Have You Played… Prince Of Persia (1990)?

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.

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  1. scaresnake says:

    Even more fun to be had with Level Editors for Prince of Persia 1 and 2.

    link to princed.org

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    Marclev says:

    Wow, that screenshot brings back memories!

    Can you guys do Flashback? I remember it being a bit like Prince of Persia, just with less frustration.

  3. chewbaccasdad says:

    “…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.”

    You know, it never occurred to me that something like Prince of Persia could be play in any other way than trial or error, because that’s exactly how I approached it. In fact, that’s how I figured it was intended to be played.

    Some people played it on by reflex? Whoah.

    • kyrieee says:

      Well I mean, there’s some trial and error because of the time limit and the fact that you have to start over when you die. When I made progress in the game though it tended to be quite significant. Once you get past the first few stages you’re probably good enough at the game to not die to random stuff and it’s more about figuring out things like the mirror puzzle, or making sure you have enough time / life at the end.

  4. MrAlphaNumeric says:

    Absolutely loved this back in the day. The animations were unmatched by anything I’d seen. Classic!

  5. RaunakS says:

    Dangerous Dave, Prince of Persia and the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy are my formative gaming experience.

    Going through the original source code (link to github.com) shows how painstakingly Jordan Mechner built the darn thing. It was then, and remains now, one the foremost advances of the gaming medium.

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      phuzz says:

      His diary of the period making the game is really interesting, because at first you’re learning about how someone went about making a game for the Apple II back in the day, but then you realise that it’s also his diary of him growing up and getting his first job etc.

  6. djim says:

    I remember beating the final boss and then falling off a cliff to my death – seconds before time would expire :P

  7. Zekiel says:

    Yes. Yes I have. As I recall (from the dim mists of the early nineties) I played the first 5 minutes of the game quite a lot before eventually giving up in frustration. I recall it as being stupidly hard for my dreadful reflexes and manual dexterity.

    • vorador says:

      Sounds about right for my experience. Sometimes i might have got further in, but i always died or got lost (and died).

      Same with Another World. Beautiful games that were way too hard for my child self.

  8. ikazrima says:

    The community is quite alive, there has been total remake into a new engine from the community at forum.princed.org. One remake can run it on modern Windows without a problem. I myself am working on one in Unity (shameless self promoting) based on the community reference guide on the how the game works. It’s one of those games that almost my whole family have played it.

    Needless to say this one has a special place in heart along with S3&K and G-Nome.

  9. suibhne says:

    I remember getting this in the mail back in my college days, promptly loading it up on my Mac LCIII, and proceeding to spend the next 13 hours learning every trick and getting my time down to about 24 minutes. Over 20 years later, I still know most of the game like the back of my hand.

  10. ansionnach says:

    There was saving in Prince of Persia. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this – doesn’t anyone read the manual? CTRL-G saves; CTRL-L loads. Even though you could save anywhere, when you’d load the game you’d begin at the start of the saved level so it only made sense to save then.

    Great game – played this to death for years. Complete the game with loads of time left (loaded it whenever I made a mistake). The second one is even better and much, much harder. I’d suspect that many would not be able to finish it ever, no matter how hard they try. Both are much better than the (different anyway) Flashback. Was a big fan of FB at the time. It’s a pretty decent game but not in the same league as both Prince of Persias and Another World.

    • ansionnach says:

      Some of the earliest home computer games like Zork and Ultima had save games… so Prince was most definitely not before saves.

    • tremulant says:

      I’m not sure that R. Bubba Magillicutty’s version came with a manual…

      • ansionnach says:

        For such esteemed releases there’s always trial and error. It’s always worth trying CTRL, ALT, shift and every letter, plus all the function keys. Some games may have even used CTRL + function keys.

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    Skabooga says:

    Lovely game. It created a brooding, enveloping atmosphere with spare but well-chosen details.

  12. Talbot says:

    Was around 6 when I played this; I remember my repeated failures to get past Level 3 vividly. I did not know about the save games though.

  13. Cronstintein says:

    They don’t make many games like this any more. Ruthlessly unforgiving but with tight controls. Was this the original Dark Souls?

    Heheh, I say somewhat in jest but it’s a good game that I was too young to fully appreciate when it came out. Later I came back to it in my 20’s and gave it a proper finishing.

  14. Konservenknilch says:

    My first game ever, played on my mum’s 286 with a B/W screen. Damn, those chomping doors!

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    Ninja Dodo says:

    Love this game, but the time limit that doesn’t reset when you die is evil.

  16. lutjasuki says:

    unfortunate use of the word aryan to describe a valid point (blond haired). The title of, king of the aryans, was used by the persian kings.

    • lutjasuki says:

      no delete function :(. The thing is that was just some needless (and dumb) nitpicking of what was a perfectly correct criticism of the game.

      • TheAngriestHobo says:

        Don’t feel bad about that; it was a valid point. The term Aryan does refer to a particular group of people of Persian descent. It’s unfortunate that our collective social memory doesn’t extend much past WW2, and that we continue to misuse the word in a way popularized by the Third Reich.

  17. ariston says:

    I’d just gotten together with a girl that I’d been hounding for 6 months! She had PoP on her computer, and I’d be playing whenever we weren’t…. er… doing stuff. I’d listen to the Pixies, and play that sucker to death. Yes, I finished it, and no, I’ve never displayed that kind of determination in gaming hence. If a game decides to punish me for failing, I tend to drop it. For better or worse….

  18. General Ludd says:

    I spent so many hours, years really, trying to work out how to get passed the shadow fight. I never managed to work it out.

    Also: so much time guessing the letter from the manual…

  19. thyho says:

    Im the only one who played this game in a monochrome monitor?
    That green phosphor monitor IDK how i’m not blind today.

    • ansionnach says:

      Seems 28 Konservenknilch did as well. Even though I originally played it on a 386SX-20MHz with VGA monitor, I also had a go on my uncle’s 8088. I think it had a CGA monitor, although I seem to think I played it on a yellow screen. D/Generation also ran on that machine so they played that a lot, too. Must be some of the best games you could play on any PC. Maybe throw in 1981’s Castle Wolfenstein (the overhead stealth game) as well.

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      Ninja Dodo says:

      I played King’s Quest 1 and Space Invaders like that, all in green, but not this game.

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      yhancik says:

      I did as well, but with an amber monochrome monitor ;)

  20. konondrum says:

    Played it and completed it! I think I was more proud of finishing this than anything I’ve beaten in the last 25 years. Well, maybe Spelunky comes close.

  21. thekelvingreen says:

    For some reason this was installed on the computers at school, and for even more inexplicable reasons we were allowed to play it!

    This probably explains why my design technology mark was so low.

  22. Bob In A Bottle says:

    This was easily the best game on my 386! Even better than Jill Of The Jungle! It was the sword fighting in this that gave me my nostalgiagasm at the first sight of Nidhogg.

    You shouldn’t be surprised that the Prince of Persia is Aryan, Aryan is actually the name used by Persians for themselves, it’s what gives us “Iran”. Before successive waves of conquest and migration from Arabs and Turkic peoples, Iranians probably would have much more closely fit the common idea of “Aryan”.

  23. speaker says:

    “the Persian prince’s Aryan look is excruciating” you do realise that “iranian” is literally iranian for aryan. though blond hair might not actually be that common round there.

  24. April March says:

    As I said in the DOS thread, I did, a bootlegged version using the megashifts cheat to get past the DRM after the second level. I beat the final boss but never really completed it. I do remember the ‘dark half’ thing being frightening as hell.

  25. tehfish says:

    I remember this :D

    In some ways the sheer age of the PC i was playing it on (an 8mhz Amstrad 286) helped because it ran at a little less than realtime making timing the jumps a little bit easier, probably still didn’t get much further than half way though…

  26. Baf says:

    Hey, you know that thing that platformer heroes do where they take a running jump across a gap, catch onto a ledge on the opposite side by their fingers, and pull themselves up? Lara Croft did it a lot in her earlier, more tile-based adventures? Prince of Persia invented that move.

  27. Unsheep says:

    Oh man, this was one of the very first games that really grabbed me and kept me playing for a long time. Platformers were better in the past, with games like Another World and Oddworld, the new ones today are just like Nintendo games, not like the classic PC platformers.