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Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown Hands-On and Developer Interview - Time Resets, Again
Post by Steve Farrelly @ 01:48pm 16/06/23 | Comments
We went hands-on with Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown and spoke with Ubisoft's Jean-Christophe Alessandri about this new direction and whatbit means to revive such a long-running series. Read on for our thoughts and what he wanted to say...

“Incredibly smooth; stunning art style,” were a couple of notes I made during my hands-on time with the freshly-announced Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown. The long and short, really, is this is a silky smooth experience that is half Metroidvania and half Prince throwback. If you follow the Internet at all (and not sure why you would), you might know there’s a bit of blowback on its protagonist, but it’s predictably misplaced, just for the record, because in The Lost Crown we’re no longer playing as the Prince, we are in fact an Immortal charged with rescuing him.

To this end, this is a genuine reboot of the series and kicks off as such. Our young protagonist, Sargon, is a powerful young warrior armed with a magical bow and his trusty sabres and, as soon as I picked it up, it was fairly intuitive to play. There’s no 2.5D here despite its look and 2.5 presentation. As far as movement is concerned, Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is a true 2D side-scroller -- though with the Metroidvania elements it is also a rather large exploratory space. You can jump, wall-jump, wall-slide, slide and dash your way through the intricately-designed levels, parrying enemies, gaining special meterage for deathly blows, or to use helpful rebuffs that won’t dip into your actual inventory and generally run amok.

The game features vendors and unique characters, such as Kalevala The Blacksmith, among others -- both friend and foe -- all of whom are derived from actual Persian mythology. And the team leant heavily into that side of the game. In some ways, it reminded me a lot of Immortals Fenyx Rising through this devotion to its mythology while also keeping things videogame-ey and fun. You move through the world with the aforementioned actions, such as wall jumps and slides to the point of being a stylish hero. Not at all dissimilar to Samus or Ori, of more recent ilk in the space.

"Art director, Jean-Christophe Alessandri wasn’t shy in telling us the game had been in development for “several years” and, in fact, looked relieved in doing so...”

Even on Switch the game runs at a smooth 60fps, helped largely by a minimalist art style that definitely kept the tech side of things easier for the less flex-ready systems, though that doesn’t mean this has been a flash-in-the-pan dev cycle. Art director, Jean-Christophe Alessandri wasn’t shy in telling us the game had been in development for “several years” and, in fact, looked relieved in doing so.

“From the beginning we made this choice to create … really, this kind of game, and go back to the roots of [the original] production,” Jean-Christophe tells me. “And having some references… for example, we are an action adventure-game and platformer; we have references from the Metroidvania genre so it made perfect sense to choose this kind of format.

“[Still] we are not [specifically] a ‘Metroid’ kind of game,” he continued. “We take some references, some mechanics from that; some structure. But we also [mainly consider ourselves] an action-adventure platformer with all the ingredients you can find in a real Prince of Persia game.”

The Metroid side things look wrapped up in the game’s multi-layered exploration and level design. But there’s a less direct and solitary aspect to it all. We’ve mentioned some characters and merchants above, but across the experience you aren’t alone. In this expansive world you’re going to come across a large swathe of other characters and Sargon is, himself, a young member of an elite group of immortals -- all of whom are simply larger than life.

"We wanted, also, to bring… really, a new and fresh identity to [the series] and show that this stylised art-direction could be unique for the [whole] franchise...”

“First, we really take inspiration from Persian mythology and Persian history,” Jean-Christophe says of the game’s art-direction and overall tonal influence. “And we also worked with an expert for [all of] this. We wanted, also, to bring… really, a new and fresh identity to [the series] and show that this stylised art-direction could be unique for the [whole] franchise. It's not about being realistic, or perfectly accurate, but [about] bringing, really, a new fantasy vision to Prince of Persia. In fact, that's why we chose that. And we wanted, also, to use all the references of modern [games and experiences] we love. This game is really an act of love (sic) for what we like, really.

“And you can tell from the shounen anime style, [and our other influences in] comic books, superheroes… that this is really what we love. Also, these are our references. And we wanted to bring that into the Prince of Persia franchise.”

Through the thickness of Jean-Christophe’s accent it’s not difficult to translate his passion for those references mentioned above. And that this team really wanted to put its own mark on such a long-running franchise that has *maybe* lost some identity over the years with a handful of different takes and spins and which also lives now more in the shadow of Assassin’s Creed, this new direction just feels like the right move.

“And [we think] the mix and match works,” he continues with enthusiasm. “Because we worked hard for that [cohesion]. For example, when you use your super abilities, we really wanted for the players to have a feeling of power; of energy dynamics. And at the same time bring some unique signature; represented by a very impactful graphic pattern inspired from, for example, street art. And you can see throughout and you really have this kind of feeling.

“So, really it's a mix of modern cultures and art [with] the world of ancient Persia.”

"I’d also kind of been thinking I’d mastered most of the controls and combat early and didn’t pay enough attention to the nuance...”

The demo, while short, gave a great glimpse of the cadence to come, which as alluded to in all of the above, is very traditionally grounded with a modern presentation and attitude. It ended with a boss battle with Jahander, who was surprisingly difficult. But I’d also kind of been thinking I’d mastered most of the controls and combat early and didn’t pay enough attention to the nuance. This has a two-prong fallout -- one, you can hack and slash your way through much of the game but, if you don’t take the time to master its admittedly actually quite simple-in-setup combat systems, you’ll miss out on feeling that power Jean-Christophe is so jazzed about.

After a couple of embarrassing deaths, I sort of reset my approach and once I’d figured out how the parry and supers worked, and how to use the game’s time displacement/rewind in real-time system, it all clicked and I beat the boss with only a few battle scars, and feeling pretty chuffed with myself.

In closing out my chat with JC he couldn’t say a lot more but there’s a chance we’ll get some franchise-long Easter Eggs and he also revealed that it’s not a linear game by any measure and is, in fact, very open with the opportunity to retread missed areas or other ones with gated paths and secrets you need to power up more to get the most out of. It’ll feature lots of different biomes and even more characters than even what I’ve managed to reveal, which all just reiterates that point that despite a new direction, protagonist, art style and narrative, at its heart, just like the original games, this will lean heavily into being a videogame with traditional values and pillars, to finish on a theme. And I can’t wait to see and play more.

Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown will be out in the early part of 2024 for PC, PS4, PS5, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S.

Read more about Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown on the game page - we've got the latest news, screenshots, videos, and more!

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