

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      October 3, 2014 12:48 PM

      The battles were boring, though. Every one played out mostly the same. I could have done with fewer fights and more exploration. Ubisoft has always been combat-crazy with PoP; Warrior Within was the most egregious in that regard. Ubi never really understood that PoP was more about exploration and physical puzzle-solving than swordplay.

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      October 3, 2014 2:52 PM

      You mean Persian Art, which preceded Arabian, by centuries.

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        October 3, 2014 5:47 PM

        Yeah, Persians/Iranians are not Arabs. It's a common mistake to confuse the two.

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        October 3, 2014 6:36 PM

        Also, I don't understand how the art direction was under appreciated, as the article states. The art was universally praised, and in many cases the only thing some people liked about the game.

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      October 3, 2014 6:58 PM

      It was an okay game. My biggest complaint is that despite all the good things you can say about it, it wasn't a Prince of Persia game. They could have given that game a completely different name and that would have been fine. Beyond the parkour, nobody would have really known. The main character wasn't a prince. They weren't even in Persia, not that it needs to take place there, but the main character or someone significant in the story probably should be "the prince of Persia". Whatever. Other than that, the boss battles were repetitive - you fought the same 4 bosses like 3 times each. The ending would have been pretty good, but then Ubisoft wasted it by making the true ending a DLC.

      I'll take the Sands Trilogy (all of them) over the 2008 game to be honest. Sands of Time was a masterpiece. Warrior Within gets a lot of shit (and rightfully so), but it really had some awesome level design, you just have to get passed the edgy Godsmack shit. The Two Thrones was good too and a move back towards the original Sands game. I even liked the Forgotten Sands game. But at least all 4 of those were Prince of Persia games.

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      October 3, 2014 7:58 PM

      loved that game. My thoughts on the ending at the time:

      http://www.shacknews.com/article/59925/evening-reading?id=20634874#item_20634874

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      October 6, 2014 5:08 AM

      I enjoyed it. The art was of course fantastic, as was the music; the characters were well written and acted (in their way - they're cartoons, but good ones); and the ending was a surprise. I just wish the gameplay were more involving. I didn't mind the inability to die, but I wish it had been coupled with more difficult challenges. It was a bit tedious at times because it rarely required any concentration at all.

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