This year’s Summer Game Fest live stream kicked off with a bang when Ubisoft revealed a surprise to open the show. Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown brings the classic series back to its 2D roots in a Metroidvania-style action-platformer. I was immediately sold on style alone, but it appears not everyone was pleased. The trailer was downvoted heavily on YouTube despite that strong showing. Comments on its trailer show a wide range of complaints. Some are bemoaning the series going 2D rather than delivering a “next-gen” 3D installment, while other comments are whining about the trailer’s use of rap music.
Those gamers can complain as much as they want, but I pity them after going hands on with the new Prince of Persia title. Based on the strong half-hour I played, it’s shaping up to be 2024’s first must-play game. With a fast-paced combat system with a surprising amount of depth to a Metroid-style exploration that already felt rewarding in a short glimpse, Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown should have no problem overcoming that wave of reactionary hate.
Deceptively deep combat
The demo I played came from an early build of the game that blocked off some pathways and gave me a few powers sooner than I’d normally have them. Even with those tweaks, I was still able to get a sense of exactly how The Lost Crown works, and that snippet left an incredibly strong first impression.
What immediately pops out is its excellent combat system, which goes much deeper than I anticipated after first seeing it. The lead hero, Sargon, can perform some basic sword attacks on one button and fire arrows with another. It seems simple at first, but those two functions are deceptively complex. If I use the left stick while attacking, Sargon can fling a grounded enemy up into the air. From there, I can juggle them by following up with a few arrow shots or air dashing over to them and unleashing an aerial combo. Once they hit the ground, I can chase them down with a slam attack.
That’s just a small taste of what’s possible with some basic attacks, but the system goes even deeper. Hold down the arrow button and Sargon releases a boomerang-like chakram that can hit an enemy again on its return. Sargon can spend energy to perform some special attacks, which seem like they can be customized (I could cast a healing circle by spending two bars of energy, for instance). There’s an impactful parry system on top of all that, which allows Sargon to block most attacks with a press of the left trigger. All of those little systems stack up to create quick and varied battles with a lot of room for creativity.
That all came to a head beautifully in the demo’s big boss fight, a stunning encounter against a Manticore that’s incredibly similar to Metroid Dread‘s Corpius fight. I need to use every single one of those powers to make it through a tough battle, avoiding the monster’s poison tail and heavy body slams. At one point, it flashes yellow and charges at me. I stand my ground like a matador and hit parry at just the right moment to unleash a visually stunning counter that just looks plain cool. It’s an excellent first encounter that really shows off how satisfying it is to master every system.
Combat is only half of the equation, though. Based on what I saw, The Lost Crown appears to be a full-on Metroidvania full of secret pathways and areas that require a specific power-up to traverse. I found tons of extra nooks and crannies as I fluidly explored its 2D world, nailing that strong sense of reward the genre thrives on.
That exploration is helped by some strong traversal mechanics too, which harken back to the series’ origins. I’d wall jump between spike traps, dash under deadly traps, and swing from bar to bar to reach secret spots. The fundamentals feel strong already here, making Sargon feel like a graceful acrobat that can move around with speed and precision. I always felt like I had a sense of perfect control, both in and out of battles.
By the end of the demo, I was eager to see more. I’m already wondering what abilities Sargon will get and imagining how they could shake up both sides of the game. For instance, I didn’t get to see the character’s time powers in action, but there’s some real potential for The Lost Crown to use that idea to create unique traversal puzzles. I’m also eager to toy around more with its character customization, as players can equip relics that have a major impact on Sargon’s abilities. At one point, I equipped one that let me shoot three arrows at once in a wider spread.
If you’ve already written off Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown on look alone, you may want to bite your tongue. Its 2D art style might make it look like a throwback, but there’s nothing retro about it. This is a very modern action platformer in the same way that Metroid Dread was in 2021, finding a way to add a lot more complexity and fluidity to its side-scroller setup. I already can’t wait to dive back in, downvotes be damned.
Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown launches on January 17, 2024 for PC, Nintendo Switch, PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X/S, and Amazon Luna.