Prince Of Persia Retro (Review) iPhone/iPod/iPad

Prince Of Persia Retro (Review) iPhone/iPod/iPad

Playing the iPhone update of this ancient classic is a lot like taking back a spouse that had an affair. There’s love and a desire to reunite, but you’re just not sure you can ever fully trust your partner again.

Which isn’t to say it’s not worth messing around a bit for old times’ sake.

Prince Of Persia Retro revives the 1989 Apple II classic that launched a prolific gaming franchise and utterly abhorrent movie just released that some have called a “racial whitewash” (watch this and the bimbos-do-Arabs denigration of “Sex In The City 2” – released a day earlier – and you’ll know “why they hate us”).

Jordan Mechner’s game, on the other hand, returns to a time when you could have a blast role-playing a swashbuckler in a turban and nobody would think less of you for it . Originally released five years after his martial arts best-seller Karateka (another game deserving iPhone apphood), the continuation of his fight-and-explore style gave it a must-have appeal similar to Pitfall II (not to mention sword fighting is way cool).

But Prince of Persia didn’t have its predecessor’s must-finish-at-all-costs quality, primarily because of a few things that elevated the difficulty level beyond frustrating.

First and foremost, the player has to fight his way through 13 levels of a castle and save the Princess of Persia from the evil Jaffar in less than one hour. Doing so means getting through each level almost entirely without error, so exploring unfamiliar terrain or getting killed (which restarts the level) leaves you short of time at the end. The only solution is to keep playing a level until completing it at something near maximum speed, then repeat the process.

Second, the game is hard – and not just because of the puzzles and enemies encountered. The controls are tricky and increasingly require pixel-perfect coordination as you progress. I eventually gave up trying about halfway through, although mercifully someone years later released a patch for my Mac version that did away with the cursed time limit.

The iPhone update, a bargain at 99 cents, looks great and has some real pluses. Purists might be enraged, but I was elated to see the time limit is apparently gone. There’s no display at the beginning of each level indicating how much remains and I left the game running for more than an hour without penalty). Even better is the ability to start on any level, even if the unsuspecting might not last long (try starting at level seven and see how long it takes to survive more than two seconds).

But there’s no ability to save games and that is a massive drawback when facing higher-level enemies and challenges. You start with three health points, losing one when hit by an enemy or object, or falling two levels (more are fatal). More points can be gained by drinking potions found in often hard-to-reach places (be careful of those with traces of black fumes that take away a point). Building your health up level-by-level, saving after completing them unscathed, results in less lopsided matchups with the most powerful foes in the original. In the iPhone version imperfection or an inability to play a single session start to finish means a challenge akin to getting New Yorkers to welcome a mosque near Ground Zero.

That would be the case even if the iPhone’s controls were as tricky as the original’s, but in fact they are far worse. Responsiveness is lacking, resulting in dozens of deaths in situations I was well familiar with. Also, the jump and action keys of the original are combined into one here. Many moves, for instance, involve jumping and then grabbing a ledge in mid-air (which requires the action button), and trying to do so successfully in the update is maddening.

Add the drawbacks up and there’s no way anybody can reasonably expect to progress far into the game with the hit points they’ll need. Ultimately, finishing will probably mean starting at level 13 and making pixel-by-pixel progress each game until a combination of luck and persistence pays off.

POP Retro is likely to divide gamers into fierce love/hate it camps, although its grade here is more a reflection of personal enjoyment than compromise. Revisiting the old castle grounds was fun, as was peeking at those advanced levels I had scant experience with. But I must have died a hundred deaths just getting to the blasted sword on level one and I had no desire to try a continuous quest even as far as level three. I might keep it on the device as something to  conquer individually by level when I have a long flight or other abundance of dead time, but making any firm commitments with some of the other prospects out there is asking too much.

By Mark Sabbatini
Prince of Persia Retro by Ubisoft
$0.99
Platform Reviewed: iPhone/iPod (Requires iPhone OS 3.1.3 or later)
Category: Platform
Languages Supported: English
Rating: 9+ (for Infrequent/Mild Cartoon or Fantasy Violence)
File Size: 55.3 MB

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Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
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