Version tested: Wii
Once you POP, you can't stop. So seems to be the case as far as Ubisoft's concerned, anyway. More than two decades after the original game's debut, the Prince of Persia is back. Again. And he's everywhere. There he is in your local cinema, trying to get off with Gemma Arterton and pretending to be surprised that Ben Kingsley is up to no good. There he is on the PC, the PS3 and the Xbox 360, appearing in a game which has a go but ultimately ends up being a bit 6/10. And here he is on the Wii.
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands isn't based on the new movie. That's despite the fact our hero bears a striking resemblance to the Prince in the film, who as everyone knows is played by Jake Gyllenhaal, who as everyone knows is played by Justin-Bobby out of The Hills. Nor is it a sequel to the 2008 series reboot, which introduced an "illustrative art style" and open-world structure, and also turned out to be a bit 6/10. Nor is it a port of the game Dan recently reviewed, despite sharing the same name.
This version has been built for the Wii from the ground up. It's even got a different storyline - some nonsense about a genie and a magic sword and the Prince wanting to impress his Dad. However, there's plenty here which will be familiar to anyone who's played a Prince of Persia game before. Your mission is to run, jump, swing and slash your way through a series of beige environments, solving a variety of puzzles along the way. It's as if Ubisoft has upended the hourglass and taken us all the way back to the Sands of Time era.
Not least because the Wii version of Forgotten Sands looks like a PS2 game. A very pretty PS2 game, mind; one with proper lighting and nice textures and a high level of environmental detail. The character models are decent and the animations are superb; the prince's moves are fast, fluid and satisfying to perform. This is one of the best-looking titles available for the system.
The high standards of presentation also extend to the soundtrack. Forgotten Sands for Wii has an original score produced by Tom Salta. Us neither, but Ubisoft gave him his own press release so he must be a big deal. It says here the score's "contemporary world music aesthetic" was produced using made-up instruments such as the "bowhammer cymbalom, lakota slide, walimba, ney and duduk", along with "custom made" ones (our money says two coconut shells and a yoghurt pot filled with macaroni). Anyway, well done, Tom Salta - your score does a good job of creating atmosphere and enhancing the gameplay experience, especially when the bowhammer cymbalom kicks in.
Forgotten Sands looks and sounds good, then. It also plays well, although again, rather like a PS2 game. The Sands of Time, to be precise. Every environment is littered with beams to balance on, ledges to hang from and poles to swing around. They're all laid out in a logical, linear order, so you never have to look far for the next platform or hand-hold. There's no need to time jumps too precisely, as the prince is smart enough to know you're hoping to land on that nearby beam and not plummet into the chasm below when you press the A button. It's easy to skip and flip seamlessly through the earlier levels, without having to pause to work out your route or pull off precise moves.
Which will please those who want an easy ride, but not hardcore action adventure fans. If your idea of a great platformer involves tricky pathfinding and precision button-pressing, Forgotten Sands will disappoint. With that in mind, it's probably more suited to younger gamers than those who remember the original Tomb Raider games being released, and who sadomasochistically enjoyed Lara's stringent demands for pixel-perfect manoeuvring.
As for those who like a bit of serious combat with their running and jumping - forget Forgotten Sands. Swishing the remote performs sword slashes and shaking the nunchuk performs punches, Theoretically, combining these moves in different ways with different button presses pulls off special attacks. Realistically, the most effective way to deal with all enemies is to shake both controllers furiously, waggling your arms so hard it's like you're trying to make them fall off.
The enemies are almost all painfully slow and entirely thick so it's easy to get away with this sort of thing. In short, combat in Forgotten Sands is dull, shallow and repetitive. The novelty of being able to despatch waves of baddies by pretending you're playing some sort of Frenzy bonus level in Samba de Amigo wears off fast. At least the combat scenarios are over quickly, leaving you to get back to the much more enjoyable exploration and puzzle-solving.
The other good news is that Ubisoft has done a much better job of implementing Wii remote functionality when it comes to these areas. You can use the remote to move the camera around, which comes in useful for the occasional moments where it's hard to see what you're supposed to do next. The remote is also used to activate the prince's new powers, such as his ability to generate whirlwinds. These are handy for reaching high-up places, avoiding long drops to your death and even trapping enemies in mid-air. (Waggling's still more effective, though.)
Then there are Spirit Hooks, handles for the Prince to hang on to while scaling walls. At first these are fixed but later on you have the freedom to place them where you like, again using the Wii remote. You also get the ability to surround the Prince with a Magical Sphere. This provides protection while enabling the Prince to float around. Once these powers are unlocked, working out how to get through levels becomes more challenging. The paths are still pretty linear, however - they're just not as obvious. Still, it's good to see remote-based game mechanics which have been designed thoughtfully rather than shoehorned in.
And it's good to see a Wii game which isn't just an uglier, wagglier version of its PS3 and Xbox 360 counterparts. Real care and attention has gone into this one, as you can tell by the polished presentation and healthy amount of content. Although it's easy to romp through the first few hours, things do get tougher later on and this isn't a game you'll finish off in a single evening. Throw some neat extras on the disc, such as 2D versions of some levels and the original 16-bit POP, and with an RRP of £29.99 you've got a game which is pretty good value for money.
True, the combat is rubbish. True, aside from those Spirit Hooks and Magical Spheres, there aren't many new ideas here. And true, serious platformer fans won't find themselves challenged or surprised by anything they find in the Forgotten Sands.
However, the gameplay is solid, the visuals are pretty and there's just something brilliantly enjoyable about making the Prince skip gracefully around well-designed levels, just like in the old days. This isn't the best Prince of Persia game ever, and we'd bet the number on the bottom of Ubisoft's 2011 financial forecast that it won't be the last. All the same, it's more entertaining, rewarding and polished than an awful lot of Wii games out there, and it's worth just a little bit more than 6/10.
7 / 10