Saturday, 19 July 2014

Prince of Persia - PC (MS-DOS) - 1990

First task on level 1 is to find the sword.

Prince of Persia is a platform adventure game designed and programmed by Jordan Mechner.  It was released on the Apple II computer in 1989 and was subsequently converted to most of the popular (and not so popular) systems through the early ‘90s.  Using his younger brother as a model, Jordan built on the same rotoscoping technique he first used in Karateka.  This allowed for the fluid, life-like animation that the game has become known for. 

I first came across a garish CGA Prince of Persia over 20 years ago on a PC in my first job.  I thought it was okay but pretty samey and too hard.  Having played it again (this time with instructions at hand) I have found the controls to be pretty intricate and give more control over the character than I initially thought.

I may be in a minority but I find the MS-DOS and Commodore Amiga versions to be the most aesthetically pleasing.  They build on the Apple II graphics and I prefer their simplicity.  Of these two, the PC version has slightly better sound effects than the Amiga so, in my opinion, comes out on top.  Releases on the Atari ST upwards feature more and more detailed graphics that move further away from the ‘classic’ Prince of Persia look.
The Atari ST version, also from 1990, has slightly more detailed graphics.  The 1994 Mega Drive release loses the clean look of the original altogether.

The scene is set in the game's intro.  While the Sultan is away fighting a war, his Grand Vizier Jaffar, has seized control of the throne.  He orders the Sultan's daughter marry him within the hour or else she will die.  You take control of the unnamed adventurer who must make his way through twelve hazard filled stages in order to rescue the Sultan’s daughter.   There is a time limit of 60 minutes in which to complete the quest.  

The player has a health bar, initially consisting of three red triangles.  One of these is used up if the player gets hit by a sword or falls from the height of a couple platforms.  Small red potions can be found that can restore one triangle while the larger red potions can add additional triangles to the health bar.  
The small blue potion reduces your health whilst the small red one restores it.  The large red potion increases the total amount of damage you can take.

Falling too far, taking too much damage or getting killed by a trap results in the character dying.  Although there are no ‘lives’ the player has to restart the current level resulting in a tighter time limit.
One of the many ways to instantly die

Another obstacle are Jaffar’s guards.  They can be defeated in a simple combat using the sword that can be found on the first level.  Fight moves are limited to strike and block.

Among the puzzles are closed doors which must be opened by a trigger tile and eventually begin to close.  There are also tiles which can close the open doors but these differ slightly in look.  Other tiles on the floor and ceiling are collapsible.  These can be spotted by jumping on the spot as they wobble slightly.  The tiles can be made to collapse from above by walking over them.  From below they can be hit by jumping, but the player must then move out of the way to avoid taking damage.

Things start getting tricky on level 3 but thankfully the game can be saved from here.  Skeletons can't be killed in combat.

Prince of Persia is definitely deserving of it's 'classic' status, influencing the look of later games such as Another World and Flashback.  It is a challenging, sometimes frustrating, game that is just as playable now as when it was released.  

Example gameplay.....