Genre: Platformer Developer: Broderbund Software Publisher: Victor Musical Ind. Players: 1 Released: 1993
Everyone knows about Prince of Persia. Due to its fluid animation, innovative and challenging gameplay, it spawned ports and sequels on nearly every home system from NES and Sega Master System to PS3 and X-Box 360. There have been multiple versions on portable units, a graphic novel, and most recently, a major motion picture.
The brilliance of POP comes from its utter simplicity. The gameplay is no different from any other platformer. In fact, there are fewer ingredients here than in most run-‘n-jumps. There are only five different actions to perform: run, walk, jump, pulling/lowering yourself to another platform, and swordplay. Yet with those basic elements, a game was created that is fun, difficult, at times frustrating, and totally engrossing. I guarantee once you start playing you will want to see it through to the end.
The story involves star crossed lovers, an evil scheming grand vizier, a kidnapped princess, and our main guy the prince getting thrown in a deep, dark dungeon. The vizier informs the princess that he intends to marry her and take over the sultan’s empire. She has one hour to make up her mind, giving you a small window of opportunity to escape and rescue her.
All of this you already know. So, what’s different about the Sega CD port? Well, a few things, not all of them good. First off it was ported from the Macintosh version, which has improved graphics, and the Prince wears a turban versus a head of blonde hair. Secondly an animated intro has been added, though I use that term loosely. The frames are mostly still with only the characters’ mouths moving. Not too impressive, but still entertaining if only to hear the overly-cheesy voice acting and see the oddly anime influenced color scheme (why is the vizier’s skin blue?). Third, there a couple of added options over the original versions. You can choose to do “speed trials” to get your fastest time per level. Also, once you start a game you can change the speed of your character. I would certainly recommend speeding him up a little to help you with the time limit. Not too much though or the beautiful animation just looks choppy. Finally, using the SCD’s internal memory, a save feature! Yes! No more passwords! Of course, you can only save at the beginning of each level, but you are allowed multiple slots allowing you to reach your quickest time.
Other than that, the rest of the game is pretty much the same fare. The cut scenes in between levels show the princess in her room staring at the dwindling hour glass. Pretty much every platform and pit are the same as the original version, no extra levels, no other frill, but darned if that doesn’t stop it from being a fun game to play.
Compared with the Mac version, the visuals are certainly improved. Besides minor graphical improvements, splashes of color have been added, most notably to the guards’ outfits, end level doors and quite a bit of blood, from spikes to the bloody corpse of whoever loses the sword duels. Unfortunately, if you are comparing it to the Genesis and SNES ports, you are going to be sorely disappointed. While I felt the animation itself was a little smoother, much of the background detail is missing. Besides that, the background never changes. Whereas in the Genesis version half of the game takes place in the dungeon and half in the palace, nearly this whole game takes place in the same drab gray dungeon.
The audio, as you would expect, is a different story. Music has been added that is very pleasant and appropriate for the setting. Not something you are going to be bumping to in your car, and it certainly gets repetitive after a while. However, it was much needed and is certainly better than only sound effects, especially considering these effects aren’t quite up to snuff. Granted, there aren’t very many needed as you are performing the same actions throughout the whole game, but that’s all the more reason they could have been better! Crashing tiles and sword fights sound like anything but. In fact, the clanging swords actually sound better on the Genesis version. Why is there no sound effect for when I pull out my sword? Why is there no drinking sound when I drink a potion or grunting when I do a running jump? Where is the death scream when I stab someone with my sword? This is the Sega CD people, these are exactly the kinds of things we expect you to improve on!
The controls have always been a distinguishing factor on POP, for good or bad. depending on your point of view. Due to the animation of your character, certain quirks are present when controlling the prince. It is definitely frustrating those first dozen times you die because he didn’t jump or stop when you wanted him to. Give yourself some time to adjust to the control scheme. It’s not impossible to master, but you will have to be patient if you want to learn precision control, which is exactly what you need to avoid certain death. If you’ve played Flashback or Out of This World, you know where I’m coming from.
Speaking of which, I feel I should touch on the difficulty level. You are going to die. A LOT. You are going to fall down a lot of pits. You will be impaled repeatedly. You’re going to lose quite a few sword fights and get pushed over more than one ledge. If you can accept that fact before you pick up the controller, you will have a much more enjoyable experience. Also there is the ever present sixty-minute time limit. I’ll just say this right here, I hate playing games with time limits. I am a patient explorer, I almost always find all the secret areas without ever glancing at a walkthrough, and I hate being rushed. I understand time limits are used to add an extra challenge, but to me they always end up feeling like a cheap and lazy way for the programmers to achieve that goal. It’s like they are saying to me, “hey look at the incredible, diverse digital realm we have created for you to traverse and enjoy. Now rush through it as fast as possible or everybody dies!” However, I don’t feel that is necessarily the case here. I believe the time limit adds just the right amount of difficulty. If the player was given enough time to take every level slowly, the challenge just wouldn’t be there. There is still quite a bit to explore and secret areas to find, but in this case, I did not feel that the time limit got in my way of truly appreciating the game.
In the end, what you have is a very fun game, though not necessarily the best port. This gets said a lot and in this case it’s no different. With all the capabilities of the Sega CD, they could have done a lot more than just a fancy intro and improved sound. If you don’t own any version, I would recommend the Genesis port over this one. If you already own the Genesis version and are curious, pick up a copy. It’s not too expensive, and the hilarious intro itself is enough to warrant the purchase.
SCORE: 6 out of 10