Thursday, February 21, 2013

"Prince of Persia", SNES, 1991.



And legs. And even wits. Because in Prince of Persia from Konami, only a fast mind and fit muscles can conquer all 20 Super NES stages, including 8 you've never seen anywhere before.

Once sealed inside the desert palace maze you'll hardly have time to appreciate the awesome high resolution graphics, incredibly cool life-like player animation, and mood setting Arabian melodies. Because when you're not hanging by your fingertips over spiked pits or leaping through razor sharp guillotines, you'll be saber dueling with skeletal remains and vicious turbaned terrors.

The sands of time are against you, so you must be constantly on the move, making split second decisions with no margin for error. Is that vessel filled with poison or life giving nectar? Will that floor cave in or open a secret passage? Only the sultan of sin Jaffar knows, for sure. And he'll even use magic to keep you from rescuing the princess and becoming the Prince of Persia.

Emphasising the lack of pew-pew shooting must have been considered a gutsy advertising gambit, one that I imagine might have resonated with parents averse to their children glorifying graphic violence over and over again. (Weren't these parents pleasantly surprised with PoP's spike-impaled ragdoll and the smear appearing on those neatly-bisecting metal jaws?)

I am not convinced that adding 8 levels to Prince of Persia improves it. If you sit down to an essay and are told that you have 60 minutes to write a 20-page essay when you were only expecting to write a 12-page one in the same time period, is that an improvement? The level design may reflect sheer brilliance on the part of Konami's best, but overall it still represents considerable additional squeeze to an already-tight time constraint.

I like the shout-outs to the "awesome" high resolution graphics and "incredibly cool" life-like player animation, both of which were getting a bit long in the tooth by this point, when Konami ran rampant over them with a bedazzler. "Mood setting Arabian melodies"? I don't know if they added a soundtrack or just kept the original's Wagnerian leitmotifs, a brilliant suggestion by designer Jordan Mechner's father, an eminent classical musician.

Would it be too much to describe the "saber"s as scimitars? Is the player any less turbaned than the vicious turbaned terrors? (Looks like the Prince is sporting a piece of bling in his! I thought he was thrown into the dungeon in rags?) If they'd been tighter with their turns of phrase, Konami might have cleaned up with UbiSoft's later "Sands of Time" re-imagination of the franchise. Could this be the first time that subject and description were paired? The examples of game developments that might be good or bad enshrine a certain exploration element of the game's appeal -- can't know if what's there is good or bad until you go there!

I always remembered the villain as the vizier Jaffar, not the Sultan of sin Jaffar, but perhaps my memories are just getting overwritten by Disney's Alladin, also the subject of an excellent platformer beyond the scope of this post.

Finally, that Prince sure doesn't look Iranian to me. But I love the Escherian cubism in the ad's layout -- how can we see the platform the Prince is jumping from, the sheer face at its edge, the inside of the passage below it, the spike-platform next to it (actually, those look like sword blades poking up from the floor), and the irate neighbour (sorry, "vicious turbaned terror", who looks at least somewhat less Japanese) peeking out from an adjacent lower passage at a weird 120 degree angle the likes of which we wouldn't see until Tomb Raider, itself cited as Prince of Persia in 3D (a rank truly reserved for the earlier intermediate "Prince of Persia 3D". But I digress for the second and last time in this post.)

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