After a lackluster attempt of bringing a console experience to iPhone with Rayman 2, can Gameloft do any better with the Prince?
Prince of Persia: Warrior Within was released back in 2004 for the previous generation of consoles Xbox, PS2 and GameCube. It’s a sequel to the critically acclaimed Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (a 3D re-imagining of the the 2D game from 1989). Warrior Within takes the Prince on a darker path and I feel it’s a strange choice to bring the sequel and not the original to iPhone. The only reason I can see is that Warrior Within is heavier on action than platforming when compared to Sand of Time, and so maybe Gameloft felt it was a better balance for the system.
The story is set seven years after the events of Sands of Time, it’s not essential that you must play the original to understand what’s going on, but it helps. The Prince this time has found himself on the run from a creature called the Dahaka, a guardian of time. Because the Prince escaped his destiny the Dahaka must write this wrong and bring the timeline back to normal… a little like the plot of the Final Destination movies. Cue then a race against time itself, as you search for the Sands of Time and wipe them from existence.
While many critics state that Warrior’s gameplay pales in comparison to Sands’, it still offers great platform based puzzles that will test your nerve and skill. Jumping, pole swinging, wall runs, back flips, rope swinging… it’s all there. The power of the sand makes an appearance too, and despite stripping you of all powers at the beginning of the game (much like the Zelda and Metroid games do) you will soon be slowing and rewinding time in …er …no time.
These skills come in very handy, especially the rewind ability. Should you not quite make a jump, or over shoot a wall run, you can activate the sands power and rewind time to the point of error… and try again. This power is not unlimited though, you must collect sand to power it up.
As mentioned before the game features almost as much fighting as platforming, with enemies turning up around most corners or at the end of a particularly tricky platforming marathon. Thanks to a great combo system that allows for varied fighting styles, battles rarely get old even with the re-occurring crow master. Think of battles as a reward for your platforming. If fights are not for you, then I recommend playing this game on easy mode. There are less enemies and they are weaker, while the platforming is no less challenging.
Overall the gameplay is pretty solid. The platforming segments, while not up to par with the original game, are creative and challenging, as are the fights and boss battles. The whole quest will take you around 12 hours to complete. My only quibble is that there is a fair share of backtracking. Much like the Zelda game ‘Ocarina of time’, you will find yourself re-visiting places in a different time to achieve your goals and progress… so don’t be alarmed if you experience a little deja vu.
Of course good gameplay or not, it all falls down to how a console game such as this migrates to the touch screen. Thankfully if there is one developer for iPhone to get it right, it’s Gameloft. Once again the v-stick rears its pretty head and for the most part controls Prince well, push lightly forward for a walk and further for a run. On the right side are your action buttons. Apart from the sword button which remains a constant, the others are context sensitive. It’s a great way of ensuring compatibility with a multi-buttoned controller on the touch screen, without covering said screen with buttons and reducing your view of the action. So if you are in a fight, your buttons allow for combos, shield use and flips. While platforming, these allow for grabs, jumps and drops.
Other on-screen controls include the camera views. Unlike Rayman 2 which suffered from a terrible camera system, resulting in it being almost unplayable, Prince’s camera is excellent. For the most part it shoots the action from the perfect angle, and when it doesn’t you can move it be swiping the screen. It’s a little sluggish, but its useful to see that ledge that you want to jump to that’s out of view. A first person view is also available for checking your surroundings. You cannot move in this mode, it’s purely for reconnaissance. Lastly there’s a new camera view built for the iPhone version. Activating this allows you to see the game in a side on view. It’s perfectly playable in this mode, and allows you to get a better view during platforming.
Both the movement and action controls work great together when you have time on your side, but when under pressure they can let you down. This is most obvious in the Dahaka chase sequences. When he shows up you better have your thumbs chalked up because you’ll need lightning reflexes on those touch controls. Put one foot (or thumb) wrong and its back to the beginning of the sequence to start again. The first encounter was fine, but the second tests everything you have learned and requires rapid combos of running, wall jumping, swinging and leaping… if the controls fail to respond for just a second, it’s gameover! This I found very frustrating, but I think it comes down to the limitation of touch screen controls over the programming itself.
Visually, Warrior Within is stripped back from the console edition. It still looks great on the little iPhone screen, but draw distance and details are reduced with use of fog and sharp but un-detailed textures. Realistic lighting is lacking too, instead Gameloft have opted for a global light source, so don’t expect the bloom lighting and shadowy look of the original. Overall it has a flat almost sepia look to it, lacking the foliage and colour of the console edition. I am willing to forgive this though based on the devices limitations, and the fact that because of this stripped back look, the game runs nice and smooth (at least it does on a 3GS or iPad).
I’ve always hit out at Gameloft for it’s sound in their iPhone games… mainly the voice acting. Despite being six years old, the voice acting in the cut scenes are a marked improvement from what we see in Zombie Infection and Modern Combat: Sandstorm. However, it’s still a little hokey… but what games aren’t. The score on the other hand perfectly fits with the action, giving a filmic style quality and tone you expect from console games. There does seem to be a little glitch though where the music stops suddenly, but it’s not a game changer.
Ultimately, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within plays very well on iPhone, it looks great and, despite some instances, controls great too. The main issue I have with it though, is its console heritage, especially the save system. Most sections of the game require both a lot of time and effort before you reach the next save point. On a console this is fine, as you are expected to sit down with a game and play for hours on end, but on the iPhone you are most likely to be in a situation where you don’t have the time, not to mention the battery life, to make it to that save point.
A ‘start from where you left off’ save option would fix this for the most part, but even then many of the puzzles require you to memorise paths and lever placement. So, if you returned to the game later that day after playing on the bus to work for a few minutes, it will no doubt take you some time to remember where you are and where you are going.
It begs the question then that if to fully enjoy this game you need to juice up the battery to full, and get comfy on the couch, why not just play it on a console in the first place?
Prince of Persia: Warrior Within is priced at $9.99. Get it on the