The Prince of Persia series has been a household name in video games since Jordan Mechner’s groundbreaking puzzle platformer debuted in 1989. The series has taken on many different forms in the decades since — 2D platformers, 3D adventures, nu metal action games, Metroidvanias — but always at the heart of each game is a playable ‘Prince’ and a world that demands athleticism.
With Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown on the way this week and with reviews already in the wild, we thought there could be no better time than to look back over the series and rank our favourites from worst to best. I’m not including ports in this list — most of these games have been ported to every platform known to human science over the years. I’m not including weird, platform-specific half-spinoffs because they’re usually just a Sands of Time sequel with extra Wiimote waggling.
Without further ado, let’s get into it.
13. Prince of Persia: Harem Adventures (N-Gage, Mobile)
Starting this list off with some real dross. Prince of Persia: Harem Adventures was a true low point for the series. Harem Adventures was an attempt at a throwback to Jordan Mechner’s original that failed to understand a single thing about what made it interesting or special. Rather than rescuing a single princess from Jaffar’s clutches, the Prince’s goal was to rescue his harem of busty, flirty wives, who have all been kidnapped by the vizier. Upon rescuing each of the Prince’s wives, the player is rewarded with some sophomoric flirting and pixellated images of women with see-through tops. It’s sexist, racist junk and the worst thing that’s ever happened to the franchise. I don’t know how this even got made. Everyone involved should feel bad about it. You had to own an N-Gage to play it, which is a big ol’ red flag in and of itself.
12. Prince of Persia 3D: Arabian Nights
Widely regarded as the weakest mainline Prince of Persia game ever made, PoP 3D was the final game in the series’ original trilogy. Creator Jordan Mechner was only involved in a consultancy capacity and contributed some work to the game’s story. Prince of Persia 3D attempted to transpose the series’ popular and weighty platforming into third-person 3D over 15 levels.
It was made by Mindscape and ported to Dreamcast by, funnily enough, Avalanche, the team that would go on to create the toys-to-life series Disney Infinity in the 2010’s and most recently made Hogwarts Legacy. Reviews called the controls sluggish, its camera difficult to wrangle, making platforming and combat alike rather difficult.
11. Prince of Persia: The Fallen King
One of several attempts at getting 3D Prince of Persia to work on the Nintendo DS. The Fallen King sees the Prince and his masked friend Zal caught between a pair of warring gods, attempting to claim four pieces of a divine seal that will send the evil god Ahriman back to the shadow realm. The Fallen King‘s fatal mistake was that it used the DS’s stylus for everything to do with controls. You use it to move the Prince, perform special moves, fire of Zal’s magic spells, and you use it in combat. None of it really worked, and most players found the control scheme to be unintuitive and over-complicated.
10. Battles of Prince of Persia
Battles of Prince of Persia was another attempt to bring the PoP series the Nintendo DS. This time, Ubisoft was attempting to trade on the popularity of Advance Wars and Final Fantasy Tactics by turning the Prince’s adventures into a turn-based tactics game with a few deckbuilding elements thrown in for good measure. It received fairly mixed reviews at the time of its launch, but it was one of the more inventive PoP spin-offs of the early 2000s, and the deckbuilding was pretty solid, all things considered.
9. Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands
Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands had a lot of masters to serve. Canonically set between the Sands of Time reboot and its darker sequel, Warrior Within, The Forgotten Sands needed to please fans of Sands of Time fans who’d grown unhappy with the series’ direction. It was also an indirect tie-in game for the 2009 Jake Gyllenhaal Prince of Persia film, and so needed to be something of a match for that film’s look and overall vibe. It also had the unenviable task of launching just a year after the very next game in this list, a heavily stylised franchise reboot. A difficult needle to thread, without a doubt. It ultimately became a fine, though rather unremarkable, entry in the series’ history. With this many stakeholders to please, that’s hardly a surprise.
Its legacy is as the game that became the franchise’s epitaph throughout the 2010s. Overtaken in popularity by the mechanically similar Assassin’s Creed franchise, it seemed Ubisoft might have inadvertently beaten a prized horse to death.
8. Prince of Persia (2008)
The 2008 reboot of Prince of Persia diverged from the Sands of Time continuity altogether, attempting the kickstart an entirely new version of the franchise. This version of the game attempted to graft the acrobatic platforming of the SoT trilogy onto an open-world design methodology. This is not in and of itself a bad idea, and though most critics really loved the changes Prince of Persia 2008 made to the franchise, it was never quite able to stick the landing with players. Its art design remains some of the most striking and interesting of any game in the series, and shades of it now appear in The Lost Crown.
7. Prince of Persia Classic
A 2.5D remake of the original Prince of Persia by Gameloft, and published by Ubisoft. This remake is generally well-liked by fans of the original, which updates the classic visuals to sit more in line with the Sands of Time franchise, but keeps most of its well-established rules and mechanics. Players still have one hour to reach Jaffar and save the princess. Changes to the classic game’s mechanics included the addition of several acrobatic moves like rolling, wall-jumping, backflipping and even the ability to stop time during a fight.
6. Prince of Persia: Warrior Within
The placement of Warrior Within on this list may be point of some debate, because there are still people who really love it. But hear me out: Prince of Persia: Sands of Time was built on some of the most beautifully designed platforming ever crafted in a video game. Warrior Within sends the platforming everyone loved to the back seat so it can bring combat to the fore. Produced at the height of the early 2000’s emo wave, it also saddled us with an edgy Prince who was just a little too into The Used. Even creator Jordan Mechner wasn’t a fan, saying at the time that he wasn’t happy with the series’ artistic direction, and complaining about its sudden pivot into violence.
Overall, it was a fine action game — the combat was quite good, and what platforming remained was still very well done. It just didn’t need to be so damned emo. As a Prince of Persia title, for me, Warrior Within remains one of the franchise’s great unforced L’s.
5. Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones
Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones was something of a response to criticisms of Warrior Within. It significantly dials back the emo aesthetics in favour of something closer to Sands of Time. Though it goes back to the well in many regards — the story is a retread of SoT set in a branching timeline — it tried hard to find a closer balance between the acrobatic platforming of the first game and the more refined combat of the second. This was Ubisoft’s third PoP game in as many years, however, and the formula was beginning to wear a little thin. It is, nevertheless, my #2 pick in the SoT trilogy.
4. Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown
The new kid is coming in pretty high up the list! Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is a new Metroid-styled exploration game with Soulsy combat in which you play not as the Prince, but as Sargon, a member of a warrior clan attempting to rescue the Prince, who has become our damsel in distress. There is so much that The Lost Crown gets right — it brings back the acrobatic platforming, there’s some very chunky combat in the mix. Sargon can be upgraded and augmented with various amulets you’ll find for increased survivability, and the exploration is some of the best the series has ever had. In many ways, it’s the game that the 2008 remake was trying its hardest to become.
A strong, deeply enjoyable return to form after a long, long wait. May the Sands of Time reboot get this kind of careful treatment.
3. Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame
The direct sequel to Jordan Mechner’s original, Prince of Persia 2 took everything that players loved about the original and dialled it up. Critics loved the increased challenge and considered it a mechanically superior game to its predecessor in almost every way. It’s true that The Shadow and The Flame make significant gameplay improvements on the original — the animations feel even more fluid, the actions feel more precise, and Mechner’s trap dungeon puzzle design is as razor-sharp as ever.
Few in my generation ever played this sequel. Almost everyone I knew growing up was aware of the original, but had no idea that a sequel had ever been produced. If you’ve never played it, I highly recommend it! There was even a remake produced in the mid-2010s from Ubisoft, if you’d prefer something a little more modern.
2. Prince of Persia
The original, and still one of the greatest platformers ever made. Created in the wake of Jordan Mechner’s successful first game Kareteka, the original Prince of Persia remains an example of pure, engaging video game design. The Prince’s animations are still beautifully detailed to this day. PoP communicates a sense of weight that you don’t often get in video games — you feel as though you’re flinging a man that really does weigh 75 kilos across its wide-open spike pits. A masterfully made game, ported to just about every system on earth. An all-timer that remains tremendous fun to play to this day.
1. Prince of Persia: Sands of Time
Was the outcome ever really in doubt? Prince of Persia: Sands of Time took a series that had fallen out of fashion and modernised it in a way that has influenced action adventure game design ever since. It was a game in which the world itself was your greatest foe. This game would throw the most dazzling movement puzzles and platforming at the player. Every time you thought you’d seen its most spectacular and satisfying puzzle, Sands of Time would reveal another, hidden just up its sleeve.
Anyone who has made it all the way to the game’s end boss fight will tell you that the boss isn’t actually the game’s final exclamation point. The true final boss is the climb you take to reach him, a Machiavellian mountain puzzle that still deserves to be studied by game design students the world over. There are whole arms of video game history in the 2000s that don’t come to pass without this game. Assassin’s Creed, the most prominent example, simply doesn’t exist without Sands of Time to inspire it.
Ubisoft has been working on a remake of Sands of Time for quite a while now. Leaks and snippets of information continue to flow through to the internet once every six months or so. With the critical success of The Lost Crown, surely someone at Ubi will be giving the Sands of Time team a bit of a hurry on? I look forward to playing it again in the near future.
Thoughts? Comments? Burning, white hot rage? Get in the comments, let us know if you agree or disagree.
Image: Ubisoft, Broderbund, Kotaku Australia
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