It's difficult not to feel nostalgic while playing Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown. The original games of the '80s and '90s by Jordan Mechner were "Metroidvanias" in their own right, with precise platforming, precarious traps, and a bit of backtracking all woven into the gameplay. This new entry into the franchise goes back to that formula, only now with the benefits of modern game design and tech, and I'm happy to say The Lost Crown earns its spot in the pedigree.
Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown follows Sargon, the newest member of a group of warriors who call themselves Immortals, as they attempt to rescue a kidnapped prince. The game takes place primarily in Mount Qaf, a sprawling labyrinth of danger and daring where time reacts differently than the rest of the world. For some characters, the time spent in Qaf passes normally; for others, every day feels like a year. Sargon must navigate Mount Qaf's peril equipped with swords, time-shifting powers, and more, through a story which bends as much as time does in this world.
Right off the bat, I have to say how much I love this setting. Mount Qaf is massive, with a number of different areas each with its own trials and tribulations. Some areas focus on puzzles – like the room with ramps that change direction depending on if I'm facing left or right – while others will drop gates across each entrance and throw waves of enemies at me. I liked not knowing what was coming in each room; that lack of predictability adds to the mystique.
The team behind The Lost Crown definitely did their homework with this game too, as there are a few direct callbacks to the Prince Of Persia games of yore if you know what to look for. In one room, I'm confined to a narrow hallway which doesn't even fill the whole of the screen, and I'm faced with a single enemy who waits for me on the other side of where I entered. As soon as I realized what was going on, I felt a wave of nostalgia wash over me, and it was wonderful.
However, unlike the older games where that battle might have taken multiple tries, here I'm a beefed up Immortal who can best grunts like that with ease. Sargon is quick, agile, and packs a wallop with his dual blades. Combos are easy to pull off, while chaining ground attacks with a launcher into even more hits feels a bit like a fighting game, which I'm all about. As Sargon gains more abilities through Time Powers – Shadow Of The Simurgh, for example, makes for some extremely flashy combat potential if used right – fighting hordes of enemies allows for some fun experimentation.
What doesn't perform as well, at least for me, is the parry system. Parrying attacks is easy enough – press a button at a certain time to deflect an incoming attack – and some parries even show special cinematics which are (mostly) instant kills, but the timing never seemed to be consistent. I'd try to parry the same attack from the same enemy multiple times with no luck, only then to get it on the fourth or fifth try. With limited health and healing options, this is annoying; I should only be forced back to the nearest checkpoint when an enemy actually bests me, not because the button didn't work as intended.
Admittedly, as I ventured further into the game, taking on the common enemies began to wear on my patience. Sure, there are different types of grunts – some throw poison that sticks to the ground and can cause damage over time, others have shields and spears, etc – but it wouldn't take long to figure the enemies out, and then they become little more than annoyances. While I wasn't looking for a difficulty level on the same scale as a certain genre that begins with S, I hoped for something a little more challenging between boss fights.
That's not to say there aren't curveballs thrown throughout the adventure, including one that really threw me through a loop. In one section, there's a tall, imposing figure with a claw-like contraption. He's blind, so he can't see Sargon at first, but he can hear Sargon's movements and track him down. The big fellow can also teleport anywhere in the room, so there's no escape unless Sargon defeats him or makes it to the other side of the room.
If this enemy hits Sargon with his claw, we're instantly teleported to a prison elsewhere on the map, which we then must fight our way out of. This part of the game is so satisfying to finally conquer, as the threat of getting warped to the dungeon at any moment makes this one of the most tense challenges in the game. I hated it while it was happening, but man was that moment of victory sweet.
This jailer fellow isn't even one of the bosses, which are exciting to fight in their own right. The battles aren't anything revolutionary to the idea of "Metroidvania boss" in terms of gameplay; most of their impacts are narrative-based and I'll leave it at that. I had a ton of fun finding and beating these bosses, as they serve their purpose as massive, challenging enemies who push my skills to the limit…even if they don't do more than that.
Traversing the world, meanwhile, is always a joy, especially as I progress through the game and gain more of the aforementioned Time Powers, which let me manipulate my abilities. The first one I unlocked, Rush Of The Simurgh, also sent me into a nostalgia fit, but this time from a different source. This power is very much the air dash from the Mega Man X franchise, and every time I used it, a small part of me envisions Sargon as a super-fighting robot. The world of Mount Qaf kept presenting cool areas to check out, and I kept wanting to explore. That's a sign of good design.
Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown marks a strong start for 2024 game releases, as it offers plenty of entertaining action throughout its 20ish-hour runtime. The story offers some neat twists to discover, while the world of Mount Qaf is wonderfully designed and fun to explore. Combat, while not the game's strongest suit, is still cool, even if the common enemies wear out over time. I really dug what Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown accomplished here, and if this is the future of the franchise, maybe I can eventually forgive them for not following up on that 2008 entry.
Full Disclosure: A copy of this game was provided by PR for the purposes of this review. Reviewed on PC.