‘Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown’ Is a Mesmerizing Metroidvania Adventure

'Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown.' (Ubisoft)
'Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown.' (Ubisoft)

Studios need three elements to make a memorable "Metroidvania" title. One is a slew of memorable powers; another is an intriguing world worth exploring. Finally, combat is the sinew holding the bones of the adventure together.

Many different entries excel at one element or another, but the good ones hit the mark on all three, and the great titles weave a compelling story to fuel the campaign's momentum. Ubisoft Montpellier's "Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown" scores highly on the three fundamentals but doesn't stick that narrative landing.

A Sudden Betrayal

The story is compelling enough initially and introduces players to Sargon, an ambitious Immortal who is taught by General Anahita and carries the Persians to a victory over the invading Kushans. He's celebrated as a hero. but the party is short-lived after his mentor kidnaps Prince Ghassan and takes him to Mount Qaf, the dilapidated home of the late King Darius.

Queen Tomyris orders the Immortals and her army to give chase, but when they arrive, they discover the situation has gone awry. Time doesn't flow correctly at Mount Qaf. The soldiers died and have become walking zombies while monsters lurk around each room.

Difficult at First

As Sargon, players have to unravel the mystery behind the kidnapping and the curious Mount Qaf disaster. It's a journey that's difficult at first. Like other "Metroidvania" titles, players are weak and have a limited number of moves. They have a basic combo and a slide that helps them avoid strikes and allows them to slip into narrow passages. Sargon also has a block that can deflect attacks and in some cases initiate cinematic combos that deal heavy damage.

He also acquires a bow of a fellow Immortal named Menolias and uses that for ranged attacks and puzzle solving. The range weapon turns into a Chakram that activates gears and later turns into a target that Sargon can teleport to.

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The initial parts are challenging as players adjust to combat that is brutal but fair. A healing potion can help extend life during the first few battles, but eventually, players will have to adapt and learn to anticipate enemy attacks and punish adversaries. They learn that they can't be stingy with the power meter they build during combat and that they need to use Athra Surges more often.

The combat is reminiscent of action titles such as "Devil May Cry" with combos that let players knock enemies into the air or maneuver out of the way in the middle of attacks. It's useful to learn the depths of the fighting system from Artaban in the Haven.

Immortals Sargon and Neith look out at the odd phenomenon on Mount Qaf in 'Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown.'
Immortals Sargon and Neith look out at the odd phenomenon on Mount Qaf in 'Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown.' (Ubisoft)

Progress Is Power

Naturally, as players progress, they earn more abilities that expand the repertoire of moves. The powers allow Sargon to access areas that were previously off-limits and foster a sense of exploration. Ubisoft accentuates this by allowing players to take in-game pictures of gated areas so it's easier for players to backtrack later and venture further. It's a smart quality-of-life improvement that makes the adventuring better.

In addition, players can purchase upgrades for Sargon's weapons and acquire amulets that offer perks to different stats and powers. It's a way for players to not only grow more powerful but customize their version of Sargon to fit their play style.

Beating the first major boss gives the protagonist the Rush of Simurgh, which lets him dash through the air. Soon after, he'll acquire the Shadow of Simurgh that lets him mark a spot move and teleport to the previous area instantly. The Dimensional Claw will allow him to grab items like explosives and toss them at weakened walls, opening up new paths. It takes a little longer to grab the Gravity Wings that allow Sargon to do a double jump while the Fabric of Time lets him grab certain anchor points so that he can whip himself across impassable chasms.

Getting the Most Out of Powers

What's remarkable about these abilities is how Ubisoft crafts a brilliant world that requires mastery of each one and intertwines them brilliantly. Players can dash and then double jump to reach far-off areas but that platforming intensifies by adding a teleport and other abilities such as Clairvoyance to the mix. Clairvoyance lets Sargon see into another dimension and allows him to interact with previously intangible objects. It's reminiscent of the Dimensional Swap in "Guacamelee." It also requires players to hit the R3 button and that can lead to cumbersome controller jiujitsu. "The Lost Crown" benefits from a controller with paddles in the back such as the PlayStation DualSense Edge, Xbox Elite Series 2 or Victrix Pro BFG.

The campaign has plenty of moments where the developers seem to ask players to do the impossible. In one situation, I fell down a narrow chasm while exploring and assumed the team messed up when it seemed I had no way of climbing back. I panicked and thought I would have to start the game over, but after experimenting with the abilities, I found a path forward. "The Lost Crown" has a lot of those moments but careful use of the abilities and experimentation reveals a solution to the most harrowing obstacles.

This beautiful and intricate work of traversal and exploration makes the adventure so mesmerizing. Players will acquire a new power and they'll want to test it out and spend just a little more time messing with the limits of the ability. Before players know, it will be 5 a.m.

With that said, though the gameplay is compelling and the story has a veneer of mystery, it doesn't quite hit the right notes to make players care about the characters and lore. That's what separates it from Moon Studios' excellent "Ori" titles. Those had a simplicity of story and a few characters that you loved, while "The Lost Crown" has too much going on for players to bond with anyone. The only consistent contact players have is with Fariba, a little girl whom Sargon finds in the most out-of-the-way places. She helps fill out his map.

Still, a project like "The Lost Crown" is more about the journey rather than the destination, and the fun players have while exploring Mount Qaf is what will stay with them after a ho-hum ending.

"Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown"

3 stars out of 4

Rating: Teen

Platform PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X and Series S, Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch

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