It’s been 13 years since we last had a brand new Prince of Persia game, and during that long, long wait you may have wished that you could turn back the sands of time and return to an era when the series was in full swing. That’s sort of what Ubisoft has done with Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, but rather than revisiting the early 2000s 3D action-platforming it has rewound the clock over three decades, back to the series’ 2D roots.
Much like the original Prince of Persia from 1989, The Lost Crown is a side-scrolling adventure in which you must avoid deadly platforming traps as you journey through ninth-century Persia in the hunt for missing royalty. Spikes line corridor floors, murderous pendulums swing across your path, platforms break beneath you, and – for fans of really deep cuts – you’ll even have to contend with your own doppelganger. Thankfully your protagonist, a warrior named Sargon who exudes more cool than a refrigerator, has taken a few hints from The Sands of Time and packed some temporal-bending powers for his mission.
For the most part, though, The Lost Crown is something new. This interpretation is a full-blown Metroidvania, and Rayman Legends studio Ubisoft Montpellier has crafted a sprawling, interconnected map that takes you from haunted dungeons to the heights of Mount Qaf, the mythical mountain from Persian mythology. That classic level design is blended with elements you’ll recognise from the Metroidvania greats, including precise swordplay that makes extensive use of parries, nail-biting bosses, and a variety of amulets that augment your abilities in substantial, meaningful ways. And, from what I could tell from about two hours of hands-on time, it’s shaping up to be pretty good.
My demo began just after the tutorial, and introduced Sargon and his fellow warriors – a group called The Immortals. There’s a clear comic book and manga influence in their characterisation – huge personalities with even bigger muscles – which makes it immediately clear that this is a very different proposition to the classic games. And, as you may have already noticed, you don’t play as the Prince of Persia. Instead, the titular character is The Immortal’s mission; he’s gone missing and it’s up to you to bring him back home.
A perfect deflect triggers an outrageously stylish animation that fulfills Ubisoft Montpellier’s anime ambitions.
The Lost Crown adheres to the well-honored traditions of the Metroidvania genre. Its map twists around itself, often branching into multiple pathways that snake back around to the area’s Wak-Wak Tree checkpoint. Progress sometimes requires you to go in the complete opposite direction to where you were originally headed, descending into the map’s depths only to eventually reappear from the opposite side of a blocked path, forming a full loop. Making those loops more complex are the near-constant platforming challenges that get progressively tricker. The demo began simple with rows of spikes easily avoided by precise jumps and drops, but later puzzles demanded that I hit targets with my bow to summon platforms, often in quite complex arrangements, and sometimes while mid-fall. Thankfully it all runs at 60fps (even on Switch, according to the developers) so the frame rate keeps pace with the trickier jumps.
Guarding those platforming challenges are a collection of angry corpses with swords, spears, and bows, as well as several more interesting picks from Persian folklore. Sargon has his own pair of blades to strike back with, although they’re at their best when parrying blows since a perfect deflect triggers an outrageously stylish animation that fulfills Ubisoft Montpellier’s anime ambitions. You’ll want to parry often, too, as it helps build your Athra’s Glow; an energy gauge that when filled can be spent to perform Sargon’s most powerful abilities.
For this demo, I had access to both a fast flurry of high-damage strikes and a healing well, two skills that were vital in the fight against a massive manticore. A lion-like beast from Persian mythology armed with razor claws and a deadly scorpion sting, the manticore was a great demonstration of The Lost Crown’s intent for boss fights. It’s a two-stage battle that grows increasingly complex, with the monster throwing a greater variety of ranged and close attacks as the rumble goes on. It’s a genuinely exciting challenge, and one that was matched by a fight with my own dark reflection in a later level I was able to sample. I hope that every major clash feels as honed and precise as these examples.
Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown – screenshots and concept art
Sitting alongside Sargon’s Athra skills are his time powers. These abilities are much less flashy than their Sands of Time predecessors, with one simply being a dash with fancy animation that suggests you’ve sped forward through time. It will shift you out of the way of the manticore’s poison strikes, though, so is not to be sniffed at. Sargon’s other time power in the demo was the ability to place a shadow marker in the world and then instantly ‘rewind’ back to it at any moment. It can act as a sort of checkpoint; drop it before you make a risky move, and if things look like they’re about to get messy you can warp back to safety. Think of it as a little like Sombra’s Translocator from Overwatch.
This simple teleport can be bolstered with an amulet, though; an item that can radically change the way an ability works. I had one that fired a laser beam back to my shadow upon triggering the teleport, and so one of my key tactics against the manticore was to set a shadow behind him, dash in front of him, and then teleport back in order to fire the beam straight through him. Different amulets change other skills in equally interesting ways, including one that sets your arrows ablaze and another that restores your health on a successful parry. It's through these amulets that I think Prince of Persia’s combat could really come alive, and I hope there’s a strong variety of increasingly wild amulets to discover.
The Lost Crown is already proving itself a worthwhile pivot for the series.
While combat encounters were where I found the demo the most satisfying, the most interesting thing I saw in my two hours was an enemy that I couldn’t touch. A towering prison guard armed with a staff that could instantly teleport me to a jail cell, he was surrounded by a huge circle of mist that represented his senses. Walk into that circle and, even if you’re a floor below or totally outside of his vision, he'll warp to your location and give chase. Avoiding him required carefully timed jumps and slides, which made him a memorable adversary in a level full of more traditional foes. Hopefully there are similarly creative enemies in all corners of the map.
A 2D Metroidvania was not what I expected of a new Prince of Persia game, but The Lost Crown is already proving itself a worthwhile pivot for the series. Its temporal-bending powers may be lacking in the excitement of those in the Sands of Time trilogy, but the combat and platforming seem to have solid, challenging foundations. Hopefully on top of that will be built a palace full of strong bosses, fascinating enemy types, and an array of ability upgrades that will keep its combat and platforming evolving over the length of the journey. We’ll find out when it arrives on January 18 next year on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox consoles, as well as PC and Amazon Luna.
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Matt Purslow is IGN's UK News and Features Editor.