Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones

By Shamus
on May 1, 2007
Filed under:
Game Reviews

Wherein I lambast a beloved and well-reviewed game. Read on for my own special brand of heresy…

I loved Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. It was an incredible game with great characters, a fun story, and excellent gameplay. It would have been a brutal, merciless slog of instant-death jumping puzzles if not for the key feature that made me love the game: You can rewind the last five seconds or so of action, letting you correct a missed jump or bad step without enduring the punishment of replaying the entire level over from the start.

The pace of the game is much to my liking. Instead of a mad dash, the game lets you pause and check out the scenery, admire the view, and puzzle your way through as to how in the heck you can ascend some massive crumbling tower or descend into a deep chasm without breaking your neck. Can I make that jump? Looks pretty far. I’ll try it. If I misjudge, I’ll rewind and look for another way. It was a game which encouraged experimentation instead of punishing it. In a perfect world this sort of thing would be the rule, not the exception.

This weekend I finished with the (second) sequel, Prince of Persia: Two Thrones

By “finished” I mean I’m done with it. I didn’t see the end of the story. I should have skipped this one. It mostly delivers the casual pace and brain-tickling acrobatics of the original, but throughout the game are sections where this gameplay is taken away. In these parts you play as the “dark prince”, and when this is going on your health is constantly draining. You can only replenish it by speeding through the area to reach the next “checkpoint”. If you’re too slow, then you’ll die before you get there and have to play the whole thing over again. Suddenly the experimentation and exploration of the original are gone, and you have to practice an area until you can do it well enough to meet with the exacting standards of the game. These parts are like trying to solve a crossword while someone smacks you in the back of the head repeatedly, “Come on dummy! Quicker! Hurry up loser! You suck! Do it again!”

I made it through these sections grudgingly, allowing the game to senselessly waste my time because I knew there was more fun to be had up ahead.

Around mid-game I reached a point where I had to do a very stupid puzzle. I expended all of my sand doing it (thus I couldn’t rewind and correct mistakes) and as soon as the puzzle was solved I was thrown into a “chariot race”, a chase scene with about a hundred ways to get instantly killed along the way. Without the ability to rewind, I had to do the Entire. Thing. Perfectly. This nearly cost me a controller. This was a rude and asinine move on the part of the developers, obviously designed to deplete player resources before throwing them into a challenging part of the game.

And then right after the chariot race was a boss fight. It began with an un-skippable cutscene. It was stupid and pointless the first time I saw it, but by the twentieth time I watched the cutscene it was nearly obscured behind a white-hot cloud of rage.

Note to UbiSoft: You guys owe me that hour of my life back, you cruel hacks.

I did manage to slog through that unrewarding mess.

And then I got to the end game, which made the earlier chariot race / boss fight look tame by comparison.

The fight against the end boss starts with this elevator ride. It’s short, but there is nothing to do but wait to reach the top. This isn’t bad a couple of times, but somewhere around the twentieth trip up you’ll wonder why the developers couldn’t start you off at the damn top. Then there is the first section of the fight, which isn’t hard once you know the trick, but it is painfully time consuming. Then the second section comes along, and requires a good bit of patience and dexterity. Again, nothing unexpected in a boss fight, but it eats up a good chunk of time every time you take another run at this boss. And then the final section of the fight happens. You must now leap from one floating platform to another. The sequence of jumps is long, complex, and must be done very quickly because the bad guy is constantly pummeling you with fireballs (or whatever) that knock you down and chip away your health. The only way to reach him is to practice until you have the sequence memorized. Keep in mind that you must continue to endure the elevator ride and the first two sections of the fight for each attempt, where you’ll get to learn a couple more steps of the sequence before you’re sent back to the beginning. About five jumps into it I did the math and realized it was going to cost me an hour or more of defeat and frustration before I’d even get a chance at beating this guy, and I realized I just didn’t care anymore. I sent it back to Gamefly without seeing the end. I would have liked to know how the story turned out, but I can’t imagine when I would ever have one or two hours to waste on such a thankless and repetitive task just to see the last couple of minutes of cutscene.

Even days later I’m still angry at this game. There are already a hundred “platformer” games that have this practice-makes-perfect dynamic going on. I just don’t see why people like me couldn’t be allowed to have our one title that breaks these conventions and gives us something less frustrating.

If you read reviews elsewhere you’ll see tons of praise for this game. It’s gotten awards and and glowing reviews. I’m glad other people are able to forgive these flaws, but for me it’s like finding a live, wriggling beetle in your taco. It doesn’t matter how much you enjoyed it before you found the beetle, because once it happens it will pretty much overshadow whatever other impressions you may have had about the experience. You aren’t going to think about the taste or the polite service, you are going to remember biting that bug. I can’t fault the game on technical details. The production values are high, the graphics are good, voice acting, yadda yadda yadda. Who cares? It ruined the gameplay I love by betraying the mechanic that made the game special in the first place, which is why my ire goes above simply not liking it.

I do think I’ll see if I can pick up a used copy of Sands of Time. I could go for another run through that game.

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From the Archives:

  1. Jacob says:

    I had the exact same experience with Twin Thrones: got to the final boss fight, found the first stupid section was the first of three (!!!) and bagged it. When the designers go to hell (and they will go to hell), they’ll be forced to play that level for all eternity.

    Interestingly, I also went from there to replay Sands of Time. It was a walk down remembered game play. Also, it washed the bad taste out of my mouth…

  2. It looks like I gave up way before you did. I realized pretty quickly that the art and level design that kept me going in the first just wasn’t there in Two Thrones, and so enduring any more just seemed pointless. Months later I’m still irritated that I played it as long as I did.

  3. Frank says:

    I had the same problem you did, while I loved the Sands of Time I just couldn’t get into the last two sequals. They were just so more typical and mainstream than the amazing first game.

  4. Skip says:

    That reminds me of the one problem I had with Dead Rising. Now don’t get me wrong – Dead Rising is a great game. It’s just tremendously fun finding hundreds and hundreds of ways to kill zombies.

    But when you play through it, as you get to the ‘True Ending’, there’s this one sequence where there’s a cut scene, basically you have to play tail gunner against a tank, shooting the tank and rockets and stuff shot at you, for about 10 minutes, and if you beat that, you end up with a fight on top of the tank. But you’re suddenly stripped of all the gear you had up to this point and you have to do it with melee. And the fight’s ridiculously difficult unless you use an exploit in the AI. So they basically took a game that had been tremendously fun, and then suddenly made you use skills you most likely haven’t been developing along the way.

    It took me probably 25 tries before I even got to the final fight, and until someone told me about the AI glitch I had basically zero chance of beating it. With no save point between the two, it almost made me stop playing a game that I’d been enjoying the heck out of.

    I know what had to have happened – I’m sure that they’d done a bunch of multiplayer content, and then had to cut it and they said ‘but we spent hundreds of hours writing this multiplayer piece and we can’t just throw it away.’

  5. theckhd says:

    My first impression of this game is much like you described. My fiancee and I had a ball working through the first game together. We bought the third game in the series on a whim at Best Buy (mistakenly thinking it was the 2nd), and quit playing it shortly after our first Dark Prince experience.

    What’s sad is that she had a lot of fun with the puzzle sections and the ‘instant-kill’ sneaking around that lets you avoid real combat (She’s not a fan of the combat system, so I handled most of the combat in the first game). But as soon as she got to the first timed section, she quickly lost interest. Her philosophy is much like yours, she doesn’t play a game to be punished.

    After that we never did get around to finishing it, nor did we even buy the second game. If it’s more like the original, I may try and get my hands on a copy for her in the future. But if it’s anything like the third installment, I won’t bother.

  6. JagDell says:

    What I coincidence! I picked up the Warrior Within (2nd sequel) again yesterday after not having touched it in ages (I have very small children and this game G rated it is not).

    I too loved the Sands of Time. I quit WW after an hour, there are no step backs, nor any of the cute mechanics that made the game doable for non god-like gamers, the savepoints are few and far apart and it grows old real fast!

    I’ll pass on your comments to the developers as I happen to have a sister-in-law that works in the HR department of the Montreal studio where the games were made.

    FYI: I was told by an insider that while The Sands of Time was design and development driven, the Two Thrones was driven by Marketing.

    Cheers

  7. Nilus says:

    From what I heard the 2nd game was the worse of the bunch. Almost all combat and no puzzle solving.

  8. supermank17 says:

    I’d steer clear of the second one, Warrior Within, if I were you. Warrior Within stripped a lot of the fun out of the series, and I liked it even less than Twin Thrones. The nice Prince, Persian themes, and music are all gone in favor of a dark “edgier” prince, darker locales, and heavy metal music. The combat is very different, relying more on hack and slash combo moves with lots of gore than the previous game. And the graphics don’t seem as pretty either; whether thats a symptom of art design or because they used a different engine I’m not sure. Plus, there are elements of the speed run through, with an instantly lethal monster chasing you around that requires you to race through levels at breakneck speeds, and where the slightest mis-step means you have to start all over again.
    A decent description I’ve seen is that Twin Thrones is sort of a fusion of the first two games, with the “light” prince channeling Sands of Time, and the “dark” prince channeling Warrior Within.

  9. There’s a lot to be said for cheat codes, isn’t there?

    That’s one thing PC gaming often still has over console games. Sure, you can get add-on gadgets to enable cheats on various consoles, but you can do it in software with PC games, and often cheat functions are built right in. Just bring down the (heh) console and noclip and godmode your way through the lameness to the next fun part.

  10. MintSkittle says:

    You should be able to get Sands of Time in a Ubisoft action pack deal for around $10. It also comes with Beyond Good and Evil and Splinter Cell. I got It for BG&E, but I really enjoyed Sands of Time. No coment on Splinter Cell.

  11. Firkraag says:

    /spoiler?

    In that final sequence for that last boss, you only have to climb/jump to the top, and press the action/event button. Theres no fighting involved. You were so damn close..

  12. Doug Brown says:

    Don’t listen to that Chris Frazier guy. His favorite game of all time is Bloody Roar.

  13. Nilus says:

    You can also play Sands of Time through Gametap.

  14. AJ says:

    I actually liked this one, but that’s because compared to the first sequel, “Blood, Guts, and Gore, but worthwhile-platformer-no-more” it’s a step back in the correct direction. I beat it, but I have to agree that the last fight was a royal pain in the backside, along with several other moments I could have done without.

    However, all in all, it’s still better than many others and the bloopers reel you can unlock made several bits worthwhile :-)

  15. Woerlan says:

    The first game was a gem. The second game was a cannonball. The third game was a gem… in a cactus patch.

    I had little problem with the game until the end, with the singular exception of having to spend 15 minutes on the chariot race. I was loving the game up to the point where I was going to fight the “regular” final boss (there’s a way you can end up fighting the Dark Prince as the final boss, as I recall). I was overjoyed when after Sections 1 and 2 of the fight, I was up against an environment puzzle again. Hooray, I thought.

    Then the dude began blasting me with fireballs. And I discover that there’s no way I can avoid the fireballs and get a look at the obstacles to plan my path. I literally spent over an hour testing and retesting that sequence until my fingers became numb. Then I gave up.

    It’s sad when what was originally the best puzzle platformer in the genre turns into a PRACTICE/PUNISH platformer.

    Kudos to those who managed to stick it out and finish the game. Unfortunately, my reflexes are nowhere that good, and my patience isn’t much better.

  16. Shamus says:

    Daniel Rutter: Good point. Just a simple cheat code would have salvaged this game for me. All I’d need is infinite sand, and I could have puzzled my way through those parts without too much frustration.

  17. theonlymegumegu says:

    That’s too bad you got derailed by the difficult game play. I really love the entire PoP series put out on the last gen systems. IMO, The Warrior Within has the worst story, but I was really happy how The Two Thrones came and really made up for it, and tied the whole story together nicely in the end (you should at least see if you can get a save game for the beaten game and watch the ending… it’s really great how it ties back to the first game). I’ll agree with you that the damn chariot races are bastards from hell… but I tend to thrive on that kind of difficulty. Also, I did like the pressure during the dark prince areas, especially on a replay. That’s the same reason I enjoyed the Dahaka runs on Warrior Within more the 2nd time through. Since I’d been through the game before, the more static puzzles weren’t challenging anymore, but the areas where you had a time pressure became more exciting (I actually disliked them before).

  18. cory says:

    In case you’re curious, some guy put the ending up on YouTube. He beats the final boss at about 4:30 in part 1.

    Part 1:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=biAfd8sO958&mode=related&search=

    Part 2:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Aq9gzizi8kM&mode=related&search=

  19. AR says:

    Two Thrones was the first Prince of Persia game I ever played, and I loved it. Despite it being the first game of the series I played, and the first game I played on my new USB xbox 360 controller for my PC, and playing on Hard, I didn’t have any of the difficulty you describe with the final boss. I fell and died at the beginning of the third part the first time, but the second time, I did the whole thing in one go.

  20. Craig Moynes says:

    Much like everyone here PoP2 was awful, I never finished it though it did have its moments. The third one I really enjoyed especially after I realized that when playing as the dark prince *most* of the time the threat of death is just imaginary, and that there are enough jugs and bad guys that continually respawn to keep you alive. Once instance that comes to mind is a long series of halls and platform sliding, except just before a part where you pull on a lever jump to a platform and out the door before it closes there are a few jugs that top your sands up.

    The last boss battle was tricky in the second part, and while I like to think I got through it with skill I think it was mostly patience and luck. The third part though is fairly easy, leap of faith jump at the boss, and the a terrifying wait to press the kill button.

  21. Daedalist says:

    I had the same experience with PoP2, and didn’t make it as far as you. Part of the annoying thing about the game is the fixed camera angles that change with little warning on you. I thought I’d get used to it, but after making it 1/3 to 1/2 way through the game, it was still bugging me so I gave up.

  22. Matt` says:

    *agrees with almost everyone so far* – first one good, sequel bad (haven’t played the third though) I only got a short way in to Warrior Within before I realised how all the things that made it different actually made it worse – too many bosses that required you to learn what to do in response to their moves at a very early stage, the story was.. pitiful – “I want to see this old lady ~ only if you do x, y and z ~ then I’ll go do x, y and z ~ good luck – its impossible ~ aagh monster ate my face”

    That was my experience of it anyway.. monster ate my face

  23. Sam says:

    I’ve never played the Two Thrones, but I was a HUGE Sands of Time fan. Then I played the first sequel, Warrior Within. The gameplay was still good, but I got so terribly frustrated by the changes made to the prince’s personality and the overall style of the game. Where he was once charming, witty, and sarcastic, he was now dark, brooding, and cliched. Where once there was beautiful mood-setting music, there was now crappy hard rock everywhere.

    The little comments made by the enemies were annoying. The random gratuitous violence, so pleasantly absent from the first game, was irksome. And the female characters all looked RIDICULOUS. Not to mention the love interest made absolutely no sense.

    I finished the game. I’m glad I did. But I would whole-heartedly agree that the first game was simply leagues ahead of the sequels.

  24. Vendrin says:

    I guess I’m the odd man out. I’m sorry it didn’t work out for you shamus but I loved the Two Thrones. I guess because I just didn’t have much trouble with it. No fault of your own, I’m just good at those games. I’m just sorry you missed the story. I liked Two Thrones better then Sand of Time, though I agree that Warrior Within story wasn’t all that great, but it was still a good game.

  25. Zack says:

    I always thought the games were developed by different companies or teams. The first game was artfully crafted and a lot of fun for me and my two friends. It had great puzzles, and everythgin felt lovingly crafted. It made me buy the second game the day it came out.

    The second game felt like a hack job, it came out too soon after the first, and it felt like somebody rebranded a low quality clone of Primal and thought suckers would buy it. I returned it after one day. This is the only game I ever have done that on. It was just awful, and it came out at the same time as God of war so it was made laughable by the comparison to a well crafted game from another company. We replayed GoW several times as it was a much better example of the hack/slash genre the second game was aiming at, but I really love puzzle like games.

    The third game felt like the team from game one was merged with a few member of team two. You could tell whenever team two employee made a scene. One boss battle I remember my abilities worked differently from the rest of the game and rewind lasted a fraction as long. I figured I could beat that battle but why bother if there might be more crap like that later. I just went out and bought a different better game and returned PoP.

    A good game has to be good all the way through to be good/great, but crappiness is like tar, it never comes off. It is sad to see the myriad issues come to haunt what could have been a great series.

  26. Cineris says:

    A few years ago I had a spare coupon or gift card for a movie or game rental at Blockbuster and tried out Prince of Persia: Warrior Within.

    Personally, I didn’t find it that bad. There are some difficult parts, but in general I thought it was an interesting story (even if it probably falls apart under scrutiny) and interesting enough to play through. I’d never played Sands of Time so it was all new to me. And while the game could be hard or frustrating, that’s pretty much the style I expect with platformers and it’s far more forgiving than the original Prince of Persia. I still managed to beat the game in a weekend, and it would’ve been done in a day if I had some kind of map with quest markers — Guessing where to go probably frustrated me more than jumps to things offscreen or other similar obstacles.

    Combat was pretty simple (there’s one key move that serves you throughout the entire game), and usually was there to help you out by replenishing your sand. I haven’t played Two Thrones, but it sounds like the Dark Prince is … Well, it sounds like the threat of death is more illusionary than real.

  27. Lo'oris says:

    i really hated Sands of Time, it was simply inferior compared to any 3D exploring game i had ever played, for some reasons i’m not going to list here and now.

    but.

    i think you could like Castlevania: Curse of Darkness.

    i personally like A LOT also Soul Reaver (1 and 2), Metal Gear Solid (1 and 2, didn’t play the 3), and the old tomb raiders. i don’t think you’d like those, but Curse of Darkness COULD be your game.

  28. I really enjoyed Two Thrones, but I think there may be two reasons for this.

    I think I am lousy at playing games so I EXPECT to die numerous times to complete puzzles. I just figure that everyone else breezes through with no difficulty.

    This makes me remember the good parts over the bad parts unless the bad parts are actual BUGS instead of just how the game was set up.

    As a third reasion, Two Thrones was better than the 2nd game, which had some nasty chase sequences that were MUCH worse than the Dark Prince stuff in Two Thrones. You also have to essentially play the Dark Prince for the last third of the game and do some nasty boss fights without the benefit of speed kills.

    Besides, there were timed puzzles in the 1st one, where you had to race past the traps to get through the door before your timer ran out. Given, you didn’t always DIE if you didn’t make it in time, but I’m MUCH worse at timing/dodging traps than I am at any other aspect of the game, so those were much harder for me than even the chariot races and being chased by the Dahaka in the later games.

    I concede that I had to look up a tutorial to get past the sword-and-axe guys after the chariot race, though, and even when I re-played the game I had to do that race/fight several times.

  29. Thefly says:

    Wow.. I’m suprised… I thought the boss was amusingly easy. The only hard part was when the 3 speed kills after the.. Ahem.. Regular fight? With the Vizier.. That’s the one i’ve spend most time on. After that the puzzle thing was’t really hard… You just need timing.. Those balls damage like nothing.. The first 3 platforms are the hardest after that it’s just natural timing “checkpoints” where you wait for him to shoot at you.. Those checkpoints will be the larger platforms where you can move around.. The camera was directing me in the right direction all the time so i could just keep moving.. I didn’t have any troubles…

    And now.. The Dark Prince stuff.. I thought that the Dark Prince scenes were cool… I never had ANY problems at all.. I died once while a Dark Prince.. Except in the fountain after Farah dies.. I died a couple of times.. But i didn’t think the game sucked because of that..

    THOUGH… The sword/axe boss.. I was severely disappointed when i tried this. I didn’t have any problems figuring out cause the nice lil’ Dark Prince was telling me to attack the sword dude.. So i did.. The boss actually only requires patience.. The only problem is.. I don’t have patience.. At all..

    So.. All in all i would say 4/5.. No wait! 3/5 cause i have the CENSORED European version.. And god that pisses me off! Sorry for my language but i’ve never seen such nonsense! And they even put some of the best defense stuff on it to prevent us from getting the blood n’ gore back.. I’m very disappointed.. 2/5 all in all if you ask me.. Unless they fix this nasty bug i’m not going to re-play this game..

  30. Steve C says:

    I agree with you Shamus, but not completely. I thing the graphics are significantly worse than Sands of Time. SoT had a camera that helped me. This piece of garbage has a camera that keeps getting me killed. Often I have missed where the game wants me to go because I’ve looked right at the game object I need to interact with, but it blends in with background and I have no clue it’s there. Plus it never shows me the plot action properly. (Where is that npc screaming for help… no idea.)

    I remember one spot where the ledge I needed looked -exactly- the same as the background. I had gotten used to those shenanigans so I rotated the camera to a stupid angle and behold… ledge! And that puzzle, chariot, & boss fight… inexcusable.

    If I was to score it, I’d give it 3/10.

  31. Megan says:

    You guys knw nothing about prince of persia it is so easy except for the final boss. Example i played kingdom hearts 2 first then i played kingdom hearts 1 and it was harder then the 2nd one because i played the 2nd one first. If you played prince of persia two thrones 2nd it will be harder trust me i knw i’m a hardcore gamer. just keep in mind what i said.

  32. John says:

    I enjoyed the POP first two games but third one The two throne gets boring after playing for some time. I wonder what makes the developer think that combining three levels without any save game will make it very challenging or interesting. I complete the he chariot and boss battles level after several hours. Atleast in that level if you die in a part then you do not have to start from the beginning . You start from that level. but in last level it is very frustrating . because if you die in any part then you have to start from the beginning of the part 1. It makes it very boring to keep playing same thing over and over again.
    May be developers should remove the save game option altogether from their next game. This will make it very interesting for players.

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