The King is Dead. Long Live the Prince!
In 2020, an announcement for a remake of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time garnered excitement for a franchise that had seen a very busy stretch from 2000 to 2010 but offered little since then. After an indefinite delay of that remake, fans were left wondering when, if ever, we would see another entry in the series. Embracing its 2D roots, Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is an incredible return to form that leans heavily into Metroidvania trappings with an emphasis on swift movement, an expansive map, and challenging platforming. The constantly evolving combat and expanding arsenal of acrobatic moves make The Lost Crown nearly impossible to put down.
You play as nimble, dual blade-wielding Sargon, a member of the legendary Immortals, who are tasked with safeguarding Persia from enemy forces. As it turns out, the threat in this adventure actually comes from within, and Sargon must venture into the mountain of Qaf to uncover its secrets and rescue the kidnapped Prince Ghassan. Within Qaf, players will discover a series of interconnected spaces that are constantly opening up as you explore deeper into the mountain, purchase area maps, and acquire new movement abilities. While some of the map regions are a bit similar aesthetically, they offer unique enemies and puzzles, those that require manual dexterity and those that require a keen mind–and sometimes both.
At the outset, Sargon is relatively weak compared to the stout, speedy warrior he will become by the end of the 10 to 20-hour main story, which plays out across a series of primary quests. In addition to these, you’ll meet an eclectic cast of characters who offer side quests or assist you on your journey. In one of the central hub areas, there’s a shopkeeper who sells potion upgrades to restore your health and amulets that provide general buffs, a blacksmith goddess who will bolster your weapons and amulets–for a price–and a friend from the palace who teaches you the finer points of combat and lets you earn time crystals (your currency) for doing it. Each map region houses one or more friendly faces to help guide you towards your next goal, including a young boy who sells you maps that make navigation easier. The Lost Crown doesn’t offer the same type of isolation felt in games like Super Metroid, but its superb forms of progression and more overt storytelling are among the strongest in the genre.
By the time I had rolled credits, I was flying around the map like a Cirque du Soleil performer on steroids. The end of most major story quests yields a new movement-related ability, like the familiar mid-air dash and double jump, but also others like the ability to create a mirror image that you can teleport back to. While most of the map is tailored to make excellent use of these newfound powers, there was at least one late-game ability I never used; it may be one better suited to exploring 100 percent of the map. Nonetheless, I love the way Sargon becomes stronger as he overcomes trials and unravels the mysteries of Qaf. The main story becomes more intriguing as the adventure progresses, and there are collectible items to pick up that enrich the lore of this world, but it’s Sargon himself whose growth and developing perception of his reality that truly punctuate this Prince of Persia for a modern audience.
There’s a great balance between combat and exploration/platforming that persists throughout the experience. You’ll encounter a series of rooms where you need to avoid poison pits and acid falling from the floor, and then the next might have an enemy gauntlet, forcing you to take on a few waves of lesser opponents (who might end up being quite deadly if you’re not careful). Death isn’t overly punishing, fortunately, costing only a pittance of time crystals and generally taking you back to the last Wak Wak tree (health/save point). During boss fights, if you fail, you can simply restart the fight rather than having to trek back to it. Combat itself is an intricate dance, a ballet of swords, parries, and well-timed dodges. A meter that charges up as you dole out and take damage allows Sargon to execute different levels of super moves depending on how far the meter has charged. These put out massive damage, empower your offense and defense, or even create a temporary healing zone.
Another standout from an already strong package is the numerous cutscenes that run when Sargon encounters a major character. The ones surrounding the boss fights are particularly impressive, especially in how the ones pre-fight seamlessly transition into actual combat. The Switch performance is also impeccable, with decently short load times, attractive visuals, and stable 60 FPS framerate. Even though I wasn’t terribly invested in the lore or background of this world, it was impossible not to root for Sargon and fall in love with his determination and perseverance. Another incredible detail was how his character would actually show the scars of the encounters he survived throughout Mount Qaf; truly, the experience leaves a literal mark on him, and it’s pretty safe to say that it does for the player, too.
During the opening hour, I had the attitude of not wanting to really get into a Metroidvania longer than 10 or 15 hours, but that initial hesitation melted away like ice cream in the desert heat. There’s an absolute treat of a game in Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, and the ways in which it reminds me of Hollow Knight, Metroid Dread, and of course the original Prince of Persia from 1989 are palpable. The almost-Spider-Man-like traipsing around ruined temples, a frozen sea, and majestic historical cityscapes only got better and better as Sargon’s repertoire of moves grew, and even if some of the mid-to-late game bosses ramp up the difficulty a fair bit, there’s more than enough fun in returning to exploration to bolster your stats and capabilities. The Lost Crown is a title that I hope people remember at the end of the year when recalling the standout video games of 2024 because there’s no doubt this should be among them.