Game Diary - November 14, 2008: The Prince Jumps Well

Of all the places I could have gotten any gaming in yesterday, I didn't expect to do so at the Grand Hyatt, a hotel built over New York City's Grand Central Station. But that's where I got to try a litttle more of Ubisoft's somewhat under-the-radar revamp of "Prince of Persia."

The game was playable in an "arcade" ballroom set up as part of the BMO Capital Markets 16th Annual Interactive Entertainment Conference, where gaming executives such as Reggie Fils-Aime (Nintendo), Peter Moore (EA Sports), and Strauss Zelnick (Take Two) were giving investors reasons to believe in the health of the gaming industry. The mood was somewhat dark given these economic times. You know there's trouble when the gift bag includes a research book called "Recession Scenarios: What To Own." That's scary!

In the arcade, they mostly had the kinds of games people who invest in games might like to play in civil company: "Midnight Club" (not "GTA"), "Wii Music" (not "Animal Crossing"), "Rock Band," Gameloft's iPhone games and... "Prince of Persia"? Ubisoft even sent a Frag Doll, a pro female gamer named Morgan, to show the game. But I don't think that game was ideal for the crowd.

Thankfully, that game was ideal for me to watch and play while killing time between eating a free muffin and going to Zelnick's speech. Morgan was playing a near-final Xbox 360 build and had gained about half of the Prince's new acrobatic powers. She was working through various regions, using the Prince's acrobatic flips, jumps and wall-runs to collect orbs of light with "Crackdown"-esque collection obsession. When she'd collected enough, she'd either get new powers or unlock another region in a map of interlocked regions. The impression I got, though we didn't get to try it, was that the game will have more than the one repeating boss enemy that I thought it was going to have. It looks like it may have as many as four recurring bosses, each designed to be fought in extravagant set-piece fashion at the end of regions in a grouped set, getting more powerful each time.

What was most promising to me were the controls of this new "Prince of Persia," which combined the best of the acrobatic maneuvers from "Mirror's Edge" and "Assassin's Creed" with an ease of move-chaining more akin to a "Tony Hawk." When I took the controls, I found that I could easily run to a gap, press a button to jump and immediately trigger a wall-run without another button press, press a button to leap off that wall into another wall run, press one more button to grab a ring bolted to the wall to twirl around it, press the same jump button once more to half-cross a larger gap and then press the button that summons abilities from your ever-present female companion, Elika, to have her double-jump/pull me across the second half of that long gap. With just a few taps of three controller buttons I had triggered an incredible acrobatic routine. And I did this with little anxiety, because you cannot die in this game. If you fail to press a button and plummet to your apparent doom, Elika reaches down and pulls you back up to a checkpoint, usually on the last safe platform you stood on. So it's easy to take another jump at it.

"Prince of Persia" is the last major game coming out this holiday season and a somewhat forgotten one, given its December date. I'm not sure why it's coming so late, but from what I got out of it yesterday, my first hands-on with it since E3, I'm excited to play more. I'm not worried about a "Prince of Persia" game for the first time since "Sands of Time." Instead, I'm looking forward to it.

Next: This weekend, I've got to finish "Mirror's Edge." And still go to "Resistance 2" next? But what about "Call of Duty"? "Animal Crossing"? "Left 4 Dead"? Oh, it won't be that painful to choose.