It’s not everyday that we demo a game at an event and immediately ask to go back for a few seconds. The upcoming Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown managed to stab us in the daggers quickly with its punishing yet rewarding combat, jaw-dropping views, and flashy animations. So naturally, we couldn’t leave without taking another hit. This new Metroidvania-style take on the frenetic spike-trap-dodging platformer looks every bit as amazing as the genre it’s inspired by – and all from a team that’s created some of the best platformers in the world. Ubisoft.
Revealed in the opening moments of the Summer Game Fest 2023 live broadcast, it’s been 13 years since the series last appeared on consoles in The Forgotten Sands. Initial reaction to this new entry was somewhat split, with some longtime fans disliking its presentation and others absolutely thrilled to see the series return to its 2D roots. We got into building a demo at Ubisoft’s Forward event and came away excited to play more.
Instead of playing the role of a Persian prince who travels back in time, you play as Sargon, a warrior led by a team of royal soldiers known as The Immortals, who are on a mission to save their own prince of Persia. Now listen, we know how it might feel if Link were replaced by a random Kokiri kid in the next Zelda game, but trust us. Sargon is a breath of fresh air and an incredibly acrobatic swordsman who you will quickly become attached to.
Generally speaking, The Lost Crown feels close to MercurySteam’s Metroid Dread. You’ll explore a 2D map full of different biomes in search of secret rooms, hidden passageways, puzzles to solve, and enemies to slay that will reward you with upgrades and new abilities. That’s not to say it’s a scam trying to cash in on Dread’s success. Ubisoft Montpellier has been developing The Lost Crown since 2019. It’s the team that has shaped Rayman from the very beginning, and it seems to be giving this new Prince all the care and attention you would hope for given the past accomplishments of the team and lineage of this series.
Combat is fast and fluid, and Sargon has a wide array of weapons and skills. You can strike at close range with dual blades, at long range with a limited number of arrows, or launch an infinite chakram at will. Character movement and weapon aiming are all controlled with the left analog stick, just like in Metroid Dread. After dealing enough damage, a meter will slowly fill up, giving you the chance to trigger a few different specials that send a wave of energy towards enemies or create an area-of-effect healing spell for a limited time. You can also equip Sargon with a limited number of amulets that give him stat boosts and new abilities, like the power to turn your chakram into a vortex or simply restore some health after a successful parry.
What really brings the fight together is the fact that almost all enemy attacks in the game can be parried by simply pressing the “L” button. Standard attacks and projectiles can be a little harder to deflect, but if you see an enemy swinging towards you and their weapon starts glowing yellow, a successful parry means you’ll be able to counter with a single move, sometimes accompanied of a single animation. However, if you see the enemy glowing red, you’ll want to dash back or sprint because you can’t resist or parry them.
In 2003’s Sands of Time, the Prince of Persia series became famous for allowing you to momentarily rewind to retry an enemy encounter or take another leap of faith. This time, Sargon is equipped with the ability to teleport to a past location. By pressing the “ZL” button, you can create an apparition of yourself on the ground or in the air, and pressing the button again shortly after will instantly teleport to that exact location. This can help you get the upper hand on an enemy with a sneak attack, or get back to a high vantage point after missing a jump. In theory, this is the same as using the Sands of Time, but in this case, time never rolls back.
As expected from the series, we encountered a few areas full of spike skates, pits and rollers to jump over and plenty of poles to swing from (which no longer require perfect input timing – just aim the analog stick in the direction you want to jump). We hope these types of areas will be sprinkled throughout the final game. We stumbled upon an area with quite a long chain of traps to cross which made our hearts pound and felt like home. A dash in the air and the ability to cling and slide down walls like the maverick hunter Mega Man X also makes the world a fun playground to explore.
We played the half-hour demo on PC and Switch, but were really surprised and delighted to see how well the game ran on Nintendo’s tiny console, even in handheld mode on a first-gen model. , even if we had squinted a little. In talking with a few developers during and after our demo, we were told that The Lost Crown was indeed aiming for 60 FPS in handheld and docked mode. We’ve been told that development is “Switch-led” and that the Switch experience is a top priority for the team. It seems that fewer and fewer Switch versions of the cross-platform releases are getting as much attention, with aging hardware causing headaches for developers also targeting the PS5 and Xbox Series X. Even if the 4K beauty of the PC version has d first captured our hearts, we didn’t feel too miffed about upgrading to that five-inch 720p display.
Visually, The Lost Crown shows off everything the Switch is capable of with a smooth and buttery cel-shaded art style. The boss we encountered at the end of the demo took some effort to bring him down, but after landing the final blow, we were treated to a jaw-dropping cutscene of a heartbreaking Sargon in it. There’s nothing quite like being rewarded with some fancy animation after a big fight, so we’re looking forward to all the scrapes we’ll find ourselves in.
Given the amount of games and announcements leaked these days, it seems rare to be genuinely surprised by a game reveal. the first time around, and we’re glad we had no reason to be disappointed with the gameplay we’ve sampled so far. It’s going to be hard to sit back and wait for the game to launch in January next year, but we’ll do our best to enjoy the anticipation. After several years of absence, it feels good to see this series again.