Two Thrones

a Play By Mail item by J Nash (Wednesday November 18th, 2009)

Every now and then I buy a game several years late on Ebay and play it all the way through while e-mailing my top showbiz chums S Campbell, K Gillen and Z Nicholson every impression of the title as it occurs to me, live, for days or weeks at a time. Not so much reviews as fingery monologues of sequential mind-changing in microscopic detail at punishing length courageously tolerated by a mystified audience of disappointed professionals, this is Play By Mail.

TODAY’S EPISODE. Heartened by the surprise splendour of Rogue Trooper, I decide to try the third Prince of Persia game on the X-Box. (The two Plays By Mail overlap towards the end, hence the mystery gap before the final R Trooper entry.) Alert! This is the only PB Mail game I don’t in fact finish, which I still feel slightly guilty about, except not much. Alert! 2. This one is entirely unedited, because by now everyone else had given up trying to derail the J NASH JUGGERNAUT OF JAPERY AND JISASTER.

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I’m playing through PO Persia for the third time because I like it (lord knows it has its problems, chiefly to do with the static camera angles, which are invariably awkward and occasionally throw your char into the exact reverse of whatever you were doing as you approached, and the normal camera, which tries its best but can become horribly confused usually in fights and end up showing you a curtain or column behind which everything is occurring, and the fights, which go on for far too long after the halfway point because the monsters teleport in an increasing number of identical waves rather than everyone appearing at once and despite the large rooms and areas any battle inevitably becomes a brawl in a corner, but it’s a lovely game and easily the only one to evolve successfully from 2D to 3D because Duke Nukem 3 is really a sequel in name only) and it dawned on me that I’ve not seen the follow-ups.

Obviously I couldn’t face Warrior Within (as you recall, Sands of Time won fabulous reviews and sold nothing, so Ubisoft based the design of the sequel on asking a bunch of 12-year-old Metallica fans what they expected from a computer game) but remembered reading that Two Thrones was pretty much an apology for the second game, so popped off to Ebay and got one.

The thing is, whoever wrote that was wrong and also someone’s decided PO Persia is a fighting game. SO Time cleverly alternated between majestically intricate leapy puzzles featuring giant architecture and clockwork machines, and sword hitting (though could have done with another pass looking at the health-replenishing water fountains; several times during the three playthroughs I’ve staggered through an enormous battle/lot of falling only to be faced with a lot of falling/enormous battle before the next energy point) so neither felt like a chore. T Thrones’s plat bits are embarrassingly perfunctory: a couple of ledges up a wall leading to a stick leading to the next fight because that’s what the designers are interested in. Any trickiness comes from having to roam the camera manually to find the ledge above your field of view you’re supposed to jump to, because T Thrones’ designers have solved the occasional SO Time viewpoint hiccup by not bothering: in at least 40% of my fights so far, I’ve suddenly been zoomed out of view in favour of a corner with bits of fleeting hair and sword because there’s no cam watchdog; you’re meant to reset the view with a button, something I don’t think I had to do ever in SO Time. Still, at least T Thrones has dispensed with the understandable-in-context-but-nevertheless-weird SO Time thing where, if you tried to move the cam through a wall or swung too close to your char’s head, threatening to break the illusion by separating cam from char (weird, obv, because the game’s full of arty angles and impossible godlike viewpoints), the view sprang back to centre with a distinctive blur and whoosh. Here, T Thrones just lets you swing through scenery unimpeded.

(Naturally, this useless plat rubbish might improve the further into the game I go, but I’m suspicious. For one thing, the ingenious safety margins so cleverly hidden in SO Time, where you’ll land accurately even if you’re a bit out on the angles, are ludicrously unvarnished here: there’s a sequence near the beginning as you spring over the marketplace and the remaining citizens being perpetually thumped by the invaders where you can see your char being sucked slightly off course to match the programmed landing area. For another I’ve already run through a collapsing building where ledges have collapsed as I’m standing on them. There are a couple of fatal stalactites and wooden platforms in SO Time that wobble you to death if you don’t jump on and off within a fairly generous time limit, but otherwise collapsing scenery is strictly for dramatic purposes: as you approach certain ledges they’ll nerve-tinglingly break up, requiring you to find a simple alternative route, or the ground will tumble away as you leave to prevent you escaping an area. T Thrones has happily stated through several rooms that it will kill me just for using platforms. This is quite interesting behaviour for a platform game, hence my presumptive chinny-reckon. To be fair to potential, there are a couple of promising new plat-only moves, such as jabbing your dag in a wall like a piton, shinning between tight walls and riding a tapestry with your blade D Fairbanks style, but to be fair 2, I think these were introduced by W Within.)

The giveaway for the designers’ preference — and so far they may as well have dispensed with the ledges and sticks and had you hail a taxi between fights — is that pages and pages (and pages) of the manual, reproduced in the pause menu, are for Street Fighter-style fighting combos. As you recall, SO Time used three buttons (attack, block and dodge) with seamless context sensitivity to transform you into Errol Flynn: if you dodged, for example, then depending on your surroundings you’d either roll aside, somersault to clear space (“Hup! Ho!”), backflip over your opponent or spang nimbly off a wall. The sys wasn’t perfect — I’ve had bits where I was trying to roll towards a collapsed monster to snag their magic sand with my magic sand dagger, but the game decided I was trying to hit another, perky monster entirely so helpfully rolled me defencelessly over there instead — but was impressively well behaved and you could effortlessly put together a fluid, athletic barney by thinking about the action rather than the controls.

T Thrones then has these 50+ combos, plus secondary weapons,* which I’ve no interest in at all. Happily the game retains SO Time’s context-sensitive basics, so I can jump over monsters and bash them in the nape as usual, but to justify the new, extensive combat sys the fighting goes on for ages per monster. The “feel” in SO Time of when you’ve trounced a guard after landing a couple of good solid blows even if it hasn’t yet fallen down means that I’ve walloped a T Thrones swordbloke to my satisfaction, turned to block the next one and have been thoroughly surprised to receive a halberd in the occipital. T Thrones’ monsters are (so far and with the exception of a new sinister archer) the same as SO Time’s, which not only throws you completely as mentioned in terms of practised skills but also means that they’re harder to kill simply because someone’s upped the hit points; they don’t do anything new or act more cleverly, they just shrug off more stabbings. (I’m playing on Normal, incidentally. There are also Easy and Hard levels. At a guess, it’s only the HP which are affected; the design doesn’t really have room for new objectives and SO Time didn’t bother with a difficulty setting at all.) In other words, the fancy new combat isn’t an advanced extra for playing around with in the way you could rapidly string together moves in SO Time using optional counterintuitive shortcuts rather than harmlessly catching your player breath in between, but an imposed essential. I could perhaps see their point if SO Time’s fighting had been rubbish, but then I suppose I’m not a 12-year-old Metallica fan.

On a final combat point, I haven’t quite made up my mind about the Finish Him! moves — if you creep up on a guard, the screen warps and you can start a special attack where your char pogos around in bullet time and, if you bash X when your dagger flashes at one or two points and thus complete the anim sequence, you land a fatal blow without endangering your goatee. It’s a handy timesaver (for example if you hate the stupid endless fighting) but has already become a liability because guards are suddenly much more alert (ie, your dagger flashes for a much tinier time) and lob you back in a counterattack if you mistime it; so it’s all gone a bit Quick Time Events. It’s also quite wrong for the char to be stabbing people in the back.

On a final combat point, as I ran through the collapsing building (a sequence amusingly introduced by a guard saying, “Run, the building’s collapsing,” and running and being squashed by a chunk of ceiling) I still had to fight. There wasn’t even an attempt at presenting these lunatic invaders as implacably dutiful (or resigned to their fate but determined to perish in a final operatic duel amid tumbling masonry); there’re just these guards loafing in the disintegrating building so they can have a fight with you as you run past.

I’m now, er, a couple of hours in — irritatingly, T Thrones has abandoned SO Time’s save style, which recorded your percentage progress and the time in game minutes since you began, in favour of an absolute X-Box timestamp assuming you’ve left it plugged in so you’re not faced with a screen full of 15/11/2001 12ams, so that’s a neat little Nice Touch knacked** — and am not enjoying it. It’s still the same Prince (ie, the same voice actor — incidentally, did SO Time win any handshakes for the voice acting? It was perfect except for the ear-startling cameo from Reg the Exposition Guard in the Palace Defence-Activating (Can’t Believe This Would Have Defended Anything, It’s 300 Tons of Giant Precision Clockwork and Takes 20 Minutes to Switch On) Machine sequence) but unrecognisable as the same game: design decisions apart, you have to wait a few levels for the baffling absence of the only decent girl char in games, Farah, to be explained by the Prince having cancelled time (or something) in W Within so the events of SO Time never happened, even though the Vizier’s still found the dag and opened the hourglass in this one because that’s how sequels work. (Except the Viz, fantastically just some feeble old bloke with sorcery in the original, has become a tentacled super-monster.)

In other words, your purpose in the second game was literally to prevent the first game from ever having existed. This neatly summarises the wrongness of Princes 2 and 3 and presumably is J Mechner and Ubisoft Montreal**** saying, “Right, we put everything into SO Time and nobody bought it. Now we’ll show you what a world deserves which has no place for our game.” And this’d explain the Dark Prince.

The Dark Prince, as you might know, is an exclusive new char invented by those 12-year-old Metallica fans for W Within. He’s a sort of magic-sand-powered zombie with big hair who glows and fights using a long spiky chain (a bit like God of War, except a few years earlier, which is a tangentially intriguing point) and is cross all the time and interrupts Real Prince when he’s about to tell a SO Time-style story about a distant mountain. This isn’t fatally important though; that’s reserved for his game sections.

The idea is that (without warning) you turn into D Prince. You then play as him for an unspecified time until you turn back (by, you learn after the first seq, jumping into water). I’m guessing now, but possibly in W Within this would be when lots of fighting was about to happen, because he’s a stone killer with a bad attitude who doesn’t let anyone tell him to turn down his Metallica album, etc, but obv T Thrones’ continual battles have diluted that. As D Prince you’re marginally faster (I couldn’t see the difference except in his climbing a wall, which I saw a lot, for reasons we’ll now excitingly learn) but you need to kill monsters often to obtain their magic sand in order to survive. You grasp instantly that this continuously depleting health is a crude timer. The thing is, this idea has become detached from the design. In the first D Prince seq, you fight four goblins. (I think your spiky chain is supposed to be a super-weap, but T Thrones’ beefing of all monsters negates this. Certainly I couldn’t see a difference from fighting goblins as R Prince with the standard khyber in a previous room.) A single kill bonus fully recharges your health, but all four gobs attack at the beginning of the seq, two pairs of two, so you gain nothing by working the room.

(It’s a tiny room anyway. You might imagine there’s a way to save the bonuses for later, because they auto-float into your magic dag when you pass them closely, so a cursory glance at game-playing logic suggests you merely hop away after a kill leaving a cupboard you can visit later, but the energy dissipates after a few seconds.)

After you’ve killed the gobs, you have to throw a switch with your chain, climb some steps before a door closes, scamper up a wall, hop across a ledge, jump to a ladder, climb to another cavern, swing to a block, trip a second switch, jump to a stick, leap to a chimney and shin down to a reservoir where you return to normalcy. If you get any of this wrong, you don’t have enough time (ie health) to reach the end, which of course you don’t know is the end until you get there. (And even when you know you’ll have to look for water to finish a D Prince seq, the water’s going to be out of view until you’re on top of it; it’s not as if you’re traversing a map following a big glowing arrow or something, there’s just no way to tell during a D Prince seq how long it’s going to last and therefore no way to tell if your slip-up climbing a ledge is a recoverable error or whether the seq is from this point a waste of activity.)

When you run out of health as D Prince, you don’t turn back into R Prince. You die, ending the game. (T Thrones thankfully continues SO Time’s double checkpoint sys, where you save at explicit points for cold restarts but the game spots you a marker after a significant event.) This means that whenever you’re D Prince you have to gallop recklessly at full speed, hoping to find a placeholder guard to keep your strength up. It’s worse than the notorious timed trap sections of SO Time, because if you tottered to the end of those blade-filled corridors too late, the exit would merely have closed and all the traps would switch off for your sweary return journey to the switch; you wouldn’t automatically drop dead.

And it’s this which splinters the PO Persia design. Forget the rubbish plats themselves, the fact you have as D Prince to careen non-stop is something the tech was never intended for. In SO Time (timed traps aside) you could advance as leisurely as you liked, leaving your char balancing jigglingly on the narrow rafter of a mile-high library while you puzzled out the next bit, completely secure he wouldn’t fall off.***** You only noticed the dodgy static camera angles on the couple of occasions when your viewpoint was flipped, concussingly, as you were running along a wall; you didn’t have to fight the camera as you swung on a stick so you knew where you’d land, because you could swing on the stick indefinitely and therefore didn’t begrudge the second or two taken for the cam to whizz to a new point. (You probably fell off a trembling stalactite a couple of times because you misread the angle in a panic, but that’s not important right now.)

But as D Prince you’re acting ahead of the game all the time. The second seq, which has completely defeated me, has you run along a wall, use your spiky chain as a whip to swing to a ledge, whip again to another ledge, jump down and kill a guard, clamber back up, run along a wall, whip and swing and jump again to a rope. I’ve in total once made it to the first ledge. The exact problem is that D Prince’s chain-whip is analogue****** so you have to time it precisely (within an infinite degree of movement and the guaranteed effect that you’ll snag the stick and make some sort of swing) to whisk over without falling short of the ledge and having to scuttle back to the start position and clamber up the wall for the 90th time, but mechanically what’s happening here is that you think you’re here in 3D space but the game hasn’t caught up yet. When you race back up the start ledge and hit R to run along the wall before your precious, precious health runs out, the camera posish at the end of this move in fact indicates to the game that you want to run up the wall so you pointlessly do just that. You have to pause in a blinding rage to swing your viewpoint to switch contexts. When you’re trying to make the second jump (the one with the wall run, the whip, the second wall run and the jump to a rope all in one movement) the camera auto-switches to a perpendicular view just as you’re nearing the rope so you’re trying to handle an unappealingly complex move in two planes and miss. The tech doesn’t support this kind of forced, unplanned speed. They’re trying to make the game not only something it isn’t but something it can’t be.

(Hopeless design also contributes. The rope is in fact a chain, ie a holey rope, which is nearly invisible because of resolution artefacts. There’s no SO Time-style rope shadow to indicate when on the wall you should try jumping, though to be fair the post-auto-switch view is so far and wide that you couldn’t see one anyway. You might think to pop to Landscape view so at least the cam is static. T Thrones only supports this at specific points, when a landscape icon flashes.)

I’m not sure at this point if I’m going to switch T Thrones back on. I hate the fighting and hate D Prince, but maybe the SO Time platting splendour is just around the corner. (I’ve currently spent more time in courtyards and a sewer than buildings and can’t be more than 20% through it.) Probably worth glancing at the design creds in the manuals, come to think of it, because the changes from SO Time are dispiriting whether you look at them as a deliberate statement by new prods or the original team simply giving up on games. At its heart, the thing is that there’s no sense of fun any more: the plot is a relentless tirade of misery and all the little character bits (such as the Prince squeaking to a pebbly stop with a “Wo-o-ahh” if you heedlessly try running him off a ledge) have been entirely jettisoned. From what I can see, the current designers don’t even comprehend that the first game was a romantic fairytale.

Also, everything’s dingy and brown.

Incidentally, Mark The Ed sent me a PC copy of T Thrones ages ago (along with Half-Life and a note saying, “Go on, give it another try,” bless). Of course it was impossible to play because of horrid mouse and keyboard controls and I stopped trying at the first door after shrewdly realising the X-Box version would eventually be pennies on Ebay, so if anyone wants to try it for themselves, that’s available.

UPDATE. Okay, I’ve read the creds for both games as they zoomed past on the screen. Utterly confusing because T Thrones has separate teams for Montreal and Casablanca but both have identical job titles (eg each has a set of Game Designers and Level Designers) so it can’t be they split tech and game, but it does look like the two games have different designers. And bonus MYSTERY SOLVED! The camera invert isn’t for the cam at all; “free look” means the optional first person view nobody uses. The reason T Thrones’ cam feels completely wrong and gets in trouble repeatedly is because it’s untethered and unmanaged; SO Time has a fixed point following you as you move around the room and the thumbstick up/down zooms in and out which is natural and proper. Further EXCITING BONUS FACT! T Thrones era Ubisoft employs a Head of Continuous Improvement. And that was 2005, so he’s probably king of the galaxy by now. Extra BONUS INFERENCE! SO Time was 2003 and W Within 2004, so it’s obvious T Thrones is indeed unsuitably running on the original tech. Final BONUS SPOILER! Farah is in the T Thrones creds, though played by a different actress. Given events, she probably walks into a room halfway through and is immediately brutalised and murdered by the Vizier’s tentacles, causing D Prince to swing across three sticks in a row then stamp on a minotaur’s face for 27 minutes straight using an attack combo 900 buttons long.

*You keep only your magic dagger and can pinch swords, axes, maces, etc from bodies. My attempts to examine this sys objectively failed because you can throw your secondary weapon away. It degrades over time and, as there are different types, you don’t just hold on to it until it disintegrates, but can fling it aside at any point — you actually fling it, it’s a last ditch ranged attack. The button to do this is the button in SO Time you use approximately all the time that holsters your sword. You can guess the rest. While I’m at it: I invert the camera in third-person games. SO Time lets you invert the camera. T Thrones lets you invert the camera, but the option doesn’t work. It simply does not invert the camera. You can flick the Invert Camera menu lantern on and off happily enough and then, when you return to the game, your camera is not inverted. I’d quite like to know how the testers missed that one.

**The only Nice Touches I’ve seen so far are roosting pigeons which you can guard-alertingly disturb as you lope around on rooftops and a fight underground with goblins where, if you stayed in a patch of rickety sunlight,*** they were forced to follow you in, throwing their shield arms helplessly over their eyes.

***Or, more accurately, non-rickety sunlight. Ho etc.

****Tellingly, T Thrones is credited to “Ubisoft Montreal and Casablanca.” I haven’t yet checked the creds to see if the designers are different from SO Time’s.

*****Unless there were birds around. The birds in SO Time are the one entirely indefensible element. They attack you from the air and can knock you off your perch with a direct hit; sometimes to a fatal crash but at the least all the way back to the beginning of your ascent. The thing is, unlike all the other monsters, which obv attack you on the same plane, there’s no mechanism in the game to tell where a bird is relative to your position. The limitations of third-person 3D mean you can’t accurately state that the bird is here and can thus be swiped with your sword when it reaches there — you end up thrashing around like a bawling maniac hoping to peg one on the rebound and writing off the hurtful peck. (There’s a distinctive bird anim before the actual swoop, but I’ve never, ever, ever, ever managed to block a bird attack.) At least one section requires jumping around on the tops of tall ruined walls, with bird guards. In the Vision before the sec (if you’ve not played SO Time, your char glimpses the amazing space world of a few minutes hence via visions before each level so you have at least a vague clue of the puzzle’s structure) you leap cavalierly past the patrolling birds and complete the task without brushing the ground. The only way I’ve managed the level in all three playthroughs is to hang off the first couple of ledges in turn, holding down the sword button for minutes on end until I’m completely sure all the birds have flapped absently into it and the level is aerially clear.

******Thoroughly ingeniously, SO Time invisibly maps its 3D to reproducible, understandable digital gymnastics. Whether you swing once on that stick or round and round for ages, you’ll always cover the same distance; when you run along a wall, gravity will always catch up at the same point; your jump covers the same ground whether from a running or standing start; when you shuffle around a column or stalactite, you’re snapped to one of the four compass directions; etc etc. It’s as precisely linear as Manic Miner, so naturally you come to “feel” your way around. You’re on a beam: there are two or three possible directions to go: that balcony there “feels” too far away. Strict rules, unobtrusively established, and a simple, consistent feeling of space and motion; the cornerstones of a plat game, deceptively fiendish to implement properly in 3D. SO Time does it so well you don’t even notice; everything just works.

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Gad, the elementary design errors. I’ve already mentioned the sloppy graphics (there are bits where you can’t tell if the wall you’re going to be jumping at has a ledge because if it has, it’s blended in imperceptibly with the dingy brownness. Many bits) but the essence of the idiocy comes with the health recharge.

As you recall, water in PO Persia replenishes your life bar. Water was all over the place in SO Time, either as fountains or pools, depending on what best suited the area. If you were injured, there was always a ripply hospital nearby. (The drinking anim took a few secs and left you defenceless so it wasn’t easy to cheat in a fight, especially with the teleporting monsters, but I could manage it now and again with cunning backflips if severely in danger of perishing.) The idea was obvious: the designers weren’t interested in having you unfairly drop dead because a big fight or tricky plat bit was followed by another one. This didn’t always come off smoothly, as I mentioned previously (the savaging by traps followed by my auto-leaping into a battle via a sudden story anim, etc), but the principle held: if you were low on energy, you could always turn around or backtrack a little and quaff a healthy draught. Heck, if you were extra nervous or had just completed a hefty chunk of the level but knew there was more to come, there was nothing to stop you jogging back to the last sparkly sands save point and saving again. All typically friendly and helpful of the game.

In T Thrones, there are no separate save points: the water fountains also save the game. (Each D Prince section has a pool of water as the goal, turning you back into R Prince, but in practical terms they’re irrelevant; you reappear as R Prince with auto-full health and, as the pools divide sections, there’s usually a save fountain or one-way door straight afterwards.) In keeping with the game’s undercurrent of spite, the designers specifically block any return to the fountain once you’ve saved — typically there’ll be a one-way drop or collapsing ledge a few feet later. As you’ll keenly have spotted, this means you can only recharge (once) each time you save (once).

Now it’s possible you could argue this works, because T Thrones isn’t after all PO Persia; it’s a beat-’em-up. The fact you’ll have a big fight, a perfunctory plat bit with instant deaths (now beginning to incorporate, lord love some ducks, deliberately deceitful camera angles), a smaller fight highlighting your Finish Him! ambushes and then a huge fight to clear the area’s Gauntlet-style infy monster generator, all in one go, is acceptable because you’re supposed to be using your 50+ attack combos plus time-rewinding magic to sail through the cunning and vicious gang-uppy AI with risible splinters — it’s J Nash’s fault he’s rubbish, for example, because he’s in fight four out of six in this clump with no energy left (nor in the game, o-ho) and has to exploit the monsters’ inability to climb stairs just to limp through.

The thing is, when you die and reappear at a between-saves checkpoint you have full energy regardless of what you reached that point with. This instantly gives away that the designers know they’ve somehow got it wrong but don’t have the skully brains to realise it’s because they ripped out the friendly SO Time ideas, so they impatiently reboot you with a medipak and move on to the important bits like inserting eight or nine more fights for this district of tiny high rooftops and thus adding the exciting chance of your standard monster-vaulting dodge manoeuvre tossing you irrecoverably over a balcony. And so you end up with the play- and immersion-knacking concept that if you’re low on energy and can see a big fight coming up, you’re significantly better off getting yourself killed before you start. It’s only because the game doesn’t tell you when you’ve passed a checkpoint that I don’t instantly leap off a building to emulate a pleasant drink.

(Note that, fabulously, you must get yourself killed for this to work: quitting and reloading not only evaporates the checkpoint but takes at least half a minute with multiple load screens. To be fair, this does bypass the three-second disc-spooled death anim that sits unskippably between game and retry menu and which appears to have been calculated with precision to drive you into a howling frenzy when you’re trying to find a ledge so your turn consists of jumping, missing, dying and waiting to try again.)

Everything else pretty much takes second saddle on the tandem to this, though I would like to meet the inventor of the analogue spike-whip. I’m fairly sure now from entertainless experimentation that if you’re presented with a wall run/whip swing combo, you have a margin of error of exactly nothing: PO Persia’s famous “give” is reduced to finding a single unmarked point on an infinite ruler. It’s remarkable that nobody spotted the wall/whip arrangement uniquely detaches you from the game, because you don’t know until the end of the final swing whether you hit the right pixel at the beginning. (And, yes, “final swing.” The latest D Prince seq is throwing chained wall-run whips at me.) It’s malicious rubbish and ought never to have passed testing.

Funnily enough, the plat bits have just picked up, suggesting a San Underpants-type calamity where the non-hopeless designers are given the second third. It’s still basic stuff — lever here, leap there — but a ruined garden and a set of collapsed, rotating towers had a recognisable SO Time spirit, right up the point some monsters appeared for no logical reason mid-puzzle. Cheers, 12-year-old Metallica fan.

And: Farah did turn up. She wasn’t immediately killed. (Hurrah!) She’s a sarcastic F Colonial amazon. (Um.) I don’t understand profits.

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THRILLING DISCOVERY! By a chance of pressings, I found out that you can start a new wall run after swinging on the whip chain — this is in fact the idea; the whip swing is a transition between manoeuvres. The reason it didn’t occur to me to try is that this doesn’t happen anywhere else in either game: each PO Persia move is discrete and you don’t need to string them together except to show off. (As I mentioned, for example, you always jump the same distance so it doesn’t matter if you run up to the edge of a cliff or not.) Doubly disguisingly, the button tutorials when you learn a new move (“Run along wall with R, then press Y to swing on whip,” say) do not mention a further wall run at all. It’s pretty much like Halo forgetting to mention you can reload guns.

The sys is still horridly clashy with the PO Persia “feel” (your follow-up run is still going to fall short if you haven’t guessed the swing correctly to start with) but there’s now a margin of error again. Naturally, this led me to reappraise the game right up until 1.7 levels later when, after many R Prince fights, a lavishly tiresome boss, a particularly lengthy and convoluted D Prince section* and an even longer than ever before Gauntlet Monster Generator fight** and still no save point in sight, I found the next exit which led immediately to a mile of corridor packed with insta-kill crushing block traps in an elaborate pattern. Magnificently, if you brush too closely to the blocks in passing because you need to eke out every last picosecond of grace, the game contextually decides you wanted to climb them and you die mid-clamber. The save is at the end of the corridor. The checkpoint is just after you end the D Prince bit (ie, before the generator battle) and, obv, you daren’t quit because a cold restart is going to put you all the way back to R Prince hitting things.

In the end I ignored the generator altogether and dashed for the exit. This surprisingly worked (you gain extra moves, etc, by beating a generator, so possibly they’re optional, but I have a feeling all previous gens have been in locked courtyards where you’d get slaughtered by the initial guards trying to arrange hampers to reach switches if you elected to skip) and straight after the endless corridor of thuds (and save point) there was a lovely puzzle-y bit set in a giant burning building, bolstering the idea that the decent designers only appear a third of the way through. Then after that was a boilingly appalling memory test vehicle section where you drive a chariot along a ridiculously long route packed with insta-kill obstacles, some behind blind corners, and the mushy controls mean you won’t make it past certain bits unless you’ve begun steering the previous week. McGnh.

*Which now, thanks to accidentally discovering the furniture-dispenses-sand-ie-D-Prince-health trick, I can scientifically investigate to spot the route, stocking up by hitting a vase if I begin to sag on time.

**There’s a rotten trick here. When you first see one, the game explains you have to knock off the distinctively red Sand Captain to prevent him calling infy reinforcements. A perfectly fine device which leads to rashly somersaulting into the thickest part of the squad to get him first, because obv any minion you skewer is a waste of effort otherwise. The thing is, with the second or third generator they stop pretending this counts. Whether or not the Sand Cap is killed, the teleport mysteriously emits its programmed complement of six, eight, etc guards, depending on how much the area designer hated himself that morning. Rubbish.

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I’m further happy to report that, contrary to my suspicions, T Thrones does not steal your time-reversing sand globes in between areas. (I could have sworn I had more than the one before the chariot race, but it turns out I cretinously neglected to smash up the furniture in the previous section before saving, so lost the lot when I was killed during the burning building sequence and crossly dashed straight back in. Obv to work this out I had to redo the rickety firetrap and charge up before throwing the final switch because of the auto-starting chariot race.)

Straight after the chariot race is a boss battle, in a tiny arena surrounded by impenetrable flames, with two bosses and no sword.* When you die, say because you’ve thrown away all your sand noting the race’s blind corners after the fact, the boss fight is a temp checkpoint only; the cold reload is — yes! — the start of the race. At this point I switched off and finished SO Time which, even with the notorious final climb (three solid minutes of complicated acrobatics then one chance to guess the counter-intuitive controls of a manoeuvre you haven’t seen before; fail and you plummet to your death and restart at the bottom) and somebody phoning during the penultimate story anim (which, ho, doesn’t repeat on a reload, exactly unlike you’d expect) so I had to climb the tower again and fight the colossal final squadron again just to see a wrap-up I’ve already watched during two previous playthroughs because I like it, was still more entertaining than T Thrones.

If only they’d split the series by title so you could tell on the shelf. The platty sword games would retain the trad name Prince of Persia. These others could then time-savingly be called Mortal Kombat.

*Funnily enough, for some reason the heavily armed D Prince, who is associated throughout with fire, does not appear in this bit.

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