Prince of Persia 3D Deserves to Be Remembered

Prince of Persia 3D

“It’s been five years since we first played Prince of Persia 2,” I muttered while looking at the box of Prince of Persia 3D in my hands. “Those five years were as 500.”

It was a cold evening in December, and I was about to play Prince of Persia 3D on the family Pentium II. I adored the previous Prince of Persia games, and both of those games hold a special place in my heart, though that is a story I’ve told elsewhere.

Prince of Persia 3D

Prince of Persia 3D, the third game in the Prince of Persia series, was not a commercial and critical success. Still, I’d like to believe the game managed to win millions of hearts across the globe. I think it was underrated by the critics, and that the reception of the fans was much better than what’s been portrayed by various reviews across the Internet. In fact, the user score on Metacritic is 7.9, which by their standards is “generally favorable.”

The Prince, the protagonist of Prince of Persia 3D, is the same hero we know from previous games. However, the storyline is not connected with the witch shown in the plot twist at the very end of Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame. Through the game’s manual, I came to learn that the witch’s vendetta was supposed to be a story for another time. The witch would have to wait.

Like the previous games in the series, Prince of Persia 3D‘s storyline is based on the classical 1,001 Arabian Nights tales. Prior to the events of this game, the Sultan had promised his younger brother, King Assan, that the Princess (the Sultan’s daughter) would someday marry Assan’s son Rugnor. Rugnor is not a normal human being; he is half man and half tiger.

If you’ve played the previous game, you know the Sultan has broken this promise, for his daughter married a young traveler, the Prince. This does not please Assan, who is now desperate to make the royal family pay for this broken promise. Assan invites the royal family into his palace, but this is a devious trap. The Prince is sent to the dungeons, and the Princess is captured, for Rugnor plans to take her into the mountains.

Prince of Persia 3D

Thus the storyline of Prince of Persia 3D is reminiscent of the original game, in which Jaffar imprisons the Prince and captures the Princess, whom he wants to marry.

The gameplay begins in a prison cell. You must locate a secret passage and guide the Prince out of the dungeon so he can begin his quest to find the Princess and save her from Rugnor. As a player, you are now asked to be brave and strong.

The soundtrack for Prince of Persia 3D is a blend of classic Middle Eastern instrumentation with synthesizers. While the electronic sounds might put some people off, I think it sets the mood for the game quite well. This soundtrack depicts something darker and deeper; it’s mesmerizing and often disorienting, which helps get you into the headspace that the Prince must be in.

The game contains 17 levels that depict rich and breathtaking environments across a fictionalized storybook version of Ancient Persia. The level design is magnificent, taking the Prince from the depths of dark dungeons to flying dirigibles, through palaces and floating ruins, and finally into the Sun Temple and Moon Temple where you’ll confront Rugnor. The game offers great blend of its predecessors in terms of locations.

While Prince of Persia 3D‘s graphics might not have aged well, I always thought the character animation was great. There’s running, jumping, climbing onto ledges, and dodging devious traps — exactly like in the first two games. The only difference is the third dimension; it’s as if you are playing the same game but in 3D.

There’s a film-like style of story presentation in Prince of Persia 3D, which to me in 1999 was like nothing else I’d ever seen. The cinematic feel of the game created an additional layer of thrill and suspense. If you ask me, this aspect of the game was one of a kind. This was one thing that I really missed in later 3D Prince of Persia games (though Sands of Time does it pretty well too).

I really like the combat system. It’s pretty realistic, giving the Prince a sense of weight and stamina. There’s an even deeper level of strategy to sword fighting now, as there are blocks and feints and counterattacks. You’ll have to think on your feet rather than mash buttons with little discretion. The Prince, you see, is a strategic warrior, not always eager to fight when there’s a better solution. This is in keeping with the previous Prince of Persia games, where the Prince uses a combination of stealth and combat to overcome obstacles.

Prince of Persia 3D

Unlike the first two games, Prince of Persia 3D offers a variety of weapons. While the sword is the primary weapon here, the Prince eventually obtains dual blades, a staff, and a bow, which features a variety of arrow types. There are Fire Arrows, Ice Arrows, Death Arrows (which are insta-kill), Possession Arrows and more.

Now, having said all that, I actually do agree with some of the criticisms of the game to some extent. For example, the camera work is sluggish, and the Prince’s movement can be a little frustrating — especially when you want to turn him sideways. Yet, while I completely understand why so many people struggle with this, I really do believe that the hardcore Prince of Persia fanbase didn’t mind them so much. The rich storyline, musical score, and cinematic feel were enough that I could mostly ignore the imperfections.

Keep in mind that the core audience for Prince of Persia 3D would have been fans of the original two games in the series. It was made for people just like me, who understood that the development team had tried as hard as they could. What I didn’t know back then was that they did so under strenuous conditions. Broderbund, the company originally behind the Prince of Persia games, was bought out by The Learning Company while Prince of Persia 3D was in development. This led to a strict deadline for the game’s release, and a few corners needed to be cut in order to meet that deadline. It sounds like extensive QA testing was one of those corners.

Even under those circumstances, Prince of Persia 3D still feels like a third-dimension tribute to the original Prince of Persia series. The development team should be applauded for how accurately they translated so many elements of the 2D side-scrolling games into this three-dimensional world — especially considering the did it under time constraints.

Prince of Persia 3D

The original Prince of Persia game released in 1989, a time when there was very little that could even compare to it. It was like a fresh breeze for the gaming world. Backed with a fairytale Arabian Nights storyline and really solid action-adventure gameplay, the game was hugely meaningful to a lot of people.

On the other hand, Prince of Persia 3D launched ten years later, after games like Tomb Raider and Ocarina of Time had already been released. For seasoned gamers, Prince of Persia 3D probably didn’t feel all that new or special.

I am from Pakistan, and when I first played Prince of Persia 3D in 1999, I had literally nothing to compare it to. We were lucky to get whatever scraps of video game information managed to travel from the other side of the world. I knew absolutely nothing about Prince of Persia 3D’s market performance, and I wasn’t able to read any reviews before playing the game. In fact, back then, I assumed this game was a massive success, beloved by the entire world. It was years later when I learned that it wasn’t.

Prince of Persia was my first 2D platformer, and Prince of Persia 3D was the first 3D game I’d ever played. To me, both games felt revolutionary. Both games sparked my imagination and made me realize video games could be much so much more than what my limited experience had taught me to expect.

Even now, Prince of Persia 3D feels special to me, and I am still tempted to say it’s the second-best 3D game in the series (the best one being Sands of Time, which was released by Ubisoft in 2003). The foundations of Prince of Persia were built on classical storybook themes. Somehow, way too many of the later games in the series lacked that essence.

In a lengthy IGN article about the history of the Prince of Persia series, there is an observation that game critics “could tell a very good game was hiding somewhere in Prince of Persia 3D, but the laundry list of problems hid it too well.” Back in 1999, I was one of the people who managed to find that very good game, no matter how well it might have been hiding.

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