Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Prince of Persia (MS-DOS)

This one's such an influential game I figured it'd be better to get around to it sooner rather than later.

I have actually played this one before, but it was years ago and I mostly just ran through the first level for a bit watching the Prince skid around, then I fell onto some spikes and turned it off.

While the Sultan's out fighting in the wars, his grand vizier Jaffar tries to put the moves on his daughter and claim the throne. He gives her an ultimatum, marry him within the hour... or DIE! He even magics up an hourglass so she can see how long she's got.

Didn't an evil villain capture the Princess in Karateka too? I guess Jordan Mechner just likes stories about lone heroes in white rescuing princesses.

Some versions, like the Turbografx version, expand the intro to show the evil Vizier spying on the Princess together with her protagonist boyfriend with his crystal ball.

Genesis/Mega Drive
The Sega Genesis/Mega Drive version also has the new intro, but takes a more realistic approach to the artwork.

Sega/Mega CD
The Sega/Mega CD version on the other hand goes FULL ANIME. The Prince suddenly has purple hair... and a voice!

Wait, he's not a prince at all! He's just some wandering traveller the Princess met and fell in love with. You know, I don't think there even is a prince in this game.

Sega/Mega CD
Jaffar realises that the Princess already having a boyfriend might affect his wedding plans, so he has him thrown in the dungeon. And then laughs about it for a while.

It probably would have been smarter just to kill the guy, but I guess he's just more comfortable threatening princesses. The Vizier doesn't even threaten his execution to blackmail the Princess. In the original version she doesn't even know her boyfriend's been captured and assumes he's on his way to save her, giving her even more reason not to marry Jaffar.

Sega/Mega CD
Whoa, now Jaffar's gone anime too. I thought he was just standing under a blue light earlier, but I guess he's actually a weird blue Persian elf wizard with pointy ears. They've added a lot of dialogue to a scene that originally played out entirely without words and to be honest I don't think it was necessary. The original version got the point across elegantly, and this is just cheesy.

Sega/Mega CD
Don't get me wrong, it's still awesome. The Prince guy literally says "Jaffar I will never forgive you for this!" after beating a guard across the head with a rock. "Princess, wait for me! I will save you and crush Jaffar's ambitions forever!"

The SNES version's intro on the other hand is all sprites. Though the Japanese version has an extra scene where the Prince hero is beaten viciously by the guards.

The NES version doesn't have an intro, though it does have a password screen. I put in all zeros and the not-Prince just keeled over and died, making this one of the few games where you can lose on the menu screen.

I knew Prince of Persia was pretty popular, but I can't believe how many different versions of this game there are. I mean yeah I expected it to be ported across to all the current systems, but I didn't expect almost every port to look so different, despite playing almost identically. Even the Genesis/Mega Drive version seems to have entirely different art to the Sega/Mega CD version.

Even though the game was originally made for the Apple II, I've always considered the Amiga version to have the definitive Prince of Persia look, mostly because it's the one I've played. But the PC version is identical and seems to run a little smoother, so I'm going with that this time.

Okay, I have one hour in real time to get out of this cell, escape the dungeon, make may way through the palace, and save the Princess. One hour of gameplay doesn't sound like much, but it suits me just fine.

This is cool, I'd forgotten how the loose tiles in a room jitter a bit when I jump around or run across them. If I can break this piece of floor I'll have a way out of this cell.

Ow. I couldn't step off it in time as it dropped, and apparently two thirds of a screen is enough of a fall to cost me a hit point triangle. Sadly, unlike Karateka, in this my triangles don't regenerate over time.

Okay I've got two directions to choose from. The right exit is closer so I'll go that way first.

Shit, that was not the right way! I love the way he skids across the floor while trying to change direction though.

It's not the first game to ever use rotoscoped graphics, (that's apparently the fighting game Karateka, made by the same guy 5 years earlier), but I doubt any earlier platformer had animation this lifelike and fluid. Feel free to point out how wrong I am though.

Son of a bitch. I realised that this bit of ceiling rattled when I jumped, so I decided to knock it loose. And come loose it did... right onto my head. Another hit point lost. Well at least I've got a new path to climb up to now.

Well that's just great, I lost a hit point trying to get a health potion... which gives me back one hit point. So in the end all I've done here is waste a minute of my hour.

It seems like the game's mostly going to be about hitting these pressure plates (I'm standing on one right now, honest) to open gates, then getting through before they close. Without doing something stupid and getting the potential candidate for future princehood killed in the attempt.

Such as, for example, fucking up an incredibly easy jump and cracking his head open on the floor tiles. In my defence I'm used to holding a button down to run in platformers, but in this I have to hold the button down to walk. So I keep recklessly racing off towards certain death when I was expecting to manoeuvre more precisely.

Back to the start of the game then. With two minutes less on the clock. There's no lives in this, I get as many retries as I can fit into an hour.


I've found a sword! Now I can go all the way back and kick that guard's ass.

Poor SNES owners would have to work harder for their weapon though, as the Super Nintendo version has extended levels and an extra hour on the clock. Twice as much opportunity to make a fatal mistake and end up back at the start of the level, but on the plus side at least this version of the hero doesn't have to do it all barefoot.

Okay, I've got my sword, I just need to get back over to the start with it now. This jump was pretty easy coming from the right, but back then I had space for a run up.

Son of a bitch!

Well at least I missed the spikes.



Okay I have the sword and I've made it back. Now I just have to beat this trained guard in a fair sword fight. The game didn't give me any chance to figure out the controls, I had to get close to an enemy before the potential Prince-to-be would even draw his sword, so I'm just going to hammer the button and hope it works.

Wow, I can't believe that worked. One last pressure plate, and the exit door is open. Prince of Persia level one is completed!

Oh right, yeah, I have a time limit don't I? One hour to finish the game and I've probably wasted 20 minutes on the first level alone. Still, I know what I'm doing now.

Okay I think I've figured out how these sword fights work now.

We can either strike or block, and failing to block when the other guy strikes costs a hit point, of which we each have three. This bastard keeps backing away out of my sword range though, so I keep stepping forward into his attacks instead of blocking. I'm going to need more practice with this.

Fuck, I thought there'd be a potion down here to cure me up after the sword fight, but there was only a long fall and a tragic ending. My own fault to be honest, I should have lowed myself down carefully and taken a look before I leapt.

At least I only have to restart back to the start of this level, not the start of the entire game. Unless I do.


Damn, I spent ages trying to find another way around this bit, but it turns out that I can actually make this jump. I wouldn't mind that much except I've just wasted more of my precious minutes for no reason.

Aha, another loose ceiling tile has led to another handy health potion. And this time I managed to avoid getting hit by it as it fell down, so I may actually get some health out of this.

Fuck. I forgot there was drop under the hole and jumped instead of lowering myself down carefully. Net gain: 0 hit points. Again.

I'm betting that one of these potions is actually poison. But which one? I've already forgotten what colour the health potions are. Typically health potions in games are red, but if any game was going to mix things up it'd be this one. Damn I wish I had a quick save key.

You know what, I don't even need health. I'm just going to leave them both alone.


Actually I got killed a few times. Okay fine, I got killed a lot of times. Mostly because of these damn guards and their swords.

I'm fairly certain I don't have enough time to complete the game any more, but now the timer has taken on a new meaning for me. It's become a measure of how long I have to put up with guards stabbing me until I can turn the game off and play something else.

Oh hang on, what's this? It looks a little different from the other health potions. Could it possibly be... an EXTRA hit point? Let's see those guards push me around when I can take more hits than them.


I've finally reached the exit! I might actually make it out of this damn level yet. With four hit points I am unstoppable!
Wow, I didn't even need the extra hit point this time. Could it be... that I've finally learned how to fight in this game?

One last pressure plate to open the exit door and... no wait, WHY AREN'T YOU JUMPING?




I bravely persevered and made it back to the level exit again. And then fell down the exact same hole the exact same way as before and ended up back at the start again. But eventually I made it back here a third time and got this damn door open.

Level two complete! Suddenly I'm filled with renewed hope. Maybe I do have what it takes to actually finish this game after all.

Oh right, the timer. 4 minutes to finish the entire game. It's finally letting me save the game, but there doesn't seem much point any more.

(Helpful edit: On Amiga and DOS press Ctrl+G to save and Ctrl+L to load!)

Okay, 4 minutes might not be enough time to finish the game, but I can at least get past this level. There doesn't seem to be any guards around this time, it's just a maze.

Yes, I've found the exit with 45 seconds left on the clock! Wait, where's the switch to open it? Damn you Prince of Persia!! It laughs in the face of even my most humble of goals.

I really wanted to like this one, but it's way too frustrating for me. There's no checkpoints, so a single mistake can send you all the way back to the start of the level, which means repeating most of what you just did. And I hate repeating what I just did. I've done that part already, task complete, I've passed that test, I'm ready to move on.

Also, I have no trouble with having to go off the main path to get potions after a fight, but that gets really old after fourteen trips through the same stretch of level. Of course the time limit means that if I've messed up that many times then I've lost the game anyway and I should just restart from the very beginning.

Or better still, play something else. So that's what I'll do.


  1. That's a good game you're playing there, I managed to complete the DOS version in 25 minutes once, but then by that point I'd played it enough to know each level like the back of my hand... the joys of a mis-spent youth!

    It's fairly frustrating, but there is worse to come that that! Nice review, makes a refreshing change from most.

  2. Sorry to hear you didn't enjoy it :( This is one of my favourite games, and it really grows on you if you give it a chance! The SNES version is arguably the best, by the way.

  3. I remember playing this on the Amiga. It made me very angry. I didn't play it any more after that.

  4. I know this is 6 years later, but if anyone is reading this and getting misty eyed to replay it, but also scared at the prospect of banging your head against the first level, pop to Youtube and stick in GDQ Prince of Persia. A guy shows you how to skip all the fights by just jumping at the right moment and you glitch through the guards. First level complete in 24 seconds.

    1. I adore GsDQ - in the right hands, every character becomes Jackie Chan.


Semi-Random Game Box