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Prince Of Persia: The Lost Crown Preview – Homecoming King

Prince of Persia and the Homoerotic Tension

I am notoriously bad at side-scrolling platformers. I’ve platinumed several FromSoftware titles, am a beast at racing games, and can run a farm that would make Orwell blush, but I cannot for the life of me wrap my head around a 2.5D space. Let alone one that requires split-second decision-making and savage combat mastery. So, when I say that Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown has become one of my most anticipated games of 2024, I want you to know what that really means for someone with my distinct lack of skills. In a recent visit to Ubisoft’s Sydney offices, I sunk into about four hours of the latest Prince of Persia reboot, working my way through its opening hours and deep into its first dungeon. By the time I left, I could have happily played another twenty.

Prince of Persia’s trajectory has always been a bit of an odd one. Jordan Mechner’s 1989 Prince of Persia is a seminal classic for the platforming/adventure genre, spawning a decade-long run for the series that would culminate in its first attempt at 3D in 1999. Four years later, Mechner partnered with Ubisoft on the iconic The Sands of Time, a soft reboot that bolstered the 3D transition with a killer new art direction and time-bending toolset. Though Mechner’s involvement would eventually waver, the reboot launched a successful new wave of Prince of Persia titles (and a movie we don’t talk about), but the franchise would eventually fizzle out, its turn to the pervasive edginess of the aughts sanding away the initial charm and appeal. Taking a holistic view of this history, The Lost Crown emerges as Ubisoft Montpellier’s forward facing next step for the franchise.

Despite bearing his title, and even starring the young lad, you won’t be playing as the Prince of Persia this time around. Fresh newcomer Sargon’s street rat youth is punctuated only by his outstanding skills with a blade and tenacity for a higher station in life, and our new protagonist finds himself in the role by sheer force of will after joining an elite group of Persian guards, the Immortals, at a young age. The Immortals themselves are a colourful band of specialised heroes, the Achaemenid Empire’s own Power Rangers in a way, and they’re called to action after Prince Ghassan is kidnapped in a plot against the throne.

Ghassan and Sargon’s relationship is…peculiar, an immediately clockable bit of homoerotic tension that I wouldn’t have mentioned if it weren’t for the confirming conversations around the room that something was there. Sargon’s characterisation and overall design are heavily masculine coded, with washboard abs and sternly set jaw in the face of danger, but his contrast with the Prince’s more effeminate energy is compelling and deliberate. Ghassan presents Sargon with a culturally significant blue sash in the opening hour, an item he keeps close for the remainder of the game and a constant visual signifier of the connection, and an intimate moment shared, between the two men. When things take a dramatic turn toward the end of the opening act and Ghassan’s life is put in visceral danger, Sargon’s reaction feels like more than duty too, his anger is palpable. This could all be sand through our fingers by the time the game launches next year but there is a chance for something beautiful, and genuinely new, to emerge from this.

Sargon’s spirited pursuit of Ghassan’s kidnappers takes him and the Immortals deep into the sacred halls of Mount Qaf, a central hub that splinters into several biomes over the game’s apparent 25-hour runtime. The Lost Crown’s cutscenes, of which there are many, deploy a heightened and cartoonish stylisation that feels of a piece with expressive animated series like Arcane and Dragonball Z, but the moment-to-moment gameplay takes place in subtler, equally compelling environments. Unsurprisingly, time plays a major role in the events of the game, forming a backbone for several mechanics, but also the thematic and visual signpost for things like art direction and tone. The temples and forests I explored felt sickly, like rapidly ripening fruit, bordering on spoiled and rotten. In its 2.5D plain, The Lost Crown commands an excellent use of space and aesthetics, bolstered again by its fantastic character and enemy design.

The Lost Crown’s world is vibrant and full of challenges

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In a beautiful melding of Prince of Persia’s competing gameplay identities, The Lost Crown invokes the Metroidvania genre, allowing it to craft a challenging 2.5D platformer and compelling combat experience all at once. Navigating these environments is often hazardous and difficult, as Sargon is put through a wringer of tightly timed platforming puzzles, often layering his basic movements with a special time-bending dash that allows brief I-frames for split-second manoeuvring. The deeper you delve into the mountain, the harder these instances become, with side-quests leading to special challenge rooms that pushed my abilities to their limits but never broke them, each failure instead a chance to dust myself off and get back into it. It was endlessly fun, something unlocking in the back of my mind that finally allowed me to understand the innate appeal of this genre.

Elsewhere combat shines too, Sargon getting a small arsenal of magical weaponry alongside his basic light and heavy attacks, and a generous parry for good measure. Standard enemies are no trouble alone but once the game begins layering them into an encounter, you’ll need to be on your toes to balance the flow of attacks and parries required to survive. This is a tension point I’m still unsure of though, as some enemy attacks, like projectiles, can majorly impact your ability to perform basic moves during tense encounters. The balancing swings back up during boss fights though, which can range from pretty cruisy mid-sized encounters to brutal, large-scale foes who introduce new mechanics and ramp up difficulty in the best way possible.

He killed me so many times and I was thankful

It’s also worth noting just how approachable The Lost Crown makes itself to players, with a shockingly deep set of difficulty modifiers and settings. Everything in the game can be tweaked, from enemy health and damage to parry windows and even platforming difficulty. I dabbled with these settings toward the end of the session and found them fairly comprehensive, a very nice touch for players who either can’t or don’t want to get bogged down in the game’s (admittedly very fun) challenge. And while The Lost Crown is a visual treat in 4K 60FPS, Switch owners won’t be missing out on too much of the experience as the handheld edition of the game felt just as responsive and crisp to play, even with the slightly buffed out visuals.

Everything about my time with The Lost Crown left me clamouring for more. I badly wanted to explore the next area I glimpsed at the bottom of a corridor haunted by a spectral being, I couldn’t wait to nab the next trick weapon or time-warping ability, and I really needed to see how Sargon’s relationship with the titular prince progressed. For a franchise that has largely been relegated to cult-favourite in recent years, The Lost Crown makes a bold and, so far, successful claim to a throne often abdicated for other genre kings, its return to the top spot feeling like just a matter of time.

Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown launches January 15 on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Switch, and PC.

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Written By James Wood

One part pretentious academic and one part goofy dickhead, James is often found defending strange games and frowning at the popular ones, but he's happy to play just about everything in between. An unbridled love for FromSoftware's pantheon, a keen eye for vibes first experiences, and an insistence on the Oxford comma have marked his time in the industry.



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