GAMING GREATS: Prince of Persia (1992)

Rod is on a mission to defeat the Jaffar (not the Disney one) in a classic for the SNES. 

Who made it?: Arsys Software (Developer), Konami, Masaya (Publishers).

Genre: Platformer.

Platform: SNES (reviewed), Apple II, every other system you can name.

Format: Cartridge, CD-ROM, Download.

Released: November 1, 1992 (UK).

Prince of Persia has been ported and remade numerous times, and one such port – although, technically, it could be considered a remake as it had many changes – is the one released by Konami for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in 1992. I fondly remember being obsessed about this game as a kid, even before I had played it, and while video games could be rented from my local store, Prince of Persia wasn’t one of them. I wanted this game so bad that I would pester my parents by showing them the Nintendo magazine I used to read at the time, which had previews and reviews for Prince of Persia.

Then, one Christmas, I finally got my wish (or my parents eventually caved in after all of my ranting and raving) and I remember vividly that my folks had given me a huge present. At first, I had no idea what to expect inside, but as I opened it, there was a smaller, wrapped-up present inside. As these were unwrapped, each one became smaller until the final one became the shape and size of a Super Nintendo game box, and it was then, before even opening it, that I knew which game I had been given. I immediately went to play it, which, on that day, cemented itself as one of my favourite Super Nintendo games of all time.

Now, for those of you who don’t know the story of Prince of Persia, both versions of the game are about a young man from a foreign land who has won the love of the Sultan’s daughter, the Princess. But while the Sultan is away in a faraway land, his Grand Vizier Jaffar decides to enact a terrible plan to take the Princess hostage in her tower high above the palace, giving her an ultimatum to choose – within two hours (or one hour in the original PC version) – whether to marry him or die. Meanwhile, Jaffar has the young man, the would-be Prince, thrown into the Sultan’s dungeons deep below the palace. He manages to escape from his cell and must now find a sword to defend himself with, and so begins the objective of the entire game – to get through the levels of the palace in order to rescue the Princess in time… and to defeat Jaffar.

As I mentioned before, there are many differences between the original PC Prince of Persia and the Super Nintendo version that are not only cosmetic in nature, like the graphics which are done in a different and amazing style, and the look of the would-be Prince, as well as the other characters. There are also differences in areas such as the newly-composed music, the inclusion of boss fights at certain points, some levels with their layouts changed, and extra levels as well.

One of the major changes, one that alters the most important component of the gameplay in the PC original, is the time given to the player to get to the end of the game, fight Jaffar, and then rescue the Princess. In the PC version, you get one hour of real-time in order get through every level, but in the Super Nintendo version, you have two hours in real-time which is due to the extra levels included. In both versions, if you fail to get through the game within the time limit, you will still be able to keep playing, but the Princess will be dead by the time you get to the final level. After clearing a stage, a display will appear that indicates how long it took to complete the level, and a password for the next one so you can continue from where you left off if you decide to quit the game and turn it off. There will also be a “cutscene” after certain levels showing you what the Princess is up to as she awaits rescue.

Prince of Persia is essentially a game of trial and error with many of the Prince’s deaths caused as a result of carelessness on behalf of the player, especially when it comes to thinking there’s a lot more room to make a jump than there actually is, or thinking that you can just breeze through some of the traps, of which there are many throughout the game. These include guillotines which snap together in a certain rhythm, which you can either pass through slowly or be bold by running and jumping through them (there’s some moments where you have three of these in a row, and one level where there’s a whole line in a row), deep pits, spikes that are either on the same platform or floor that the Prince is standing on, with others that are at the bottom of the deep pits, and crushing traps that smash you into paste.

Most of these result in instant death if you fail to pass them, but some only cause you to lose health (unless you have one unit of health left when you fail to pass certain traps), such as swinging poles that hit you in the head and knock you over, tiles that will start to fall once stepped on, causing you to fall to your death, and tiles that are above you that can be jumped on to make them shake and fall (some lead to a hidden area with potions – more on those later). If you fall from a height of two tiers within one screen, you will only lose health, but if you fall from a height of three tiers or more, you will die instantly when you hit the ground. There’s even a level where you must have your wits about you because, right at the beginning, if you don’t hold the grab button you will just fall to your death each time until you succeed.

There are certain moves the player can perform as the Prince in order to pass traps safely, such as going into a crouched position and moving ahead one step at a time. To ensure the player doesn’t go over a ledge, you can tiptoe forward until the Prince reaches the end (he will do a kind of kicking motion if you get right to the end to indicate that one more step will result in falling off, same for when you get to a point where a trap starts). Timing is everything in this game, and not just because of the time limit imposed upon the player. Something which you will need to learn and master about the game, too, is how many tiles on the floor it takes in order to successfully make a jump, as there are many times where you will have a deep pit that begins shortly after you pass from one screen to another (which you could also slowly tiptoe through if you want to be cautious and exact), or instances where you only have a certain amount of tiles on a platform to use in order to perform a running jump.

There’s actually a tricky jump in a later level where you have to step on a switch tile, run towards the gate that is opening, jump across to a platform with one tile that falls as you land on it, continue running as you land on that falling tile, then jump the chasm which is hidden by the screen changeover, and then passing through this screen change to land on another platform that only has a width of two tiles. And, as you land, keep running and, in the same instance, immediately jump so that the Prince can cross a second chasm without falling off the platform. But if you thought that was tricky, that’s not all! The gate which was opened by the switch tile is slowly closing as you do all of this, and there is a single tile attached to the wall exactly one tier above the gate and is jutting out over it. As you jump through the air, you must bypass that tile by waiting until you pass under it before holding the grab button in order to latch onto the ledge just below the closing gate. If you fail this, you will fall to the spikes below, or you will grab the tile jutting out over the gate, which means you will have to jump back across the chasm you just passed and then across to the other to get back to the switch tile. It is moments like this which really give you a sense of satisfaction and pride in your skills if you’re successful!

So, what else is trying to prevent the Prince from rescuing the Princess in time? The Sultan’s guards have pledged allegiance to the Vizier, so they will try to kill the Prince, and if he is to survive, he will have to kill them or be killed himself. The guards and their level of difficulty are reflected by the colour of their outfit, and they will have more health. Most of the guards are easy to dispatch as long as you aren’t being cocky, and in a way, this makes the challenge they present to the player dependent on how the player approaches the fight. When sword fighting, you can enter a kind of rally or sabre rattle with the enemy, where you keep clashing swords before one of you gets through the other’s defence. Some guards will be standing near traps, deep or bottomless pits, and you can actually force the guard into them by switching sides, which can be achieved by blocking their attack as you keep moving towards them, so that you essentially end up walking through them to eventually make the guard switch places with you.

There are also skeletons to fight but these cannot be killed by sword fighting or by making them fall off a great height, as these will only incapacitate them for a short time. However, they can be destroyed if you force them into a crushing trap or if you goad them into a bottomless chasm. Later in the game, there is even a mirror image of the Prince who can also cause you trouble, and when it comes to it, the only way to defeat this mirror image is something you will have to figure out on your own!

Boss enemies were a new addition to the Super Nintendo version, which includes a female warrior, a rotund guard, a Knight, and a four-armed statue that comes to life and tries to kill you, making the screen shake when he lands on you, causing skull-laden debris to fall. Not everything is out to get the Prince, though. When it comes to healing him, you can find potions that refill a portion of your health, which is displayed on the bottom of the screen in the form of bottles (the enemies you fight, except the skeletons, will have their health displayed at the bottom of the screen, too). There are potions that will restore all of your health and add an extra bottle to your display.

Remember how I said not everything is out to get the Prince? Well, there is something else which can hurt him – potions that you might think will give you health but will actually poison you! There is also an elixir that will allow the Prince to float down from a great height in order to survive the drop, and there’s even one that will make the entire screen and the Prince himself turn upside down, which also affects the direction you need to press on the directional pad of the controller.

There’s also a way to change the music in the level by pressing “Start,” then quickly pressing “Select” right after, which will bring up a music selection window. The tune chosen will then keep playing until you enter a fight with a guard, experience a situation where you can’t move the character for a few moments while an event plays out, or if you die  and resume the level from the beginning. Speaking of the music, one of the best things about this game is the score. There are many great cues which capture the Arabian feel extremely well. My favourite track would be the one that plays in the hallway leading to the final face-off between the Prince and Jaffar in the Sultan’s Throne Room.

Overall, Prince of Persia is a great game. The graphics for everything from the backgrounds, foregrounds and other elements, to the animations of the Prince and all the enemies and characters, are of a high standard not only for the time in which the game was released but to this day, as they aren’t messy or ugly. There are a couple of similar titles to Prince of Persia that I’m aware of on the Super Nintendo – Blackthorne/Blackhawk (PC, SNES), a game I highly recommend that is basically Persia in a different time period with orcs as enemies and a protagonist with a shotgun instead of a sword, and also Nosferatu (SNES), which is a mixture between the running, jumping, grabbing ledges, and platforming of Prince with a side-scrolling beat-em-up.

As a result of Prince of Persia, the running, jumping, grabbing ledges, and platforming gameplay style became a favourite of mine, and has been incorporated into other franchises I love like the Tomb Raider and Assassin’s Creed series. It would also, of course, lead to the Ubisoft Prince of Persia games that were made from The Sands of Time onwards, and saw the franchise reach new heights of popularity. It more than deserves such success. 

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikpedia)
  • The four-armed statue boss that comes to life is reminiscent of the statue that comes to life in the film The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973), the difference being that the statue in that film has six arms with a sword in each one.
  • The game drew from several sources of inspiration beyond video games, including literature such as the Arabian Nights stories, and films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Adventures of Robin Hood.
  • The game was originally developed by Jordan Mechner and released in 1989 for the Apple II.

Rod Petrie

Gamer since 1988 at the age of five. First system was the Nintendo Entertainment System. Favourite retro systems - NES, SNES, N64, MegaDrive, PS1, and PS2.

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