There are a lot of complimentary words in the English language. Of course, I'm not going to claim to know all of them. But I am going to claim that there isn't a doubt in my mind that every single one of them applies to Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Unfortunately, the best I could come up with to describe this masterpiece was "absolutely brilliant," but believe me, I feel terribly guilty for my incompetence in finding a better suited description. So, due to my overwhelming feeling of guilt, I guess my only option is to tell you just why this game is "absolutely brilliant."
By far, the finest aspect of Sands of Time is the gameplay itself. There are two main parts to the gameplay: fighting battles and maneuvering obstacles. The true core of the game though lies in maneuvering obstacles. The main character, who we'll just refer to as "the Prince," as his true name is never actually revealed, has amazing acrobatic talents. He can run up and along walls, climb up and down polls, swing on bars, jump long distances, rebound between walls, and do whatever else the situation might require. The best thing about all of this is how realistically the Prince controls. His movements are the exact opposite of the usual jerky movements found in most other games. I could probably spend a good five or ten minutes just running around in a circle or zigzagging because of how fluidly the Prince moves.
But fluidity and grace aside, the real fun comes from applying the previously mentioned acrobatic abilities to the physical puzzles constantly encountered throughout the game. Let me give you an example. Say you come into a room high above the floor, and you want to get down to the bottom. So first, you have to drop down onto a ledge and scale across the wall. From the wall, you jump onto a broken column that is no longer connected to the floor, and from there jump onto a platform sticking out of the wall. From the platform, you run sideways across the wall, trigger a pressure plate, jump off the wall to a flagpole, and swing onto another platform summoned out by the pressure plate. And so on until you reach the bottom. The thing is, the situation I just explained (even if it was tough to follow...sorry) is an extremely simple one. Many of these puzzles can get quite complicated, especially when you start taking into account the varied traps that are placed throughout the palace you will be traversing.
Now, don't think that these physical puzzles are going to be the only brain-scratching situations you will encounter. Doing all those things are really quite exhilarating, and just plain fun to do. The real tough stuff comes in the few actual puzzles in the game. Those of you who have played "Ico" should have some idea of what these are like, although The Sands of Time's puzzles are exceptionally simple when compared to Ico's. The thought of these scared me at first, because puzzle solving isn't exactly my strong suit when it comes to video games. But these too are actually quite fun, and pretty rewarding when you finish them. For a quick example, there is one part in the game where you have to rearrange mirrors on the first and second floor of a library in order to hit a symbol on the wall with a thin stream of light and open a gate. For me, these puzzles certainly took a little while to figure out, but it also wasn't anything where I got bored because I didn't know what to do next (as it often happened in Ico.)
Well, enough with the adventure part of the game. Let's move on to the action. Like in the puzzles, the Prince's acrobatic abilities play an imperative role in successfully concluding a battle. The most helpful action in the game, for me anyway, was being able to vault over enemies. Yes, that's right...you jump onto an enemy, then jump over him. While in the air, you have the option of swinging your sword and knocking the enemy down. But not all enemies will let you vault over them. That is why you can jump off the wall and over the enemy, providing the same effect as the regular vault. You can also jump off the wall, but instead of jumping over the enemy, you'll dive directly in its direction, sword pointing straight out, again knocking him down. The option of blocking and counter-attacking are also present. In order to survive, all of these actions must be utilized to take advantage of each enemy's weakness.
Notice how I never said anything about actually killing an enemy in the last paragraph. That's because after the first five minutes of the game, it will be impossible. Due to the Prince's unintentional actions, every human being was turned into a sand creature. And, as we all know, you can't actually kill a sand creature, that's just foolish. But you can destroy it utterly by taking out its sand. Of course, that requires some sort of sand extracting weapon, something like the Dagger of Time maybe.
In order to truly get rid of an enemy, you must knock it down and stab it with the Dagger of Time, thus taking its sand. And when the Dagger fills up with enough sand, the fun really starts happening. With the dagger, and with enough sand, you can temporarily stop time for one enemy, temporarily slow down all time, rewind time, and even temporarily stop time for everything except you, allowing you to destroy a number of enemies in the blink of an eye. The most helpful of all these time control abilities is the power to rewind, because not only can you rewind time if you get hit by an enemy or misjudge a landing, you can rewind time after you have died, thus reviving yourself.
Assisting the wonderful gameplay are absolutely superb graphics. The Sands of Time has some of the most beautiful surroundings I've ever seen in a video game. Even during nighttime segments, this game just looks stunning.
Alright, so the gameplay is great and the graphics are gorgeous, but what about the story? Well, at first I thought it was going to be another horribly average story with a boring presentation. The basics of the story are that the Prince is tricked into unleashing a horrible evil upon the world, and it is up to the Prince, with the help of the spunky Farah, to contain this evil before it spreads, and stop the one responsible for the trickery.
After having completed the game, I'm still obliged to say it was fairly average, but in a good way. One neat thing about how the story is presented is that most of it happens during gameplay. Conversations between the Prince and Farah happen in real time, as well as when the Prince is expressing his thoughts to the player. At key parts of the story though, the game will convert to an FMV, each of which couldn't have possibly been better. But the best part about the story is the little twist at the end, something that when you see it will make you say, "Ohhh...now I get it," even though you thought you understood in the first place. Even though I feel a little cheated because I feel like I should have picked up on this little surprise beforehand, I was extremely pleased with how everything unfolded. All in all, I got much more from the story than I had originally expected.
One more noteworthy part of The Sands of Time is the theme song. The music that plays during gameplay is fine, it suits the game well, but it really isn't a huge part of the experience. But the theme song itself is something worth mentioning. Hearing it for the first time during the ending credits, the song is a modern take on traditional mid-eastern melodies. The music is fairly simple, but accompanied with smooth vocals, the song itself holds a charming quality I don't often hear in most songs.
I have said time and time again that no masterpiece is perfect. And staying true to this statement, there is a huge problem I had with The Sands of Time. I beat this game in a little over a day, approximately thirty hours from the time I first started it up until I was watching the ending credits. My total gameplay time was a little more than eight hours. Today, I started the game again for fun, and I got through fifty percent of the game in about two and a half hours. I mean, I realize that a lot of work went into this game, I really do, but it is still unbelievably short. This game was, for lack of a better word, absolutely brilliant, but I only got to experience that brilliance for a day. It just saddens me that the experience was over so quickly.
The Bottom Line
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is one of the few games about which everything feels right. It's beautiful, it's challenging, it's humorous, and it's just plain fun. I beg of you, for your own sake, don't pass this game up, because you'd have to try real hard to dislike it.