In preview with an early build of Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, I tried out the latest entry in this much-beloved series. Even after three hours of play, I found that Ubisoft Montpellier's upcoming 2.5D platforming metroidvania never lets itself get bogged down. Much like protagonist Sargon himself, the entire side-scrolling adventure feels lightweight and agile. Combat mechanics are responsive, traversal is a joy, and the plot, while undoubtedly present, paints its mythology with broad, accessible brush strokes that don’t leave you caught up in unnecessary detail.
After a quick tutorial, we swiftly find that Prince Ghassan has been kidnapped, prompting Sargon to venture to the mysterious Mount Qaf to save him along with the rest of the Immortals - a gang of Persia’s most heroic soldiers. Soon, we’re jumping our way through puzzle rooms, avoiding magical traps, and fighting supernatural monsters, all as it gradually becomes clear that the mountain is a place of myth and legend, where time itself appears broken.
All of this serves to immerse and engross, pulling you into The Lost Crown’s eerie yet beautiful setting. This is reinforced by the fluidity of the game’s mechanics. Every element of the game feels like a delightful puzzle, where you must bring your tools and know-how to bear in the hope of finding a solution.
You'll need to engage in forward planning to traverse a challenging section of the map. Spinning blades or rotating platforms mean that timing is essential, but a failed attempt never feels unfair, thanks to generous telegraphing and clear presentation. So clean is Lost Crown’s design that you never feel cheated or hard done by.
The same can be said for the game’s combat, where well-timed parries and skillful dodges serve as Sargon’s lifeblood. Enemy attacks are telegraphed with wide, gorgeous animations that draw the eye, but keep you on your toes all the same. While you can parry attacks in the moment, there’s no option to block for prolonged periods. This means that timing is, once again, essential, and learning enemy attack patterns is crucial when dealing with Qaf’s parade of mythical monsters. As with traversal, combat in Lost Crown offers an unshakable sense of even-handed fairness.
Enemy attacks come in three kinds, clearly telegraphed by a color-coded glow. No glow means a normal attack, while a red glow signals an unparriable attack that must be dodged. Most excitingly, we also have what the game calls ‘reckless attacks,’ which, if parried correctly, cause Sargon to carry out a dramatic counter-attack, animated with stark colors that complement the already-vivid art style.
Charting a course
Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown’s approach to the metroidvania genre as a whole is equally refreshing. All the hallmarks are here: you explore a lavish 2D environment, getting your hands on new powers and equipment that unlock previously barred areas, allowing you to explore further. That said, the game doesn't rest on the genre's laurels.
The process of backtracking to old areas with new powers is a staple of any fantastic metroidvania. However, The Lost Crown allows you to capture in-game images of areas of the map, letting you mark the places that you need to revisit later on down the line. Despite having a linear plot, this element allows you to make Sargon’s quest your own, helping you return to areas that piqued your interest earlier in your playthrough.
Moreover, the act of traversal itself feels dynamic and rewarding, even if you’re retreading new ground. This, in part, is thanks to an air dash you unlock fairly early on in the game. Though Sargon always has the ability to wall jump, the dash radically expands your platforming options. Reminiscent of the dash in Celeste, Sargon’s ability opens up new avenues of exploration, while never feeling too generous. Executing the dash may be as simple as a single button press, but getting the most out of it requires timing, patience, and precision. This means that rather than feeling like a repetitive slog, retreading old ground often feels like training - an opportunity for you and Sargon to keep your skills sharp.
Rise to the challenge
As well as providing a fluid and satisfying metroidvania experience, my three hours or so with Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown also showed me that Ubisoft Montpelier had taken great pains to integrate modern game design hallmarks, too.
Elements from ‘soulsborne’ games, such as pseudo-bonfires and respawning enemies, are woven throughout Lost Crown, though never at the expense of the game’s rich mythology or slick, playful feel. Waqwaq trees dot the map, providing Sargon with places where he can recover his wounds or adjust his equipment. These feel very much like Elden Ring's Sites of Grace, serving as interstitial checkpoints between Mount Qaf’s various threats.
Moreover, the game’s emphasis on parries, dodges, and setpiece boss battles feels very reminiscent of the soulsborne genre, with each of Sargon’s movements feeling like a commitment. However, this approach fits The Lost Crown like a glove. At its heart, the game is a series of puzzles - a mentality imbued into its boss encounters. Facing off with a Manticore towards the end of my play session, I found myself having to memorize the boss’ attack patterns between deaths, learning the intricacies of its different phases and how to dodge the different permutations of its deadly scorpion-tail sting. This satisfying learning curve culminated in a powerful sense of accomplishment when the Manticore eventually fell.
Despite drawing from soulsborne games, The Lost Crown stays true to its vision of being a mythologically charged adventure, while never sacrificing its deft sense of pacing. After all, thanks to the open-ended metroidvania style, if you tire of a boss fight, you can always just go somewhere else to develop Sargon’s skills and solve other mysteries. Even in this preview build, the game felt generous and open-ended. Given it’s been over 10 years since the previous mainline Prince of Persia title, The Forgotten Sands, this feat is particularly impressive.
If my time with this preview build is any indication, the spirit of Prince of Persia seems alive and well. With the game slated for release on January 15, 2024, for PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC, it looks like The Lost Crown will get 2024 off to a promising start.
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Cat Bussell is a Staff Writer at TechRadar Gaming. Hailing from the crooked spires of London, Cat is an experienced writer and journalist. As seen on Wargamer.com, TheGamer.com, and Superjumpmagazine.com, Cat is here to bring you coverage from all corners of the video game world. An inveterate RPG maven and strategy game enjoyer, Cat is known for her love of rich narratives; both story-driven and emergent.
Before migrating to the green pastures of games journalism, Cat worked as a political advisor and academic. She has three degrees and has studied and worked at Cambridge University, University College London, and Queen Mary University of London. She's also been an art gallery curator, an ice cream maker, and a cocktail mixologist. This crash course in NPC lifestyles uniquely qualifies her to pick apart only the juiciest video games for your reading pleasure.
Cat cut her teeth on MMOs in the heyday of World of Warcraft before giving in to her love of JRPGs and becoming embedded in Final Fantasy XIV. When she's not doing that, you might find her running a tabletop RPG or two, perhaps even voluntarily.