Days into 2024 and we’ve already got a strong contender for Game of the Year. Yes, Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is that good. I want to get back to playing as quickly as possible so I’ll keep this brief.
(Editor’s note: She does not keep this brief.)
The Lost Crown is a 2D sidescrolling metroidvania. You play as Sargon, a member of the Persian army’s elite Immortals squad. After the prince is kidnapped, Sargon and the Immortals journey to Mount Qaf to rescue him. During the journey, Sargon will acquire an arsenal of tools, weapons, and trinkets that will help him overcome the perils of navigating the mysterious (and massive) mountain.
This is only a fraction of the map. It’s huge.
This may sound a bit counterintuitive, but the interesting thing about The Lost Crown is that, mechanically, it doesn’t do anything particularly new. The powers Sargon acquires to solve the various platforming puzzles are all things you’ve probably seen elsewhere. There’s an air dash, a bow and arrow (that transforms into a boomerang-type weapon that ricochets off surfaces), a dimension-shifting power that reveals incorporeal platforms, and an imprinting power that allows Sargon to essentially “save” his spot in a location then teleport back to it.
I’m not done with the game just yet so this isn’t a comprehensive list of powers, but Ubisoft isn’t reinventing the platformer wheel here. What it has done is craft a game that makes using each and every one of these standard powers ridiculously fun. Shout out to the level designers because the best part of The Lost Crown is figuring out the complex waltz of buttons I need to press to get from point A to point B, executing that waltz, then basking in my godlike prowess. Sargon’s movement is fluid and the cooldown on powers is permissive, so even when puzzles aren’t easy (and ho-boy they are not), I don’t feel frustrated having to repeat a sequence until I get it right.
One of my favorite puzzles comes a bit later in the game where you’re locked in a room and the only way out is to use ghost doubles of Sargon to collect an out-of-reach key item. The ghosts only have a limited amount of time to complete one part of a larger puzzle, like activating a lever that will open a door that will let another ghost walk through. Across three ghost doubles I had 12 seconds to fly down a shaft, make a double, stand on a pressure plate, double jump up a different shaft, activate a lever, teleport to my double’s spot, then wall-jump my way to the goal. I hate repetition, it’s the most frustrating part about playing difficult games, but I was so locked in, like a sax player in the middle of a Charlie Parker solo, that I didn’t mind that it took upward of 40 tries to not only figure out the puzzle’s solution but to then execute it.
Combat is equally difficult and rewarding. As you progress, everything from regular enemy fights to boss encounters require you to use every power Sargon has to come through unscathed. Just like the platforming puzzles, you’re memorizing attack patterns, reaching into your expansive arsenal for the right tool, then executing a complex dance against a boss that will punish the hell out of you for being too greedy with damage. Throughout the game, Sargon will earn new combat abilities like a healing wave or a powerful thrust but while some of them are useful for very specific encounters, I found that I was able to ignore every new ability beyond the first two. They just didn’t seem consequential or varied enough beyond “hit harder than normal” to warrant use.
Because of the complexity of puzzles and boss fights, yet the relative ease of using your tools and weapons to overcome those obstacles, The Lost Crown reminds me more of a soulslike than a metroidvania. What’s asked of you, whether in a fight or a puzzle, never feels unfair or tedious, but more like a progressive assessment of your growth. It felt like the game was saying “Okay, you’ve had your air dash ability for a while now, let’s see how effectively you can use it.” My favorite thing in video games is when gameplay reinforces narrative, and if you combine this idea that the game is testing your mastery of skills with the actual narrative of Sargon being a newer, younger member of the Immortals eager to prove himself, then The Lost Crown becomes a game in which you as a player feel like you’re growing along with Sargon.
Beyond buttery smooth platforming and intricate combat, the most innovative aspect of the game is the map. Yes, the map. First of all, it’s massive as hell. There are so many places to go and secrets to uncover that even when you’re not heading toward the next story goal, wherever you end up you’re getting something — either currency to buy hints or upgrade materials or necklace charms that enhance Sargon’s abilities. On top of that, each area has a distinct theme that influences what kind of platform shenanigans you can expect. There’s a sand area that has waterfalls of sand push you through tight corridors lined with insta-death spikes and in the cursed library section, you’ll have to make use of your bow-boomerang to ring bells that’ll reveal hidden platforms.
Metroidvanias as a genre can get tedious as hell if you don’t know where to go next with the powers you have. In The Lost Crown, Ubisoft has implemented a signpost system whereby you can take screenshots of where you are, which are then pinned to their location on the game’s map. So every time you get a new power, you can revisit those screenshots to see if your new toy unlocks a new area. I love these navigation systems, it really shows that Ubisoft is respecting players’ time.
After last year’s glut of expansive, time-consuming, but hella fun blockbusters, I wanted something smaller and simpler to spend my time on. With The Lost Crown, Ubisoft has taken a technically and mechanically simplistic formula — 2D sidescrolling metroidvania — and reinvented it into something extraordinary both narratively and in gameplay.
Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown launches on Nintendo Switch, Xbox, PlayStation, and PC on January 15th.