No no no, that is not what occurred. The thought of a complete story informed in flashback has been used many occasions in cinema and books, positively much less so in video games. However there are numerous methods to inform a narrative, so even the improper ones is likely to be thought of. What about if the story takes a sudden flip and the primary character dies? Nicely, 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 units which fueled the return of the Prince of Persia collection 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 properly? We’ll allow you to resolve.

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 historic Persia? No, these positively wouldn’t be the fitting selections. Moderately, they’d be the excessive rhythm motion gameplay, the extremely clean motion of the prince, together with the beautiful graphics. Nicely, for the time.

Nonetheless, allow us to not neglect Sands of Time was not the prince’s first foray into 3D area. In 1999 Crimson Orb introduced us Prince of Persia 3D: whereas principally forgotten as we speak, it was properly acquired by critics as a puzzle-heavy different to Tomb Raider. However the public didn’t appear to understand the gradual rhythm and clunky fight mechanics. In 2001, after buying the license to the franchise (12 years after the unique’s debut), Ubisoft puzzled: 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 collection. Positive, Sands of Time does function lovely graphics, together with clean motion for our fundamental character. However, after 36 months of labor, an important twist on the franchise’s tried-and-true gameplay got here to be time rewinding mechanics. To assume it got here from a challenge which didn’t even have an artwork director after almost 12 months into development!

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

Whereas the primary couple of minutes appear to be a plain 3D motion title, when the Prince cracks the hourglass and eventually masters the time rewinding mechanic, it modifications step into a special motion platforming vibe altogether. Now, you’ll be able to return earlier than assembly an premature demise or, merely, to repeat a bounce or come out of a battle with barely extra well being. The sport doesn’t restrict your potentialities; the rewind can be utilized in any scenario (so long as there’s sufficient sand, after all).

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 thought 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 challenge, recalled how the unique plot was rather more advanced, that includes 9 completely different characters with opposing political factions and aims. These concepts would ultimately be dropped in favor of a less complicated and stronger story, which was saved as grounded as attainable and in a single single location. Dropping the lengthy narrative cutscenes, to essentially bolster the concept Sands of Time was an motion title before everything, was the directive that Mechner noticed to implement first – after scrapping the unique story.

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

The sport had a extremely pleasing color palette.

Together with strong fight mechanics, a contemporary and exquisitely written narrative, and candy platforming mechanics, there was an important soundtrack by Stuart Chatwood. Personally, I used to be at all times mesmerized by the closing observe – “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 be aware 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 continues to be an incredible lesson in bringing relevance again an early 90s platforming title. As an alternative of a straight remake – or a reboot which modified every little thing – the group determined to convey again what made Mechner’s video games legendary, elevating their ideas, whereas nonetheless protecting them difficult for the participant, each in narrative and gameplay phrases. Regardless of the talked about improvement issues, Sands of Time ended up being an sudden 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 an excellent idea and gameplay mechanics would simply translate into a transparent path for a profitable collection 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, however it appeared to perform as a showcase of questionable design selections. To not point out the writing which appeared to cater extra to angsty teenagers fairly 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 a point, feeling like an half-assed apology: a design ret-con which ended up as a bridge between the 2 video games. In 2008, the collection got here again with a self-titled retread, with much less emphasis on motion and fierce fight and extra on a type of poetic circulation of platforming and motion. For the reason that authentic trilogy’ story was accomplished, Ubisoft opted for yet one more reboot, however this time the inspiration was clearly Ico, fairly 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 group, which later grew to 65. It was the product of proficient designers, left alone to work on one thing they liked whereas additionally receiving important design and writing assist from the unique creator of the franchise. The end result? A novel product of its time, a gathering of skills which sadly didn’t repeat for any of the following video games that may observe.

Given all this, it’s maybe not shocking that, versus 2003, the Ubisoft of as we speak (or properly, that of 2020) opted to convey the collection again with a straight remake of the unique Sands of Time. Most likely the one determination 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 recreation so particular?

If something, modern-day Ubisoft, ever because the announcement, appeared to wrestle in understanding what sort of message they needed to present to the viewers. Was Sands ‘20 going to be an easy remake or a wholly new expertise, whereas nonetheless being trustworthy to the unique? The reply was in all probability all the above. Three years after that first announcement, the destiny of the remake hangs within the stability 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 an impressive 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. Might which have been the fitting injection of life for a franchise which, as we speak, feels all however buried within the sand? Nicely, 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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