If you make a mistake, rewind and try again. That's been the implicit motto of the Prince of Persia series since 2003, but now it seems that life is imitating art as the ambivalently received 2008 reboot is unceremoniously ignored in favour of this "interquel", squeezed in between The Sands of Time and its angsty 2004 follow-up, Warrior Within, in the official canon.
This revisionist approach is likely to appease the fans who felt the new direction was too easy, since in almost every respect The Forgotten Sands both looks and plays like The Sands of Time. That's a good thing, clearly, since The Sands of Time remains a fine game. But it's also a disappointment of sorts, a worrying sign of creative retreat that suggests that having had its fingers burned with criticism of the 2008 game, Ubisoft's Montreal studio has stopped trying to find new ways to develop the series and has decided to fall back on elements that they already know will find favour with players.
The result is a game that's easy to enjoy, but almost impossible to be passionate about. In fact everything that deserves praise is the same as it was in 2003, when the praise came not only because it was fun but also because it was fresh. The Forgotten Sands offers familiar comforts over thrilling surprises, and inevitably misses its potential because of this overly cautious approach.
Almost everything is much as you'd expect. We're introduced to the Prince as he returns to his homeland, only to discover the family palace under attack by an invading army. The early stages find you racing through the battle, pulling off the usual acrobatic flourishes as you try to reach your brother, Malik, who leads the defending army. Finally reunited, and with no options left, Malik decides to unleash Solomon's Army, a mythical fighting force that he hopes will turn the tide.
It doesn't, of course. It makes things worse. Solomon's Army turns out not to be a supernatural ally but a demonic threat, named after the king it destroyed. Mummified ghouls burst from the ground, turning soldiers to sand with a touch, and the stage is set for what amounts to a game-long chase as you try to prevent your brother from being corrupted by these creatures.
So you leap, scramble and balance your way through the crumbling palace, which falls apart in pleasingly helpful ways, leaving obstacle courses of shattered stone and exposed timber for you to navigate. Every wall-run, every tightrope-walk, every jump feels instantly familiar, thanks to controls honed by years of experience. More familiar still are the traps that spring into deadly life: swinging blades, roving saw blades and hidden spikes. It's Prince of Persia alright, but the warm breath of nostalgia risks turning into an ambivalent sigh as the game offers little to mark the five years since we last played in this universe.