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Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown Review: A Bold New Path for the Prince

In the past few years, Metroidvanias and action-adventure platformers have seen a resurgence. Ori and the Blind Forest, Hollow Knight and Dead Cells have breathed new life into the genre, bringing fresh ideas to its established ethos. There’s also a renewed appetite for challenging games. Dark Souls came around in 2011 and redefined what one could take away from a video game. They can be fun, sure. But they can be punishing, too. Fast forward a decade, and we now have people playing Elden Ring with a steering wheel. Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, Ubisoft’s latest Metroidvania action-adventure platformer, assimilates elements from these games and subgenres to tread familiar ground, but it does so in its own unique ways.

Save points from Dark souls, air dashes and double jumps from Hollow Knight and intricate and interconnected Biome-based level design from Dead Cells; The Lost Crown’s DNA splices together strands from games that have come before. There’s a bit of Celeste in there and some of Hades, too. But the final result is a game that is also distinctly Prince of Persia. From its Persian setting and its experiments with the passage of time to its high-wire platforming puzzles and its throwback dual swords, The Lost Crown is very much a Frankenstein monster unto itself, even if its body parts are not its own.

It is also ridiculously fun and surprisingly challenging. What The Lost Crown lacks in narrative depth and contextualisation, it makes up for in the pure dynamism of its action combat and the sheer variety of its platforming and traversal systems. It is also not a lean package by any means. Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown cannot be breezed through in a dozen or so hours, especially on its harder difficulty settings. Just the main missions — there are nine of them — could take about 18-20 hours. And if you go for a healthy amount of side quests, optional boss fights and platforming challenges, and treasures and trinkets, the game can easily go double the distance. The Lost Crown, however, doesn’t really justify that length, at least not always. Its long-winded middle section weighs the whole game down, almost to a halt. An unbalanced difficulty curve and tedious quest structure turn the game’s later sections into a barely rewarding grind. But it throws enough new tricks at you to keep you on the prince’s trail.

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The Lost Crown starts off in medias res, right in the middle of a Kushan invasion of the Persian empire. You’re dropped into the shoes of Sargon, a member of the Immortals, an elite group of warriors who are not really Immortals but possess exceptional abilities that can help turn the tide on the battlefield. The Immortals repel the Kushans, with Sargon taking out the beefy general of the invading army. This section serves as a narrative introduction and a quick tutorial for the game’s basics. The group then return to their kingdom as heroes and are feted by Queen Thomyris and Prince Ghassan. But as Sargon and his companions are drowning in revelry, his mentor, General Anahita, kidnaps the prince and escapes during the ensuing chaos. Betrayed and confused by Anahita’s actions, Sargon pursues her and the prince to the mythical Mount Qaf with his fellow Immortals in tow. This is where the game de facto begins, unfolding across the maze of the monolithic mountain.

Mount Qaf, borrowed from the popular Middle Eastern myth, is truly the star of the show in The Lost Crown. From its eerie Catacombs and its elusive Sacred Archives to the tricky Temple of Knowledge and the wild Hyrcanian Forest, Qaf-Kuh is a marvel. The labyrinthine mountain spreads across a variety of biomes, each with its own unique environment and inhabitants. In true Metroidvania style, the biomes work as interconnected pieces of a sprawling jigsaw puzzle. As you keep chipping away at the branching pathways, the map expands and bends and twists to reveal previously undiscovered connections between two different and distant regions — some of them only unlocked with freshly gained abilities. Each biome also has its own story, a smaller act playing out in the larger narrative of the mountain. The biomes thus become distinct instruments in the orchestra of Mount Qaf, each strumming and singing its tale. These stories and prophecies are slowly revealed over time as you discover lore tablets and inscriptions scattered across the whole map.

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The labyrinthine Mount Qaf and its many secrets are the highlights of Prince of Persia
Photo Credit: Ubisoft/ Screenshot – Manas Mitul

The biomes fit together environmentally, too, filling out the mountain in believable ways. You find the Pit of Eternal Sands deep into the depths of Mount Qaf and the Tower of Silence at its icy summit, with the busier Upper and Lower cities sandwiched in the middle. No matter where you are in the maze, you always have a sense of your location. Don’t get me wrong, it is easy to get lost in the winding ways of the mountain, but The Lost Crown provides you with handy tools that help jog your memory. You can lay down persistent map markers from an available list of icons that you can select, each representing a different curiosity — just like in Elden Ring. And in what is perhaps one of the best exploration-related Quality of Life features in recent games, you can also quickly tap the Down button on the D-pad (when playing with a controller) to take a snapshot of your current location. These snapshots, limited in number, help you later remember sections of the map you visited earlier but perhaps weren’t ready to traverse at the time. Then there’s Fariba, a young woman Sargon meets in Qaf, who somehow knows all the secrets of the mountain. She gives you map guides and mission hints in exchange for crystals and some friendly and free advice to help you along the way.

Mount Qaf also does not follow the straight arrow of time. It is a mysterious prism where time bends and refracts and folds onto itself as multiple pasts, presents, and futures melt into one another. As you journey through the mountain, you’ll find other Sargons from a past or a future you have not yet lived. You’ll meet characters for the first time, but they’ll recognise you instantly. And, you’ll spend a few hours exploring one region of the mountain, but a few decades will have flown by in another. Sargon is always chasing fleeting memories and mysteries, barely holding on to a grain as the sands of time carve their own way.

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Sargon’s eyes are set on his mission, but he barely has time to look within
Photo Credit: Ubisoft/ Screenshot – Manas Mitul

This lends to the narrative of The Lost Crown, too, as Sargon struggles to reverse the order of things and save Prince Ghassan. In his quest, he also meets the people of Mount Qaf. Fariba perhaps knows her way around the mysterious mountain better than anyone, inexplicably popping up in treacherous reaches of Qaf. There’s Kaheva, an actual immortal who serves as the blacksmith of the Gods, crafting weapons and amulet upgrades for Sargon. Qaf is also home to scrappers, monsters, merchants and mages, peddling their wares, sorrows and side quests. The mountain’s residents help Sargon in his search for Ghassan, offering clues and comfort as he scrabbles his way forward. The Lost Crown’s story, however, wastes the potential of its setting, shying away from the shenanigans of time. And even when it does throw a few surprises along the way, the narrative never really elevates the action. The characters, too, do not feel fleshed out. Even Sargon isn’t too far from a generic action hero, marching to his mission without much introspection. The supporting cast, his fellow Immortals, does not leave a lasting impression either, especially since they only show up periodically to move the plot along.

The Lost Crown’s glory lies in its frenetic, flashy combat and its precision platforming. Sargon is no slouch when he arrives at Mount Qaf, armed with his dual swords, Qays and Layla, and a variety of acrobatic movies. The Immortal can jump, slide and dodge his way out of trouble, and you soon expand your repertoire, unlocking a bow that also acts as a chakram for ranged attacks and an air dash for traversal. Over time, the game keeps adding special movement abilities to your arsenal that help you navigate the labyrinth, grant access to previously unreachable areas, and also aid in combat — but I’m not going to spoil them here. It’s much cooler when you discover them on your own. These special powers show up at pivotal moments in the story in the form of the lost magical feathers of Simurgh, a mythological guardian of time and destiny, who sits atop Qaf.

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The Lost Crown’s combat is a frenetic, flashy dance with your enemy
Photo Credit: Ubisoft

Let’s get to the combat first: It’s just fun. It’s simple enough to get into quickly but contains enough complexities to keep you hooked over the course of the game. You have your standard light attacks combos that end with a high-damage flourish; you can launch lighter enemies in the air, jump up, and create devastating air attack combos; and you have your Athra-powered attacks, both in the air and on the ground, which channel a sacred power flowing through Sargon to unleash a flash of pure energy. These are complemented by Athra Surges, special abilities that can be triggered when your Athra gauge is full. You accumulate Athra by dealing with attacks, parrying, and sometimes even absorbing incoming damage.

No melee action game is now complete without parrying (thanks, Sekiro), and in The Lost Crown, parrying is perhaps the single most important combat move you’ll pull in the middle of a fight. Successfully parrying an incoming attack not only negates the damage but leaves the enemy open for follow-up attacks. And nothing fills up your Athra meter faster than a parry. Pull off a few of them in quick succession, and you’d be raining down special Surge attacks to dispatch your foes. The parry window is generous here, too, but tight enough to make you feel good when you get the timing right. All standard enemy attacks can be parried, except the heavy/special attacks that send out a red-light indication. Sometimes, a yellow indicator will show up on an incoming enemy attack, and when you successfully parry these, the game cuts to a flashy scripted animation of a devastating counterattack that instantly kills regular enemies and deals heavy damage to bosses.

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Sargon has a wide repertoire of movies, both acrobatic and offensive
Photo Credit: Ubisoft

Speaking of which, the boss fights in Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown throw up a diverse set of challenges your way, demanding you use your full array of acquired abilities. They often also occur at a grander scale, pulling back the camera and blowing up the combat arena around you as you take on gigantic mythical Gods and monsters. These start off fairly tame, but the difficulty spikes up around the middle of the game as you juggle between your abilities and input specific moves for incoming attacks. It becomes a game of patience as you parry, dodge and dance around boss attacks to find little windows of going on the offensive yourself. Once you’re decked out with all of Simurgh’s powers, though, you can truly go wild with combos. There’s seemingly no limit to the things you can achieve by chaining together different attacks and abilities, but it will require a filthy level of dexterity. Thankfully, despite throwing up a serious challenge on the harder difficulty settings, the game doesn’t take the “git gud or die trying” route like many of its FromSoftware inspirations.

The true difficulty spike arrives in the later platforming sections of the game. Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is more of a platformer than it is an action-adventure game, and it takes its platforming perhaps a bit too seriously. Exploration puzzles and platforming sections in the early parts of the game arrive on a steady learning curve, onboarding your new traversal abilities at a fair pace. But after around the halfway point, the game throws excruciating extended platforming sections that require pin-point precision on your inputs — one wrong tilt of the thumbstick, and you start over. You have to carefully orchestrate a series of precarious jumps, dashes and wall hugs to reach the next safe space and get a little breathing room. I enjoy a tough challenge as much as the next masochist, but some of the later traversal puzzles got a little too harrowing, even for my taste. These late-game platforming sections stretch on and on without relief, and even a single twitchy, imprecise button or trigger press would mess things up.

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The Lost Crown’s boss fights are grand and serve up distinct challenges
Photo Credit: Ubisoft

This holds especially true of optional platforming sections, which grant additional rewards. The ones designed around Xerxes coins, a form of rare currency in the game, are perhaps the most torturous. The coins act like strawberries from Celeste; you jump and dash around intricate platforming playgrounds to reach a coin, but you only have it in your bank when you jump and dash your way back to safe land. The problem is that, in Celeste, the excellent narrative lent itself to the grind, pushing you forward even as you kept repeatedly dying. Celeste’s titular mountain was a metaphor, representing your own demons that you needed to tame. In The Lost Crown, however, the mountain becomes a very literal monolith, and the drive to keep climbing has diminishing returns.

Let me be clear, though — Celeste’s later platforming sections were much more intense than anything you’ll find in the new Prince of Persia. But each section in the indie darling from 2018 possessed a unique creative identity. The puzzles got harder in Celeste, sure, but they kept on innovating, bringing wondrous new ideas to familiar mechanics. The Lost Crown, on the other hand, escalates the difficulty of its platforming in very blunt ways, sucking the joy out of the challenge and crossing the boundary where it goes from fun to just plain annoying.

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Late-game platforming sections escalate the difficulty in blunt ways, stretching into tedium
Photo Credit: Ubisoft/ Screenshot – Manas Mitul

This is where The Lost Crown starts stretching into tedium. Around the halfway mark, when the platforming sections are hit by unbalanced difficulty spikes and main missions start sending you on wild-goose chases across faraway areas of the map, you start feeling the weight of the game, and you start groaning at the same puzzles that were enjoyable at the beginning. The general exploration, however, remains rewarding as you uncover some of the best biomes on the map later in the game. Wak-wak trees, which act like Bonfires from Dark Souls, and generous fast travel points — one for each biome — become beacons of hope after grinding through long and hard sections of the map. This, however, does not change my opinion that the developers could have trimmed the fat around the later sections of the game. The Lost Crown would have been leaner and better for it and would not have dragged its feet into the final act.

Prince of Persia’s art style isn’t something that stands out either, taking the familiar cues from games like Overwatch and Fortnite. While the environments themselves look lively, even if they’re not as detailed, the character models leave a little to be desired. It’s not bad by any means, but its blocky aesthetics are nothing you’ve not seen before. On the contrary, the game’s music triumphs emphatically here, with a mix of Persian and Western instruments underscoring the action. Again, it’s not nearly as memorable as Celeste, which features perhaps one of the greatest video game soundtracks ever written, but it achieves more than just getting the job done. Honestly, it is a tad unfair to compare it to Celeste, but it is also telling in its own way that I keep bringing up one of the greatest games ever made while talking about The Lost Crown, even if it is to point out its failures.

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The Lost Crown fails where Celeste succeeds: balancing the difficulty with the sheer wonder of its platforming sections
Photo Credit: Maddy Makes Games

The Prince of Persia franchise has a storied history in gaming, transitioning from 2D to 3D and going through several reboots and resurrections since the first one came out on the Apple II. The series’ most popular run came in the mid-2000s with the Sands of Time saga, which set a new bar for 3D action-adventure platformers at the time. The Prince’s latest reincarnation, however, might be its most radical one. A 2.5D Metroidvania platformer is perhaps right up developers Ubisoft Montpellier’s alley, who’ve previously helmed the excellent Rayman games. And it might just turn out to be exactly what the Prince of Persia needed. In a glut of third-person open-world action-adventure games, The Lost Crown distinguishes itself by going in a totally different direction and shining a new path for the future of the series.

It is not for everyone, and it is not an easy game to pick up and casually run through. But for those who’ve played Metroidvanias like Dead Cells and Hollow Knight or intense platformers like Celese and Super Meat Boy, The Lost Crown will offer more than just transferrable skills. It might also be the most accessible entry point into the genre for new players; the newest Prince of Persia is not as oppressive as some of its inspirations. And while some of its later platforming sections and mission design slow the game down, it never completely runs out of steam. The Lost Crown might just be the coronation the Prince deserved.

Pros

  • Excellent world design
  • Fast and fun combat
  • Challenging platforming
  • Engaging boss fights
  • Excellent music

Cons

  • Tedious later section
  • Unbalanced difficulty spikes
  • Uninspired art style
  • Prosaic story and characters

Rating (out of 10): 8

Pricing starts at Rs. 2,499 for the Standard Edition on Epic Games Store for PC; Rs. 3,499 on PlayStation Store for PS5 and PS4, and Xbox Store for Xbox Series S/X and Xbox One; and $49.99 on Nintendo eShop for Nintendo Switch.�


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