Prince of Persia

Or is that the Prince of Pressure?

Source // Wikipedia

When it comes to trial and error, I find myself having to be really invested in something in order to persist through all of those trials and every single error. If I'm not, frustration is generally not too far away. Prince of Persia is going to test me a fair bit...

Perhaps the king, rather than the prince, of trial and error gaming, Prince of Persia is unmistakably iconic to look at and play. I've seen it before, many a time, but playing it hasn't yet happened, probably because I think it'll be a nightmare - therefore why bother?

Well, we bother so that we can confirm or contradict our preconceptions, so it's about time I found out first hand whether Prince of Persia will keep me hooked or not.

Will we save the Sultan's daughter from the evil Jaffar, or will we fall face first into any and all spike pits we find?


I got off to an absolutely flawless start with the Sega Mega Drive port, but then near immediately fell into the first of many traps leading to my first of many deaths.

The titular Prince - here given more princely attire than his original white Apple II get up - is stuck in the dungeons and will need to escape them, find the Sultan's daughter and flee from Jaffar, who is holding her prisoner until she marries him or dies in an hour.

That's all you need to do. Sounds simple. But that time limit... Timed missions are all well and good, they have their place, but a timed game? Isn't that pushing it a little?

The pressure is on from the start, so off you run, whereupon you recoil in horror at the controls. The Prince is a somewhat athletic fellow but appears to have pockets full of rocks. Expecting a slow action like a jog across the screen results in a fast one, as the prince sprints off a ledge which you hope doesn't lead to too much of a drop.

Learning the hard way means you have to get used to the feel of these controls, so you mix some jumps into your running - you will, after all, need to jump gaps of many sizes. So you jump right at the last possib- no, no you didn't, you're already falling to your death. Jump earlier next time. Timing is critical, and getting it wrong can be costly.

Bit by bit you learn about how the floor works - hidden pressure plates open doors, and loose walkways will crumble - and how ledge hanging is better than running off ledges, and how to time your jumps over the many threats there are that can be avoided by jumping.

And then there are assholes like this guy. You'll need to find a sword before trying to get past him, and once you do that you'll need to work out how to use the sword without getting stabbed yourself.

As well as a constantly ticking timer that can screw you over, you have limited health. You can refill it and increase it, should you find any items that do so, otherwise you'll lose it via fall damage and the like - assuming you don't fall to an instakill trap of any kind.

I briefly tried the SNES port too, which has twice the time limit and grubbier, more 'realistic' graphics than the Sega Mega Drive. It also has more content and higher difficulty in order to justify that lengthened time limit, so that probably wasn't the version to try and play.

It did have a tutorial section, though... that I got fed up with and didn't finish...

Fun Times

As you would expect, I've been watching the professionals speed through Prince of Persia like it's no big deal. Obviously, they've had to go through the game a fair few times to get good enough to know what to do, and when, in order to finish it, but there's a clear difference between Prince of Persia played by someone who knows the way the Prince controls, and someone who sure as hell doesn't.

It was during my SNES playthrough that I made the link between the Princes controls and those of Lara Croft in the first Tomb Raider game. Both characters are able to take deliberate steps, rather than imprecise runs, both are able to jump and grab ledges, pull themselves up to higher levels and drop safely down from them, quick turn 180 degrees and more.

Why then, did I find myself enjoying Tomb Raider and not Prince of Persia? The Prince doesn't even have the third dimension to worry about or angry wild animals to run away from. He doesn't have polygons to stare at, either, but he does look pretty good.

Much has been said of the animation present in this game and for good reason. Making use of rotoscoping means true to life frames of animation, and while the various ports tend to mix up their looks from one another, they all seem to hold on to that original look and feel of the animation - the kind of fluid but cumbersome movement that you just didn't see anywhere else.

Final Word

It's better to see Prince of Persia than it is to play it, but then you might like a challenge and if you do, then there's quite a classic challenge on offer.

Rooms are broken up into mini puzzles for you to solve, with some sections requiring you to dart between screens and hopefully not mess up your timing on the other side. Sometimes failure results in not being able to complete the game within the time limit, and you probably won't know until you know what you're doing, so that might put you off, but it really is worth a play.

There are often games that we wish we were good at, and I guess Prince of Persia would be one of them. I don't find the story terribly appealing, but I'd like to see a little bit more than drab dungeon walls without having to resort to YouTube.

I said at the start that I'd have to be invested in something in order to want to struggle through it and for me, Prince of Persia just doesn't do it for me. It looks great, there are plenty of ports for you to choose from, it offers gameplay that you don't get anywhere else - it's a must play, but I likely won't be trying it again anytime soon.

Fun Facts

The fan base for the MS-DOS version of Prince of Persia is strong enough to have reverse engineered the code in order to create mods including level creators.

Prince of Persia, developed by Brøderbund, first released in 1989.
Versions played: Sega Mega Drive, 1993, via emulation.
SNES, 1992, via emulation.
Version watched: MS-DOS, 1990 (OtakuChest)