The Prince returns

Prince of Persia: Rival Swords is the ideal game for anyone who’s ever wondered what it would be like to be a stealth ninja with mad monkey-like agility. Rival Swords, for the PlayStation Portable, is a port of Prince of Persia: the Two Thrones, previously released for XBox, PS2, PC, and GameCube. The game draws heavily from the platforming elements which the Prince of Persia franchise originally set precedent for back in the days of the NES, though it is in full 3D, and also features several unique new twists to the combat system not present in its predecessors.

Rival Swords follows the ongoing adventures of the Prince as he returns to Babylon following his journey to the Island of Time, which took place in the conceptually-darker Warrior Within. The Prince finds his actions on the island have undone his deeds from the previous games, effectively throwing the city into chaos and leaving his kingdom scarred by the ravages of war. The player is required to battle through the armies of the Prince’s fallen arch-enemy, the now-resurrected Vizier, all the while attempting to rescue the Empress of Time.

The gameplay largely consists of running along walls, hopping around poles, and making unlikely leaps from platform to platform. Seriously Prince, there’s a door right beside you. Is it really necessary to leap from wall to wall to reach the other side? In a 3D environment with only the one analog controller present on the PSP, this creates some problems with camera movement. It doesn’t render the game unplayable, but being forced to constantly stop to readjust the camera angle disrupts the flow.

When the Prince isn’t balancing on beams or skipping across rooftops, he’s patrolling the streets, tactfully murdering the emissaries of the Vizier. In most encounters, the player will have the opportunity to sneak up behind the enemy and perform a stealth kill by precisely timing a couple of button presses. This looks cool the first few times, but lacks the variety to really sate the casual gamer’s typical lust for gore. If the stealth kill fails, or the player encounters the enemy head on, an imperfect battle sequence ensues which mostly consists of the Prince deftly hopping around like a strung-out circus clown while slashing randomly in the direction of enemies. With the aforementioned camera issues, it would have been more practical to have some sort of lock-on system in place to supplement close combat in narrow quarters, though the nature of the game as a port means this probably wouldn’t have been considered.

Stealth kills aside, the other twist in Rival Swords emerges later in the game, as the Prince develops a sort of alter-ego. Without spoiling anything, when the Prince is in this form he goes up at least 10 points on the badass scale. Not that it isn’t cool to watch the Prince prance about in a flurry of acrobatic swordsmanship, but tearing through the ranks of the Vizier’s armies as his alter-ego lends a far more satisfying feel to battle.

Graphically, the game middles by PSP standards. The exotic Eastern architecture is inspired at times, but the limitations of the port prevent such visuals from being properly conveyed to the player. True-to-form with other recent Prince of Persia games, the plot is well-woven and maintains a steady flow. Clocking in at just over 10 hours worth of gameplay, however, the length of the game isn’t among its strong points.

Prince of Persia: Rival Swords for the PlayStation Portable isn’t a bad game. Players nostalgic for classic platform action will enjoy the difficulty level presented by the wall-climbing, column-shimmying antics of the Prince. The immersive storyline and lure of the franchise also contribute to its selling points. It is the mediocrity which is prevalent throughout the game mechanics and visuals which prevents it from being a truly great game. While the PSP port has its moments, PlayStation 2 owners would be better off simply purchasing The Two Thrones.

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