As reviews of the new Prince of Persia started coming in, word on the street was that the game was “too easy”. I feared the worst; after all, utter lack of difficulty was one of the only complaints I could lob at Wind Waker, and this sounded similar. After spending a bit of time with it over the weekend, however, I was happy to discover that “too easy” isn’t exactly accurate.
When you miss a jump in the new Prince of Persia game, your lovely assistant / Yorda clone Elika leaps to the rescue and throws you back to the last bit of solid ground you stood on. You literally cannot jump to your death. Similarly, if you’re defeated in battle, she’ll save you before the final blow is struck, essentially resetting the battle and restoring the enemy’s health. In conclusion: you literally can’t die. Ever.
[[image: ar_121208_pop_01.jpg:The voice acting is off the charts…in fact, you could say it’s uncharted. Oh ho ho.:center:0]]
The point Ubisoft Montreal is trying to make, though, is an important one: why should you die? “Death” in a videogame simply means reloading from the last checkpoint anyway. Granted, it’s less frustrating today than the 5+ minutes reloading could take in the PS1 era, but Prince of Persia’s system essentially has you back in control faster than even Super Mario Bros. did, and that’s damn impressive. All the same things — the platforming, restarting the fight with whatever monster beat you — have to happen again, but without the waiting and frustration usually associated with failure. The game is all about positive reinforcement and relieving the player from that stress.
Of course, it isn’t the first game in recent memory to hit upon this idea. BioShock did something similar – death simply sent you back to the last checkpoint, and the only penalty was the ammo you’d expelled; heck, the enemies even retained the damage dished out before your demise. The Wario Land series stuck out when I was younger as the only games where the enemies couldn’t kill you. What Prince of Persia is doing isn’t exactly without precedent, but it’s nice to see I was worried for nothing — the difficulty level was deliberate, and the developers understand exactly why it has been designed in such a way.
This is particularly fascinating to me because it’s another small break away from what videogames generally always have been. I remember once reading that Dragon Quest VIII’s lack of an overworld map was explained as “Well, we could render everything so that we didn’t need to represent a large world that way anymore,” and being struck by the realization that so many RPGs out there were still doing it that way simply because they always had. A more recent example would be Dead Space’s use of the lights on the protagonist’s suit and in-game holograms to do away HUDs and menus altogether. (Sure, Ico did that same basic idea first, but that another developer took it and started tweaking it for use in a much more complex game is definitely appreciated.) More and more developers are rethinking the most basic structures and strictures of the games they’re building, thinking critically about what a game has to be, and that’s definitely a good thing.
[[image: ar_121208_pop_02.jpg:This area needs more Tingle:center:0]]
So while Prince of Persia is by no means perfect, it does at least deserve recognition for deliberately throwing a basic design element out the window for good reason. Not that every game needs to reinvent the wheel, or even take this same route — there’s something to be said for the satisfaction gained from overcoming a challenge, after all — but there’s nothing intrinsically necessary about dying, either. As much as I loved Mario Galaxy, the concept of a game over felt very archaic, since all it realistically meant was having to wait an extra minute or two as I sat through the title screen, loaded the file, and made my way back to the exact same level I died on. I’m starting to realize that sometimes I just don’t need that, you know? If the game is fun, then the fewer barriers to playing it, the better.