April 4, 2007 - Back when I was at Crazy Go Nuts University, I took Time Travel 101, and you know what the first thing I learnt was? Don't go back and try to rewrite history. It doesn't matter if it's for a 'special lady' or if you finally came up with the perfect witty retort for a conversation that morning, because the end result will always be the same - you'll get bitten in the behind. The second thing I learnt was that most time travellers wouldn't be seen dead in a DeLorean or phone booth, but that's less relevant to the task at hand. The issue of tinkering with causality, however, that's a lesson the Prince could do with hearing.
His comedic misadventures up until this point represent a veritable textbook on 'what not to do when you have control over time'. I mean, his shenanigans in Sands of Time meant he'd cheated death and his fate, which set the Dahaka - a.k.a. the guardian of the goddamn timeline - on his ass. So what did he do then? He fiddled with time some more and prevented the Sands from ever being created. And yes, right from the opening of Rival Swords, it's clear that the Prince has stuffed up once again.
The Prince and Kaileena (the Empress of Time) return to Babylon, only to find the Vizier still alive and the city in flames. Worse still, spiteful city planners have obviously overrun the town hall, and the Prince finds himself unable to make even the simplest journey from point A to point B without being forced to run along walls, leap over gaps, avoid rusty rotating blades and operate arcane machinery. It's not long before the Sands are unleashed once more and it's time for the Prince to do what he does best - use the mystical Sands to try and clean up his mess.
If all this sounds familiar, that's because Rival Swords is really just The Two Thrones on PSP. Sure, there are some casual nods towards new content - you can hop straight into chariot races from the main menu for instance, and there are multiplayer maps that you can race through against a friend, hitting switches to activate traps and obstacles in the other person's game as you go, but really, if you've played The Two Thrones there's nothing much for you here.
And if you haven't? Well… I'll leave that conclusion for a little bit later in the review. First, we need to talk about the game. If you've never played a Prince of Persia game, the most important thing you need to know is that the core of the gameplay is movement. The Prince is joyfully acrobatic. As mentioned before, getting from point A to point B is never simple, but that's what makes the series so much fun. Levels are designed around long athletic runs. You may run up a wall and jam your sword into an anchor point, then launch into a wall run, jump across to a ledge, shimmy along it onto a narrow beam, jump across to a narrow gap between two walls, slide down the gap, drop onto an unsuspecting enemy and, finally, stab him in the throat. All in one graceful sequence. The Prince has a huge array of movement options, and every area combines them in different and satisfying ways. And yes, if you screw up and fall to your doom, you can always rewind your mistake (provided you have sand in the tank) and try again. As the game progresses the Prince also gains the ability to slow time and execute "Sand Wind" and "Sand Storm" attacks.
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The Prince doesn't get even, he gets stabby.
Combat plays a significant role in the game, but this time a stealth component has been added in the form of "Speed Kills". See that guard staring off into the distance, day dreaming of his wife and spawn? Sneak up behind him and the screen will narrow in, indicating that with a press of the triangle button, followed by timed presses of square, you can snuff him out without a fight. Speed Kills are one of the highlights of combat, with a number of brutal animations to enjoy - including taking out two guards at once. Levels will often have optional paths the Prince can take above enemies, so he can literally unleash brutal death from above.
Part of the main narrative thrust of Rival Swords is the inner turmoil of the Prince. A short way into the game he's infected by the Sands of Time, leaving him with a glowing arm embedded with razors, and a nasty, selfish voice in his head. At regular intervals during the game this split personality manifests itself as the Dark Prince - a faster, more powerful, more ruthless version of the Prince. These sequences shift up the gameplay nicely; the Dark Prince wields a chain whip called "Daggertail", which brings with it new combos and movement abilities, such as swinging on grapple points. Since the Dark Prince is a corruption of Vanilla Prince (not to be confused with Vanilla Ice), he's also constantly losing health, so the player needs to keep up a steady stream of kills to recharge their health bar.