The Rogue Prince of Persia early access review - Cute and deadly

3 weeks ago 41

I’m not the kind of player who throws his controllers when he gets frustrated, but there have been a few notable games that have brought me close: Dark Souls’ battle with Knight Artorias, the ice caverns in Spelunky, and several of the later bosses in The Binding of Isaac have had me momentarily at the brink of hurling my gamepad into some nearby drywall. The Rogue Prince of Persia is the latest entry to this list – it’s one of those tough-as-nails roguelike games that starts off feeling impenetrable, but gradually lodges its hooks into you until you are helpless against the call of one more run.

The Rogue Prince of Persia will feel familiar to anyone who’s played Rogue Legacy, Hades, or Dead Cells – not really surprising, given developer Evil Empire took over ongoing development of Dead Cells when Motion Twin moved on to its new project. Now, the studio has partnered with Ubisoft to produce a roguelike game set in the world of Prince of Persia, and it’s just launched in early access on Steam.

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Playing as the eponymous Prince, your job is to save Persia from the invading Huns, who have overrun the country’s borders and seized the capital. After recklessly setting out to defeat the invaders on his own, the Prince is saved by the power of his magical bola, which rewinds time to prevent him from ever truly dying.

Each run in The Rogue Prince of Persia takes the Prince through the same series of procedurally generated levels. While the layouts always change, there are branching paths and landmarks that can reliably be found in the same general areas on each run. There are alternate paths to unlock and characters to find, as well as a range of new weapons and power-ups to forge back at camp with the help of friends like Sukhra the Forge-Sage and the mysterious Paachi.

The Rogue Prince of Persia’s hand-drawn art style lulled me into a false sense of security when I set out on my first run. Much like Ubisoft’s recent Netflix collaboration Rainbow Six Smol, characters and enemies are cartoony and colorful, and I imagined this would be a step down in difficulty from games like Dead Cells and Rogue Legacy. It is not. While there aren’t any bottomless chasms and hazards like spikes, and whirling blades aren’t instantly lethal, this is a stiff challenge for anyone who, like me, hasn’t already honed their platforming reflexes to a sharp edge. I’ve made it to the first boss, General Berude the Unstoppable, a handful of times, and she’s demolished me every time so far.

Punishment has occasionally been unfair: I’ve leapt down vertical passageways with hazards hidden at the bottom that I couldn’t see until it was far too late to avoid them, and there’s a particular enemy type that perches on top of poles that seems to be able to reach out and swat me even when I think I’m giving them a wide berth. Fights can get difficult to read when multiple enemies pile up and several are bolstered with shields (the kind you may remember from Dead Cells).

 A small, pixel man stands in front of a huge minotaur-looking monster, which is preparing to run at him

While I’m on the subject of complaints, I think the audio feedback could use a bit of punch-up. The music and ambient effects are all quite nice, but weapon impacts feel a bit too muted in the mix – the broadsword and two-handed tabard in particular should have a meaty thwunk sound when I land a hit, rather than the timid swoosh that’s currently there.

Those gripes aside though, The Rogue Prince of Persia shows a lot of promise. There are currently six different biomes to explore, and they all feel remarkably distinct. Zagros Village, the first level, is all rickety wooden platforms and passageways carved into a ravine. However, now that I’ve unlocked the Hun War Camp, I can choose to start my run there instead – it’s a similar environment, but populated with tougher enemies and potentially more valuable rewards. I can then head to either the Aqueduct or the Academy on my way to the first boss. The Aqueduct is a blue maze of one-way waterslides, while the Academy feels more like a puzzle box where I have to figure out how to unlock a central mechanism that seals a large mysterious door.

A pixel man with a red cloak runs through a desert area full of different traps

Each level has story objectives and characters to discover, and these all advance the story back at camp, where the Prince’s allies gather to help him recapture the city. Much in the way that Hades softens the sting of death by providing new dialogues to discover after each unsuccessful run, the Prince’s friends offer new insights and advice each time my bola whisks me back to start anew. That’s where I can also unlock new weapons at Sukhra’s forge or buy new trinkets from Paachi’s tent, too, adding new tools to my potential arsenal of pick-ups on the next run.

The Rogue Prince of Persia might not be quite enough to pull you away from Hades 2 just yet, but if you’re a fan of the genre, it’s one you definitely should keep an eye on as it makes its way through early access.

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