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Game Review

If the words Prince of Persia bring to mind evil alter egos, slo-mo dismemberments and belligerent bloodletting, then you're in for a surprise. All that dark carnage was featured gameplay of 2005's Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones, but the Prince has turned over a new leaf. Now he's battling to bring light back to his ancient homeland rather than dole out grisly slaughter. In fact, as soon as you step forth from the swirling desert sands with Ubisoft's newest Prince of Persia, it's plain to see that he's been rebooted back to a simpler, friendlier version of his swashbuckling self. And his quest has become more user-friendly as well.

That's not to say that the game's hero is an old-fashioned gentleman prince. In fact, sometimes as he chats up his latest damsel in need he sounds a lot like a 21st century wisecracking teen hanging around the local mall and very little like the dust-blown Persian nomad he's supposed to be. But more on that later.

Gods and Ancient Lands
The tale unfolds as our handsome drifter-with-a-sword is wandering the desert looking for his lost donkey. He doesn't find the animal but does stumble upon a beautiful princess named Elika who's running from several armed men. After jumping to her rescue, the prince is drawn into an intriguing tug-and-pull story that centers on the ancient Persian belief in two god-like forces that represent good and evil in the world.

It seems that the evil god has been held in check beneath a glowing tree of life, lo these many centuries. But then the Mourning King gets involved. The king gained his doleful moniker as a result of losing both his wife and young daughter to tragic events. But he can't abide the combined loss so he makes a deal to restore his daughter's life in exchange for freeing the diabolical, tar-black corruption called Ahriman.

If you've already guessed that Elika is that resurrected daughter, then you've probably also figured out where the story goes from here. Elika takes it upon herself—with the prince's help—to defeat Ahriman's oily minions one by one and restore life, light and purity to her beloved land.

A Prince by No Other Name
Gamers play as the prince, but that doesn't leave the princess out of the action. Elika tags along throughout the game as a clue-giving companion and a kind of security blanket. She helps with magically enhanced dives and spark-producing attacks when battling the inky baddies, and she automatically rescues the hero anytime he jumps in the wrong direction or finds himself scrambling toward oblivion. (This is actually a pretty cool gaming function since it eliminates the dreaded "game over" notice and helps players avoid being thrown back to start over from some long-forgotten save point.)

The other fun part of the game is, of course, all of the prince's acrobatic leaps, tumbles and gravity-defying wall-scrambling—a trademark feature of the franchise. And I've got to say, it's never been done better. This prince must be the product of a digital marriage between Mikhail Baryshnikov and Mary Lou Retton because he is undeniably the most gifted and graceful leaper in the gaming world. Guiding him through fantastic maneuvers that overcome seemingly impossible obstacles can sometimes feel worth the entire price of admission.

P ebbles in Your Curly Toed Shoe
But there are a number of small irritations in the game worth mentioning. Language stays clean and neutral except for one joking double entendre that the prince tosses out about getting his "a--" caught in a sandstorm. Which brings us back to the aforementioned wiseacre teen dialogue that seems oddly out of place in this ancient setting:

That lingo carries over into the prince's flirtatious attitude toward the princess. The worst of it is limited to a request for a back rub and references to smoking a hookah, but it still comes off as a lame attempt to crassly connect with the teen gamer behind the controller. As does Elika's gossamer-sheer, midriff-revealing costume.

Then there's the swordplay and spirituality. The ancient Persian deities are brought up as more of a backdrop for a dark villain than in any real religious context. And, as mentioned, the battles are light-years away from the franchise's recent gory past. But there is still a lot of blade swinging going on. The conflicts include a few human sword-crossings that always stop before anyone is seriously injured and a bunch of boss battles with smoky demonic creatures that disappear when defeated.

Perhaps I can sum things up like this: Think of Prince of Persia as something similar to plugging a controller into an old Arabian Nights movie ... with a poorly dubbed voice track.

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