- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Superhero and cartoon characters are integral parts of the electronic entertainment industry. With this in mind, I salute the meld of pop-culture character and video game with a look at Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands (from Ubisoft, reviewed for PlayStation 3, rated T for teen, $59.99).

The famed acrobatic warrior from the Middle East returns to make his debut in next-generation consoles in this third-person action game. Maintaining his puzzling roots and prowess with a sword, our hero controls time and nature in an adventure set between the stories seen in the games Sands of Time and Warrior Within.

What’s the story? Paraphrased from the manual: The Prince, son of great King Sharaman, has traveled across Persia, having been sent to visit his brother Malik, who has taken command of a contested kingdom at the edge of their father’s territory.

When the Prince arrives, the kingdom is on the verge of being overwhelmed by an invading force. Malik releases a legendary magical army that was said to belong to King Solomon, hoping to stop the invaders. The army, however, turns against Malik, transforming his people into statues and causing a sandstorm that could destroy the palace and the world.

Play the role: A solo player controls the dashing prince with a near-perfect David Cassidy hairstyle and a square-jawed resemblance to his movie counterpart, Jake Gyllenhaal.

Our hero quickly moves through his brother’s labyrinth of a kingdom to visit locations including its rooftop gardens, royal chamber, treasure room, aqueducts and magnificent observatory.

He has an extensive selection of maneuvers and skills that would impress Peter Parker.

He can run up and along walls, swing from pole to pole, hang and leap from columns, scurry across ledges, use his sword to cut and slide down a banner, climb rock formations, roll under obstacles and leap long distances.

A confounding selection of puzzles also greets the player within environmental torture chambers, requiring actions such as turning levers to position gears and open massive doors, avoiding buzz saws that pop out of walls, ducking bladed pendulums, scampering under rotating logs of razors, avoiding spike-shooting walls, racing past crumbling floors and, well, you get the idea.

Puzzles are infinitely more impressive and complex than ever seen in a Persia game  audience members may find themselves holding their breath watching the Prince jump about.

He eventually wields the power to turn water to ice, and many of the obstacle courses include streams and geysers that can be made solid temporarily for the hero to use.

The Prince even gets to rebuild ruins to help with his level-ascension acrobatics.

Get to the action: The player will find great relief from the migraine-inducing platform puzzles with a breezy selection of mindless hack-and-slash battles against the finest of Solomon’s army.

In the beginning, just wielding a sword, the Prince visits arenas filled with skeletal soldiers and beefy minions. The player works his best button-mash techniques to skewer hordes of foes and show off some slick counterattack and avoidance skills.

As the player collects blue orbs and fills his energy slots, he is able to wield the powers of fire, ice, wind and stone to further stop enemies.

Specifically, the player can unleash a trail of flame to engulf those nearby or produce a whirlwind to knock enemies back or use a stone set of armor for protection.

He also can use a speed jump to fly across open spaces in almost a teleportation-type attack against foes on landing platforms.

Upgrading powers could not be simpler as a player collects a specific number of gold spheres from fallen enemies and uses them to select from 35 enhancements to his core powers.

Memorable moments (in no particular order): the awakening of Solomon’s skeletal army; seeing the Prince dangle from a pole by one hand when almost missing a jump; having a skeletal minion hiss at the camera (with fond visions of Ray Harryhausen’s creations dancing in my head); kicking up dust from some columns as the hero lands on them; jumping off a pole of ice, through a wall of water, and quickly refreezing the location to grab another ice pole.

Violent encounters: Because the majority of the Prince’s opponents are made of sand, fatal blows simply turn Solomon’s minions into the familiar beige silicate, and then a slow burn finishes their tenure on Earth.

More important, the Prince wields the ability to reverse time for a short period, based on his supply of filled energy slots. It’s a trick that fends off most death scenes for him and makes the game a very enjoyable experience for the average player.

Read all about it: A four-issue comic-book series, Prince of Persia: Before the Sandstorm, written by the Prince’s creator, Jordan Mechner, with some illustrative help from Todd McFarlane and Bernard Chang, acts as a prequel to the movies and should publish in June ($3.99 each).

Pixel-popping scale: 8.0 out of 10. The player embraces an adventure mixing the enormity of a Stephen Sommers’ “Mummy” movie with Indiana Jones-style conundrums to feel part of an epic cinematic experience. Powered by the Assassin’s Creed II game engine, it plays and looks great.

Unlockables: Sign up with Ubisoft’s Uplay (www.uplay.com) and log in to spend reward points collected by conquering parts of the Persian action to download and unlock extra features in the game. The best of the current set includes wearing Ezio’s garb from Assassin’s Creed II and a timed combat challenge.

What’s it worth? I still love the stylish, cel-shaded design of the 2008 Prince of Persia game, but beautiful cut scenes and a balance of detailed terrain, noggin-straining puzzles and stress-relieving combat make the latest epic worth a platforming player’s time.

* Visit Zadzooks at the blog section of The Washington Times’ Community pages (https://communities.washingtontimes.com/) or on Twitter .

• Joseph Szadkowski can be reached at jszadkowski@washingtontimes.com.

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