Growing up I never saw very much of PC gaming. I was mainly exposed to consoles in those years, but whenever I visited a friend or relative I was always excited to see new games, no matter what they were on. One day I recall visiting an Uncle’s home and him showing my brother and I Prince of Persia on his computer. Although I did not remember the name and could barely even begin to figure how to play it, I was struck by the realistic movement of the characters. Years later, I rediscovered the game when its reboot, The Sands of Time, was released. I was totally in love with the game, and when I got a copy of the original on Gameboy, I played it until I memorized the whole thing. A few years later, after gaining access to a Super Nintendo, I found a version produced by Konami and was very impressed with the expansions made on the home console version. But one day, I was browsing a used game shop and came across a copy of Prince of Persia 2 on SNES. I had no idea there was a sequel, and bought it right then and there. However, I was grossly disappointed to find a strange, broken, mess of a game that was so bad I didn’t wonder that it was not remembered by fans. Rather upset, I returned the game and moved on to other things.
Some time later, I was doing some research into the Prince of Persia series and came across a long play of Prince of Persia 2. I was curious to see someone manage to beat such a broken game and was surprised to find a rather good-looking and well-designed sequel. It turns out that the version I had played was a hastily thrown together port of the PC game on SNES produced by Titus, the company behind games like Superman 64 (1999) and ported by Psygnosis, the team that made Lemmings (1991). The PC game was produced by Brøderbund and released on PC and Mac in 1993. I really wanted to get my hands on a proper copy of the game, but was not likely to find one for my old PC. Fortunately, it was released as a bonus feature on the original Xbox port of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. After tracking down a copy and unlocking the game I finally got to give it a shot.
Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame takes place only a few days after the first game ends. The young traveller from the first game has defeated the evil vizier, Jaffar, and received the Princess’ hand in marriage making him the Prince of Persia. The game starts with the Prince going to the royal court to find that no one recognizes him as anything but a beggar off the streets. Behind the throne, he finds a doppelganger of himself, who orders the guards to put him to death. Fleeing the scene, the Prince realizes that Jaffar survived their last encounter and had cast a spell to take the Prince’s place. Fleeing by ship, a storm beaches the prince on a strange island, where he receives visions of a woman foretelling the death of the princess if he does not return to Persia in time.
One of the many issues with the SNES port I originally played is that all the cutscenes are removed or seriously cut down. I had no idea what was happening in that version, except that there was a guy who wanted you dead, and you had a time limit to beat the game. The first game gave you one hour of real time to complete the whole game and this was very tied to the story. In that game, Jaffar gave the Princess an hour to decide to marry him or die, leaving the player with one hour to race through the palace to save her. In the sequel, we are shown a cutscene about three levels in showing the Princess discovering Jaffar’s ruse and being somehow poisoned or magically thrown into a coma. If you don’t make it back in time to save her, she will die.
The SNES version just plops you out of a window and says you have seventy-five minutes left. To do what? Why? It never tells you.
The story is given more emphasis in this title. The first game only had cut scenes at the beginning and end, but this title has multiple scenes telling the story and reveal new developments. It’s a welcome addition.
Although the new Prince of Persia games put a lot of emphasis on smooth, physics defying acrobatics and parkour, the key feature of the originals was their realistic physics. The prince controls much like a real person. He builds up momentum as he runs, he can only jump a few feet, and falling from great heights results in damage or death. Not only was this novel at the time, it made for very strategic gameplay. You had to be careful about how you approached obstacles, but you also had to be quick to beat the omnipresent timer. Prince of Persia 2 is very much like the first in its gameplay, but with a couple of new changes.
First off, the game is a lot more combat oriented. Almost every level has at least a few enemies to fight and they are much more varied this time around. In addition to palace guards you will fight reanimated skeletons, deadly snakes, disembodied heads, and fanatic cultists. Each of these enemies has their own attack pattern that you’ll have to learn to get by. Secondly, there are a few new hazards and handicaps you will have to face. Spike traps and false floorboards make a return, but new to the game are lava pits, tripwire darts, and hidden wall blades. These new traps will take you by surprise, but once you learn to look out for them you’ll be fine.
Just like the first game, exploration is rewarded on occasion with health upgrades and alternate routs to other levels. Some levels have multiple paths that start you off at different points in the next level. This offers some replay value and offers a good challenge in balancing exploration and your remaining time.
This game has a great deal more variety than its predecessor. The first game was mainly limited to just two areas, the palace and the dungeons, and although some ports had their own custom designs, they didn’t really change much. Prince of Persia 2 sends you through several areas with their own traps and tricks. Every new area feels refreshing and none of them overstay their welcome. The graphics do tend to vary depending on which version you have. The PC and Xbox ports are the same, with very nice color, but somewhat muddy character models (top), the Mac release had its own redrawn graphics that emphasized the higher resolution of the apple computers (middle), and the SNES release is a very muddy version of the PC version, with a few unique assets, but many of the more striking set pieces removed (bottom).
Another new addition to this entry is a full soundtrack. The previous game had a jingle or two in gameplay, but few versions, like the Sega CD and SNES ports, had a complete soundtrack for the whole game. The Shadow and the Flame has several pieces of background music that fit each level very well. The audio quality differs depending on the system it’s played on, with the PC and Mac having very simple and rather grating tunes, the SNES port has newly arranged music that is okay, but not really a show stopper on the console, and the Xbox has a completely updated version of the soundtrack.
It truly is a shame that this game is not as well known as the first in the series. It offered a bigger, better experience with many more twists and turns than the last one. Part of me wants to put a lot of the blame on the SNES port. It is such a bafflingly bad game that seems to have had very little thought behind it. The SNES port of the first game, handled by Konami, was a fantastic game that managed to outshine most other versions. That high bar of quality makes the SNES version of the sequel a real disappointment. Fortunately, the original version is still a great experience and although it is not as easy to get your hands on, it is well worth seeking out.
Screenshots from mobygames.com and popuw.com