Hitting rewind on Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
Does it "sand" the test of "time"?
Jordan Mechner's 1989 sleeper hit Prince of Persia shocked the world with its depiction of a bloke who moves around like a real bloke. Prior to this video game blokes - for example, Super Mario - moved with an exaggerated athleticism quite impossible to recreate outside the domain of your computerised pals. Trust me, many tried, but you just can't jump forward, turn around in mid-air while still ascending, and land on higher ground. It cannot be done. The Prince (of Persia), however, moves around like a real bloke. A bloke who can jump really far, yes; but a bloke nonetheless. Athletic to a fault, but he can't stop on a dime, can't fall an infinite distance and can't take more than an hour to finish his quest or he has to do the whole thing over again.
Following an abortive attempt to modernise the series in Prince of Persia 3D, Jordan Mechner and Ubisoft put forth a successful effort to modernise the series in a 3D Prince of Persia, subtitled The Sands of Time. PoP:SoT (an acronym which makes for an amusing bit of puerile humour) was released fifteen whole years ago for all the contemporary systems. It rather brilliantly translated the single-screen "how do I pull this off?" style of platforming into single-room, wide-shot "how am I supposed to get up there?" exploration, giving Prince a host of new athletic skills including wall-running, pole-swinging and the always enjoyable shimmy. These abilities made for a terrific, exhilarating gameplay flow as you'd dodge roaring flames and spinning blades over vertigo-inducing drops. Then you'd make a mistake and plummet, screaming, to your painful death. Oh well. I suppose.
Except! You hit L1 and the Prince's broken body shudders into torturous motion, flying backwards until the moment right before you killed him. Another chance! The titular “sands of time” refer to a magical dagger procured in the early game, used to “rewind” your mistakes. This is strictly limited to maintain tension, but it's a nice quality of life addition and means the level design can afford to be a little more demanding. No need to fear death when you can simply Ctrl+Z your mistakes away.
There's too much excellence in the game that I simply don't have the space to get into; its novel storytelling, the much-maligned but truly excellent sequel Warrior Within, the unlockable retro rewards for playing through the game. It's a terrific transplantation of the essence of that original Prince of Persia into the then-modern era. Play it today, fifteen years on, and it barely feels aged in the slightest.