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Release year: 1992 | Players: 1 player | Developed by Virgin
Prince of Persia (NES) Game
Prince of Persia (AKA プリンス・オブ・ペルシャ in Japan) is a 2D side-scrolling platform video game developed and released by Virgin for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1992.
Before there was Lara Croft, there was the Prince of Persia. Considered by the critics of its time as a revolutionary game in the burgeoning platformer genre, this Brøderbund classic blended the traditional platform game style with the flair of adventure films such as Thief of Baghdad and Dracula to create a cinematic, uniquely realistic and fluid game.
It’s small wonder that the company sought to expand horizons through multiple ports. Some of them, like the Genesis and SNES ports, went smoothly and even improved on the Amiga original in some aspects. Others, like the 1992 Virgin Games port to the NES… didn’t fare as well.
Let’s not misjudge the developers here. The NES was a poor choice for a system to port to, not least due to the cramped space and limited power it had to work with. Furthermore, the console was already in its twilight years, with its 16-bit contemporaries pushing it to a dark corner and the PlayStation’s shadow making that corner even darker. Trying to port a game as ambitious as Prince of Persia to an out-of-date console must have been a monumental task.
All that, however, does not excuse its main flaw. The controls are, simply put, clunky and unintuitive. The Prince may not be a superhuman, but compared to the original, the NES-ified Prince may as well be a chronic klutz. The default D-pad movement is fast and heavy on inertia, both poor choices for a more methodical platformer. There is an option to move slowly by pressing B, but why that isn’t the default is baffling.
It may be a bit of an acquired taste, however, as the controls in Prince of Persia do take some getting used to. Jumping upward requires the use of the Up button, while the A button – normally the standard – instead acts as a forward leap. A running jump requires at least two full strides’ worth of running to perform. Missing from his repertoire is a short squatting jump, making attempts at crossing through chomping doors a harrowing experience.
But the responsiveness… what responsiveness? The fluidity of the original Prince of Persia is gone, replaced with a noticeable delay. This can lead to frustrating plummets to spike pits, or even just make navigating the already-confusing layout a pain. Even the famed swordplay is no more; here, it’s a matter of bashing the Attack button and hoping the hit detection proves merciful. No, switching sides with a guard to force them to a pit doesn’t work anymore.
Aside from the controls, the level layout is watered down as well. Many of the traps and puzzles are missing, leaving empty rooms in their wake. Still, make no mistake – Prince of Persia is a very demanding game in both precision and memory. Falling from a high place can harm or even kill you, and you have merely three hit points. Death, as a small gesture of mercy, only places you back at the beginning of the stage, minus the time you spent getting partway through and dying.
Wait, the game has a time limit? You wouldn’t know unless you read the manual or saw the message about the time limit decreasing partway through. The plot is strangely absent in the game itself; a shame, since it explains exactly why you have one hour to beat Prince of Persia.
To put it simply, the vizier Jaffar has enacted a coup, sent the prince to the dungeons, and forced the princess to make a choice: marry him in an hour, or die. Holding the usurper off with all her hope, she has chosen to wait for the prince, trusting in his skills and ingenuity. Of course, it’s not like she knows he’s dealing with stiff joints and wonky hit detection while at it.
The art style does little to ease the tedium. There are exactly two colors in the prince’s own dungeon: purple, and orange. That’s it. The tiles get repetitive real fast, and with 14 levels to go through, getting lost is a real concern. The player and enemy sprites do retain some of the fluidity of the original’s, which is fairly impressive.
The sound and music of Prince of Persia are nothing special, either. Both get grating after some time; the former especially so when you bump repeatedly into walls, the latter due to its droning repetitiveness. There is an option to turn it off in the title screen; doing so after the first time through and substituting some good Arabian-esque music may be a good idea.
In fairness, the attempt at porting a PC classic to the NES is commendable, and what it does manage to port through matches well with the original. But all that polish is wasted on trying to make it look similar, leaving the gameplay a clunky and hole-filled mess. Sneak somewhere else for your retro platforming goodness.
Prince of Persia game has been ported to MS-DOS, NES (this version), Amiga, Android, Apple II (original), Atari ST, FM Towns, Game Boy Advance, Game Boy Color, Sega Genesis, Mega CD, Sega Master System, Super Nintendo Entertainment System, TurboGrafx CD, and many more.