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Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones

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Don’t get too excited; this badass-ery is a double-edged sword-chain-whip-thing.

It’s official: Steve-O and I have come to the conclusion of our journey through the Prince of Persia trilogy on Playstation 2. If you’ve read his “Roast of Prince of Persia: Warrior Within” post, you’d know our experience with the middle installment was less than pleasurable.

So then, does the trilogy end on a high note or a low note? I’m gonna say it ends on a middle note. Coming fresh off of Warrior Within, we were on a  high during the first few hours of gameplay that, unfortunately, quickly faded each time we sat down to play for a few hours.

We had a very sour taste in our mouths after finishing Warrior Within (by glitch-killing the Dahaka, of all things!). I did some sleuthing online and the general consensus seemed to be that Two Thrones was superior to its predecessor. Thank the gaming gods, because we weren’t sure if we could suffer through a repeat of Warrior Within without the Dahaka. The game starts off with the Prince and Kaileena returning to his city, only to find it in bloody squalor. Apparently the stuff he did in Warrior Within undid Sands of Time. Therefore, evil vizier hath returned. Half-naked Sand Empress gets kidnapped and the opening is you chasing her kidnappers through the city where blood is being shed all over the place thanks to pesky sand demons running amok.

Traversing rooftops via wall-running and pole-jumping is familiar territory. Dagger plates and spring boards were added for more variety. Like my programming issues with the other PoP games, you have to hit the button before you actually want Prince to stick his dagger in the plate or spring from the board. I also didn’t like how there was a separate button command to spring from the boards or to spring from the boards and transition into an attack to kill the enemies waiting for you on whatever platform you’re advancing to. There’s never an instance when the player wouldn’t want to kill the enemy. Ever. So just kill them without making me remember to push a separate button when I’m already hectically button mashing X so he’ll jump instead of falling to his death for no reason. Because, again, response time in these games is terrible for the precision that is required.

A new feature that impressed right away was the quick kill. After spending 15 minutes pressing the same button per trash encounter in WW, were were immediately jumping off the couch with glee when we could stealth kill enemies in one or two blows. In the beginning of the game, it really cut down on time wasted dealing with run-of-the-mill sand demons. Sadly, this was not the case for the long haul. This game was released the same year as the first God of War. Let’s just say that between the two of them God of War got quick-time button prompts right and Two Thrones failed. Like, epic fail. As with the rest of the commands in this game, the majority of the time you’re expected to know when to push the button before the game actually tells you to push the button. But don’t press the button a second before the second before you are given the prompt! You’re still screwed then, too. After the first couple of hours of the game, stealth kills turn into 3-5 button presses that vary depending on the enemy you’re killing and become too frustrating to bother with. And they aren’t obvious like in God of War and other games. The screen color fades and you’re given a slight flash of the prince’s blade (which is sometimes OFF SCREEN). Like I said, the prompt is usually displayed after the fact, which is my main gripe.

So yeah, that new feature turned stale pretty quickly. And they couldn’t have left it at that, either. The first real boss can only be killed with said quicktime events. The prompt didn’t even show up half the time (looked online and found out it was a common glitch). This turned the fight into a frustrating guessing game. Then the final boss fight was another hair-tearing practice in quicktime masochism. Being the final boss fight, it was harder. There’s debris circling the floor. This means that every time I failed at a quicktime event, the boss would throw Prince to the ground and he would get hit by at least one circling boulder because he doesn’t know how to get off his butt without staring at the sky for a while and then doing three fancy acrobatic rolls first. I’m very glad I never have to do that again.

Due to certain plot events I probably shouldn’t disclose for fear of spoilers, you now get to play as the prince’s alter ego. Dark Prince pops in at certain points throughout the game. He’s actually pretty funny. I laughed quite a bit whenever he berated the prince for being such a lame softie. Dark Prince and WW Prince would’ve gotten along just fine. As the game’s cover art suggests, when Prince turns Dark, he literally turns black and also gets an awesome whip. This awesome whip makes stealth kills way easier. The way it alters battle is fun. However, the new battle perks come at a steep price. Remember the end of WW, when the prince was a sand wraith for a little while? If so, I’m sure you recall the health drain. While annoying, it wasn’t a game changer because the drain would stop when Prince’s health fell to 25%. In Two Thrones, the health drain doesn’t stop until you’re good and dead. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but WW did something better than Two Thrones. To create the sense of urgency sequences now left vacant by the Dahaka’s defeat, the developers thought it would be cool to have sections where the player must negotiate crazy platforming sequences (with added torch swinging via chain-whip that we always forgot about between gaming sessions) against the clock, so to speak, thanks to the health drain. When playing as Dark Prince, sand refills health. So in the beginning of the game, when they were being easy on the player, it wasn’t a big deal. Later on… well, let’s just say I haven’t expected mandatory level memorization since the SNES era, so pardon me for being annoyed at having to suffer through the same area over and over again until I achieve flawless (Megaman) precision. And that’s assuming the prince responds to your commands as you hope and doesn’t jump to his death just for fun. I almost thought Steve-O was gonna throw the controller through my brand new TV screen in a fit of rage when he was doing the final Dark Prince platforming sequence. It was overcome-able, but not before the most painful half hour of the game. The health drain must be percentage-based, because we had all the health upgrades and still managed to run out of health.

Speaking of health upgrades, obtaining them is relatively similar to WW. The prince must go off the beaten path, wall-run and dodge roll around all manners of sharp, pointy objects to gain his prize. Except this time around there’s no fancy water sword waiting for you afterwards.

Sand upgrades are handled a little differently in this game. Instead of solving mini wall-running trial and error puzzles, you approach a sand portal and have to kill its guardians. According to the strategy guide we were referencing, killing the fancy captains or whatever they were was supposed to reduce the amount of enemies appearing from the portal that we had to kill. I didn’t find this to be true at all. Even when killing the captain first, ten more sand abominations would pop out of the portal. Aside from dealing with the sloppy combat, I didn’t really have a problem with this new method. The only let down is when you spend time killing cronies to be rewarded with “Sand Credits”… AKA, no reward at all. Scattering this artwork/concept design currency throughout the game in treasure chests is fine. Putting it in sand portals is not fine. My guess is that the developers realized from WW that gamers didn’t really get a chance to use all the fancy offensive moves they created because we’re too busy using the limited sand we have to rewind time because enemies never drop health unless you’re Dark Prince. 

Enemies never dropping experience or health is my long-running gripe with this series. Why bother suffering through the terrible battle system if you aren’t rewarded for doing so? I’d call this an action game pet peeve, but I can’t think of any other games of this nature that do such a thing. I tried running away from enemies when able, but that was a pain in the rear too because the prince refused to leave enemies be. He’d insist on facing enemies and remaining in battle stance the entire time I tried pulling him away from them. I felt like I couldn’t win either way.

Most of the aesthetic features are better than the previous installment. The graphics are better. They still suck, especially considering God of War was originally released the same year. The music is so, SO much better than WW-Godsmack “I’ve forgotten what kind of game this is supposed to be,” music. Sorry, but in my mind the only action series I’ve played that can pull off the metal vibe is Devil May Cry. Two Thrones has great music that suits the setting. They also brought back the original voice actor for the prince, who I liked better.

The enemy designs are kind of boring, now that I think about it. The bosses looked cool, but everything else you fight feels dull and uninspired. Character designs are fine. And by fine, I mean damn fine because the prince runs around topless the whole game and the femme du jour actually isn’t dressed like a complete hooker.

In retrospect, the first PS2 game, Sands of Time, was the most enjoyable. This is strange to me. In my experience, I find game trilogies start off decent, the middle game veers too far off and sucks balls, then the finale not only fixes everything wrong with the second but it supersedes the first. I don’t feel that way about the PoP trilogy. I also don’t feel that anyone in their right mind would recommend these titles as fun or good games. Especially after playing current gen games that got action platforming right; i.e. the Assassin’s Creed series, Prince of Persia (reboot?) and the Uncharted Series.  This trilogy planted a seed, I’ll give it that, but I really can’t see forgiving everything else wrong because of it… Even if I played these games when they were first released.

Epilogue: After forcing ourselves to play all three Prince of Persia PS2 games, Steve-O and I watched the movie, featuring Jake Gyllenhall as Prince Dastan (they gave him a name… WTF?). We both agreed the movie was enjoyable because it had little in common with the games.

-Shena

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