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I never had high expectations for this game. Released alongside its PS3, Xbox 360, Wii and PC counterparts, the Nintendo DS version of 'Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands' was never going to live up to these more powerful consoles' versions of the game. However, armed with a £10 voucher for GameStation, and wanting a new game for my DS, I bought a pre-owned version of the game, priced at £12.99, with a vague hope that it might surpass my low expectations and pleasantly surprise me. After all, I enjoyed the PlayStation 2 'Sands of Time' trilogy. Surely I would enjoy this too? Well, no. Some games are just not meant to be released on the DS.
The story is supposed to take place between the first Prince of Persia game from The Forgotten Sands series, 'The Sands of Time', and the second, 'Warrior Within'. At the start of the game, it is apparent that the Prince has forgotten all of his memories, and a spirit named Razia guides him to his sword. It is then revealed that Razia is a spirit that lives within the Prince's sword, giving it 'sand powers'. However, Razia has lost her 'sand powers', and explains that this, as well as the Prince's lost memory, is due to a cult having abducted him, with the intention of using the sword to take a blood sacrifice. The cult's ritual managed to release an almighty evil force, and the temple in which the ritual was taking place collapsed, allowing the evil to roam free. After having rescued the Prince's sword, he and Razia set off to defeat the evil that has been unleashed, and to kill the three cult members who performed the ceremony.
The game plays as a side-scroller (i.e. a 2D character that runs left and right across the screen, with only a side camera view of the character) and the Prince has to progress through various levels, collecting gems which can be used to improve his weapons/life bar/clothing. The ultimate intention of completing the levels is to reach and defeat the bosses (the three cult members). Along the way, you will also recover the Prince's sword's 'sand powers' which allow you to rewind time, slow time down, and be able to control sand (usually so that you can climb it... it sounds a bit ridiculous). Levels are completed once you've navigated your way through to the end by jumping over pits/climbing walls/avoiding booby traps/hitting switches etc.
The stylus controls all aspects of gameplay including running, jumping, rolling, climbing, attacking and defending, and buttons are totally useless to this game. There is a tutorial to the game, however it is slightly confusing and in places does not seem to make much sense. For example, you can defeat some monsters only by holding a defence posture with your sword by holding the stylus on the Prince. If you try to kill it by swiping at it, nothing will happen. So, holding the defence position, when the monster attacks you, the move is deflected back onto it, and it essentially kills itself. And you are supposed to believe that that is genuinely how it dies. However, you are then shown further on that another monster, which looks exactly the same, can only be killed by actually swiping your sword at it. The inconsistency here is just plain confusing.
Whilst playing the game, my frustrations with regard to the fact that the stylus was used to control all aspects of gameplay just continued to amount. Firstly, absolutely no skill is involved in jumping or moving. You simply move the stylus where you want to go, and the Prince will follow. The most challenging thing you get to do when moving is double tap in order to roll. Exciting. However, the stylus only gameplay can also work to your disadvantage. The Prince is not always responsive to where you've located the stylus on the screen, and so, especially if you're trying to jump up a wall, it can take a few attempts on your part before the action can be completed, which wastes time and is frustrating.
This game would have benefited infinitely by taking a leaf out of the best-selling side-scroller game for the DS: 'New Super Mario Bros.'. Unlike this game, the developers for 'New Super Mario Bros.' stuck with the tried and tested method of controlling characters with the buttons, instead of trying to make the game gimmicky by using the stylus for all aspects of gameplay. The truth of the matter is, gameplay with the stylus alone is never going to give you the sophisticated control of the character that buttons do. Buttons also make gameplay more interesting, by adding a dimension of skilled playing to the game. For example, if the game was button controlled, rather than only stylus controlled, you would have to time your jumps correctly, rather than being able to just point the stylus in the direction of the jump and make it immediately.
On the subject of being gimmicky, the game also tried to add a Camera function to unlock a new challenge. This presents two problems: firstly, for those who have a DS/DS Lite, cameras are not integrated and so this becomes a restricted part of gameplay, never to be accessed. Secondly, even if you have a camera, this function doesn't work! I tried facing the camera at various 'light sources' as the game told me to do so, and found that nothing would unlock this mysterious challenge. I'm not going to lie and say I was disappointed, as I feel it would not have unlocked anything particularly new or exciting. It's just annoying, as I am unable to comment further on this function.
A further criticism of mine is that the bosses in the game are ridiculously easy. The cult members which, through the unleashed evil, have become gigantic monsters, present no great challenge to the game. For example, with the first boss, you're supposed to believe that this enormous beast can be defeated by you poking your sword at its hands a few times. This guy must be 10 times your side. Your sword is going to be as effective as a cocktail stick prodding an elephant. And yet this is how you defeat him. Hilarious.
Additionally, I find the graphics in the game to be embarrassing. The DS is capable of much greater things visually than is explored in this game. The Prince and his enemies are almost block characters, with no detail to their facial features and little detail to their bodies. The landscapes are not much better, with a generally very pixelated and polygon-like look to them. It feels like (and I would be surprised if I was wrong on this) that this game was produced solely for the intention of being able to release the title 'The Forgotten Sands' across all possible platforms in order to create the greatest amount of revenue, and as such received little love and nurturing to make it into a great game. Similarly, I get the same feeling with the design of the levels in the game. I find them to be very simple and offer little challenge to the player, as though not much thought or effort went into making them.
Amongst all this negativity, you might be wondering whether there was actually anything good about this game. The one aspect I did enjoy was a variation on the level, where you are sometimes able to ride a horse and control it to avoid obstacles. However, I did not find these short sessions to be particularly challenging either, and would have liked to have seen more obstacles/difficulty to the challenges. I also quite liked the game's music, as it was similar to the signature music found on the PlayStation 2 games.
However, overall this game is a prime example of the utter rubbish that is continually churned out for the DS. I get so annoyed that so few good games have been developed for this console, and that it is obviously viewed as a poor contender in the world of gaming consoles. While I accept that the DS is only a handheld device and was never intended to support the kind of graphics that consoles like that of its cousin, the Wii, was designed to, the DS's potential is underplayed by almost all game manufacturers. As such there is now a tolerance, and an expectation, that most games for the DS will be, at best, mediocre. However, I'm straying off topic, and will now get off my soap box, and return my focus to the game at hand.
This is not the worst game I've ever played, but it's not too far off. This game is essentially a disgrace to the great 'Prince of Persia' games that I knew and loved for the PlayStation 2 and if, like me, you have any appreciation of those games, you will stay away from this one like it was the plague. If this game had not been released as a 'Prince of Persia' title, I doubt it would have even made the gaming chart. At the end of the day, I won't lose any sleep over it, as I essentially only spent £3 on it, and its trade-in value is worth more than that. However, it is not a game I would recommend to anyone.