Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.
We’re 300 games into Have You Played now, and I thought I’d run out of titles I’ve played. As it turns out, there was a whole new seam of stuff waiting, ancient titles I played on my first PC, a humble 25MHz 486 SX. I’ve done Scorched Earth, Zool, Jazz Jackrabbit, Lemmings, Yoda Stories, DOS itself and there are more to come. It’s disorientating to be dredging those depths of my mind, but also a great pleasure to step back to a time before first-person shooting defined so much. The original Prince Of Persia from 1990, particularly, took over my life for a few weeks in the early 1990s.
There were two genres of PC games for me back then: games I played by myself, and games I played with my dad. We weren’t easy co-op buddies: I was clumsy and impatient, he was efficient and logical. Playing Lemmings, as we did for quite a time, was highly stressful for both us. Prince Of Persia came not long afterwards, if I recall correctly, and it proved a tipping point. His frustration at seeing me witlessly tumble time and time again into timed spikes or through holes in the ground became too much, so he left me to it rather than continued trying to advise.
I bludgeoned my way through it alone, with a determination and a patience I’m not convinced I have today. This was before savegames, before level passwords, before easy access to cheats: the beat the game, I had to play the whole damn thing through. While some players could make it on reflex and observation alone, my poor co-ordination (improved but not lost by now) meant all I could do was learn the levels through gruelling trial and error. Memorise every spike trap, every enemy, every door switch, every health location, every mean trick Jordan Mechner’s elegant platformer pulled on me. Eventually, I managed what looked from afar like effortless flow (aided by the still-lovely animation), but the accomplishment of which was anything but.
I didn’t play to better myself. That’s never much interested me, unfortunately. I played because I was caught up in the bleak beauty of the titanic jail I was thrown into, because I believed the urgency of the Prince’s quest – get out, get the girl, get revenge. It’s all so simplistic now (and the Persian prince’s Aryan look is excruciating), but at the time it seemed so much more coherent and driven than so many of its rather more abstract peers. It’s one of those games I can close my eyes and see, not just because of the time I spent with it, but because its deadly, loney stone jail was a real place to me.
You can play Prince of Persia in your browser via archive.org here, though it’s a bit legally grey.