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Prince of Persia Rival Swords

For: PSP

Like the Prince himself, this one suffers a little from a dual personality disorder

Product: Prince of Persia Rival Swords | Developer: Foundation 9 Entertainment | Publisher: Ubisoft | Format: PSP | Genre: Action, Adventure | Players: 1-2 | Networking: wireless (adhoc) | Version: Europe
Prince of Persia Rival Swords PSP, thumbnail 1
You're no doubt an avid Pocket Gamer reader for many reasons. Maybe it's the up-to-the-minute news, the in-depth previews and analysis, or even the quality reviews provided by some of the finest games journalists in the business and me.

If, however, you're here for the tips that conclude every critique, then let's put you out of your misery immediately: If you have thin walls, don't play Prince of Persia: Rival Swords too loudly.

The Prince's death throes sound, to put it discretely, like he's reached the point where he's about to finish loving a lady, roll over for a cigarette and begin apologising. And you'll be hearing that deathly sound so regularly and so frequently, those that live close by will think you're some sort of animal. And rubbish at sex.

You see, Prince of Persia: Rival Swords is an old-fashioned game, requiring button precision the likes of which those not well-versed in the grammar of gaming will find overwhelmingly frustrating.

As such, it's far from a game with universal appeal – but those looking for a hardcore challenge will find much to adore.

Following the events of previous console outing The Warrior Within, the Prince finds himself back in Babylon, with Kalineena, the Empress of Time. However, all is not as it should be, else this would be a pretty boring game. The city is besieged by war and Kalineena quickly captured, as women in video games seem to be. With the Sands of Time once again unleashed, it's up to the Prince to save the day in the only way he knows how: by jumping improbably, and fighting a lot.

Initially, the range of moves on offer to the Prince is utterly bewildering. The tutorial level is colossal, introducing almost every action in quick succession – there's little time to appreciate the visual splendour, given the rate of pop-up instruction boxes. However, the types of actions can be quickly distilled into four buttons, and once these become familiar, pulling off incredible leaps soon becomes second nature.

The levels are incredibly varied. From trap-laden corridors – complete with swinging blades, hidden spikes and collapsing floors – to huge temples and even city-based levels, this is often the game that Tomb Raider should have been; beautiful and deadly, a world where progress is hindered by levers and conundrums, and the occasional boss.

And it's to Rival Swords' credit that death by player incompetence is rarely an issue. Each area should be approached as a puzzle – with the entrance and exit usually signposted, it's figuring the route that provides the challenge.

Even the controls, overall, are forgiving, in a rare example of a developer taking into consideration the ambiguity of the analogue nub. But in other areas the restrictions of the PSP have not been flawlessly tackled.

The graphical resolution, for starters, makes spotting environmental aides problematic, and the screen format is often restrictive when moving the camera to determine the next wall to run up. In addition, the audio streamed from the UMD often gets out of synch, which is annoying – particularly when listening out for narrative clues – whilst the rate of data transfer can often lead to irritating mid-level pauses.

It's a schizophrenic game. Literally, in fact: At key points, the Prince transforms into a dark version of himself (don't ask), which increases his offensive capabilities whilst introducing constantly draining health.

In normal Prince mode, then, the game frequently offers the same awe-inspiring platforming that has epitomised the modern-day Prince of Persia since the release of Sands of Time in 2003. There are moments of genuine brilliance, when you're given the time to appreciate the level design.

In dark warrior mode, however, your ever-diminishing health forces quick progression and combatative button-mashing, which isn't half as satisfying – particularly when the camera gets confused. Hitting a combination of buttons (as we said earlier, there are about a million different moves for the Prince and his alter ego, hardly any of which you'll remember) whilst staring at a wall won't win any game design awards.

But get through these bits and Rival Swords quickly returns to form. Yes, there's still combat to endure, but pretty much every enemy can, if you prefer, be defeated with a 'speed kill' provided you've not been spotted. With the countless nooks and crannies, there's usually an obvious way of avoiding extended violence. By sneaking up behind someone, say, and putting a sword clean through their chest.

The ability to rewind time, so successfully premiered in Sands of Time, returns, also offers some leeway when the wrong route is taken. This proves particularly welcome during the on-the-rails levels, but can often work mid-combat, too. But there are still sections that will require repeat play – and with some restart points quite far apart, it can prove frustrating.

To round things off, the PSP version boasts multiplayer time trials and chariot races, along with stuff you can unlock by collecting sand credits. They're fine, but hardly the point of playing.

Rival Swords is a mainly brilliant platforming game, spoiled by some terrible fighting bits. We can't imagine anyone will list that particular hybrid genre as their favourite – but it's what we're left with here.

So recommended overall, but annoying. A bit like The Arctic Monkeys. Or bad, noisy sex.
Prince of Persia Rival Swords
Reviewer photo
Simon Byron | 12 April 2007
A great example of modern platforming, coupled with a terrible example of a fighting game. Still, much more to love than hate
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