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Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown is so much better than it looks in the reveal trailer

Return of the king

Sargon faces away from the camera in artwork for Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown
Image credit: Ubisoft

After its big reveal at Summer Game Fest on Thursday, the internet has not taken kindly to Ubisoft's new Prince Of Persia game. There have been reports that The Lost Crown's gameplay reveal trailer (which currently sits across five separate YouTube channels) is continuing to rack up significantly higher dislikes than likes since it got announced, and many seem to have taken issue with the trailer's accompanying rap song and that it doesn't look like a "true" Prince Of Persia game, whatever the heck that means. It's disappointing to see a game instantly dismissed like this, not least because, as someone who's actually been to Ubisoft Montpellier to play the damn thing, this is arguably the most exciting Prince Of Persia game in years - and certainly more interesting than the troubled Sands Of Time Remake.

The developers at Ubisoft Montpellier have acknowledged it's been a challenge bringing Prince Of Persia back for a modern audience. Work started on the game around four years ago at the end of 2019 - almost a year before the Sands Of Time Remake was first announced. Back then, it was no doubt originally intended to be a chaser to this revamped Sands Of Time (which was initially dated to appear in early 2021), but as the years wore on with successive delays and refunds for the latter, The Lost Crown will now be first out of the gate. But clearly, being thrust out into a world of baying Geoff Festers has only made the shadow of its beloved 20-year-old predecessor loom even larger.

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"It's a challenge because when you begin [work] on such an important brand, you know that everyone has this vision of how Prince Of Persia should be," producer Abdelhak Elguess tells me. "There are so many successful video games, there's the movie, and there were different kinds of video games - 2D, 3D - so the legacy is very important. So as a creative team, when you begin working, you need to respect all the work that has been done. But at the same time, you need to take the right decision and say, 'Okay, this is the legacy, we need to take some part of it, but we are doing a game for 2023, 2024, so we need to bring something new to the players. […] We knew from the beginning that if we're coming back, we need to come back with a quality game."

And based on almost four hours of play time with it, I reckon the team at Ubisoft Montpellier are right on the money with this one. As I wrote on Thursday, The Lost Crown sees you stepping into the boots of Sargon, a superpowered guardian fella who's the youngest hero of a new group of characters called The Immortals. He's on a mission to rescue this game's prince, who's been abducted and taken to the mysterious and forbidden city of Mount Qaf. But when Sargon and his fellow Immortals finally arrive at Mount Qaf, you quickly understand why no one hangs around here anymore. It's a teeny bit cursed, you see, and the flow of time is rather all over the shop. Luckily, Sargon is the only Immortal who can manipulate the past and present, and as your team split up to cover as much ground as they can, Sargon's left on his lonesome to traverse the twisty-turny labyrinth of this sprawling, abandoned metropolis.

Sargon slices a monster beneath a large water wheel in Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Ubisoft
Sargon jumps onto a waterwheel platform in Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown
Sargon slices a zombie monster from behind  in Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown
The world of Mount Qaf is stuffed with eye-catching details, with big centrepieces complementing smaller, incidental set dressing. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Ubisoft

My preview session began as Sargon enters Mount Qaf for the first time, which is a little way into the game after its opening tutorial siege. It had also been specially prepared for my play session, locking off several of its Metroid-like pathways so we could focus on the task at hand - exploring its initial citadel and adjoining autumnal forest areas, where the manticore boss Jahandar lay in wait at the end of it for us. These are the locations you'll see in my screenshots, but I also got to play another section further on in the game that focused on a place called the Sacred Archives, whose shifting staircases moved up and down in time with Sargon facing left and right, and the Pit Of Eternal Sands, whose smashing pillars everywhere made for a very tricky platforming challenge.

With so many routes sealed off during my demo, that obviously makes it tricky to comment on whether its map will be packed with the kind of neat shortcuts and interconnecting pathways we've come to expect from a modern Metroid-like. I will say that the hand-drawn map I saw on the studio walls looked pretty large by my count (and that was with several areas hidden away under scraps of paper to keep them from view as well). There, I could see a handful of ways each area would loop back round to other sections of the map, but even if it does end up leaving something to be desired on this front, I'm pretty confident that its combat and its platforming chops will more than make up for any deficiencies in its exploration.

Sargon parries a large soldier  in Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown
Sargon knees a big warrior in the face in Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown
A successful parry will see Sargon perform a flashy finisher move that looks like it's come straight out a comic book panel. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Ubisoft

As you might expect from the studio behind excellent platformers Rayman Legends and Rayman Origins, Sargon is a lithe and tactile lad. His pair of twin swords make him a formidable melee fighter, but he'll also have a bow and a chakram to chip away at enemies at range. Talismans can be equipped to bring extra qualities to your arsenal, such as adding a lick of fire to your arrows, or giving you the option to evade on the spot rather than the default back dash.

The air dash in particular has the pleasingly subtle detail of Sargon mimicking a Sands Of Time wall-run.

But it's Sargon's parry attack that really makes his blades sing. When enemies charge at you with a yellow glint in their eye, a successful parry will see Sargon execute a devastating finisher attack, leaping up into the air, somersaulting over their heads and slicing through flesh as stylish flashes of colour appear onscreen to accent the power of his sword swings. It requires reasonably precise timing, but the window isn't so narrow as to feel punishing or frustrating. I was still able to parry correctly, for example, when dealing with multiple enemies onscreen coming at me from all angles, and I was also pleased to see you can it to deflect incoming arrows, too, which felt extra stylish and amped up the smug factor.

Sure, I felt rather less smug when The Lost Crown's large, screen-hogging manticore boss absolutely mullered me ten times in a row (almost half of which were just before I dealt the final blow, too, the bastard), but these tough, Persian folklore-inspired monsters never crossed that line into pure Soulsian despair either. There are patterns that can be memorised, stinging poison tail attacks that can be dodged and avoided, and pesky magic chucking clouds that can sawn through with a well-directed chakram throw. (I was also pleased to see a BIG PIG boss in the forest, too, just in case you were wondering if you'll be able to keep up your swine-slaying quota in the new year).

Sargon enters an autumnal forest scene in Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Ubisoft
Sargon looks at a golden Wak Wak tree in Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown
Sargon air dashes in a forest scene in Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown
In the autumnal forest, you can shoot or slice buds to create shroomy platforms. See how Sargon's air dash looks like he's wall-running, too. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Ubisoft

Outside of battle, Sargon's jumps, slides and air dashes make him feel like the supercharged cousin of Ori and Samus under the thumbs, lending flashy acrobatics an air of satisfying sophistication and sensitivity. The air dash in particular has the pleasingly subtle detail of Sargon mimicking a Sands Of Time wall-run - an homage to the older Prince Of Persia games, the devs tell me - but it's his ability to freeze and rewind time that feels like the most playful riff on the series' history. Unlike Sands Of Time, this isn't simply a redo safety net, you see. With a squeeze of the shoulder button, Sargon can create an image of himself that he can snap back to on a second button press, potentially leaping out of harm's way, or even unleashing another sneaky attack if you froze mid-arrow pull, for example. Later platforming sections also had Sargon use this ability to great effect to traverse tricky archive corridors as well, creating images of himself to zap back to newly materialised platforms after hitting a switch with his sword or bow so he didn't fall into the pit of spikes below. And if you're really clever, you can even use it catch your own chakram and parry it back into a monster's face.

Later on in the game, you'll be able to pin in-game screenshots to your map screen, creating a handy reminder of what locked doors or unsolved puzzles you've run into.

Of course, in classic Metroid-like fashion, there will be some obstacles you won't be able to tackle on your first go. The Lost Crown follows in that more traditional school of Metroid design by teasing puzzles you don't immediately have the right moveset for, but it does also move things forward in this regard with a very, very neat trick. Later on in the game, you'll be able to pin in-game screenshots to your map screen, creating a handy reminder of what locked doors or unsolved puzzles you've run into, say, without having to endless back track to ferret out where you should be heading next. This has always been one of my pet peeves in Metroidvanias when I've lost the thread of what I'm meant to be doing next, but here's The Lost Crown just instantly remedying this problem in one fell swoop.

I'm also excited to see exactly where else Mount Qaf will take us on Sargon's journey. While Sargon and the rest of his gang have a chunky, anime and comic book-infused look about them, the backdrops you'll be wall-jumping through are a sumptuous mix of 2D and 3D visuals that are packed with details to draw the eye. Monuments loom large in the background to give each room its own striking centrepiece, but some of The Lost Crown's better moments bring them right into the foreground and incorporate them into its puzzles. Early on in the citadel, for example, temporal anomalies can be smashed with Sargon's sword to bring the past roaring back into the present. In this case, it was an enormous stone statue of a deity whose multiple golden stone hands, feet and scales of justice reformed to create new walls and platforms for Sargon to continue his journey upward.

Sargon crouches after dealing a big blow to a manticore boss in Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Ubisoft
Sargon parries a forest creature in Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Ubisoft
Sargon crosses his arms ready to strike in a special attack in Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Ubisoft
Anime is a big inspiration for The Lost Crown's visuals, and I spotted several statues of One Piece, Demon Slayer and Dragon Ball characters on the developers' desks.

In addition to those set pieces, though, there are all the classic tell-tale signs of classic Metroid design here. Slivers of flag tails, wooden platforms and more demand signal all manner of nooks and crannies to explore, with often some time crystals, health or treasure to reward your curiosity at the end of it. Time crystals are your currency in The Lost Crown, and can be spent upgrading your weapons or buying new talismans at a supernatural forge run by the flaming goddess Kaheva you'll find in periodic rest areas. Whispers of golden light will also point you in the direction of its equally golden Wak-Wak trees, which are effectively your bonfires, benches or other Metroid/Soulsian construct of choice to save your game and create a checkpoint. Thankfully, you'll only respawn here when your health bar properly hits zero. Falling at platforming challenges will plonk you back right next to where you fell, and boss battles will give you the option of instantly restarting it, too (again, instantly solving yet another major irritation I have with save points and their lack of proximity to Metroidvania boss arenas).

Most of all, though, I'm just looking forward to seeing what kind of horrible nasties I'll be slicing up with Sargon's swords. While the citadel mostly consisted of zombified soldiers and the like, the forest was chock full of nasty little goblin boys with big spears and bright leafy manes. Later on in the archives, there was also a giant blind librarian who'd pursue you if he sensed your presence - clearly taking a few leaves out of Metroid Dread's manuscript here - as well as chumps with big stone slabs on their back who'd counter any attempt to slide behind them with a big bash of their stone turtle shells.

Sargon encounters a purple temporal anomaly in a ruined city in Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown
Hitting temporal anomalies can alter a space in real-time, creating new platforms and pathways for Sargon to get where he needs to go. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Ubisoft

But the biggest highlight of my time with The Lost Crown can perhaps be summed up by an encounter with Sargon's own shadow. Briefly seen in the trailer, it appears that Mount Qaf's temporal curse will be turning friends into foes as you journey deep into its underbelly, and even pit Sargon against himself. In a fight that instantly recalled the fast and frantic slip and slide of Metroid and Zelda's Dark Samus and Link scraps, pitting Sargon against his own ghost wasn't just thrilling as an individual boss battle. It was a pure, unfiltered showcase for the game's nimble and agile controls, pushing Sargon's deft and lightning-fast reflexes to the ultimate test of brain to finger button tussling. It was the kind of fight that made me lean forward, wince, gasp and brace against the sheer speed of it of all, and when it was over I had to put the controller down and just breathe for a minute until my heart rate came back down to normal.

It's moments like this, moments that can only possibly be glimpsed and likely missed in a blink when viewed in a trailer, that really make me excited for The Lost Crown. Ubisoft Montpellier have made some of the finest platforming games of the last decade with Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends, and this latest entry in the Prince Of Persia series looks to be continuing that lineage to dazzling effect.

Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown is coming out on January 18th 2024, and it will be available on Steam, the Epic Games Store and the Ubisoft Store.

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