The legacy of Prince of Persia

Filed under Game trail, People, Software showcase;

I’ve written several times about Prince of Persia, Jordan Mechner‘s seminal platformer that debuted on the Apple II and has since been translated, reimagined, and adapted across video game platforms, comic books, and Hollywood. At its core, the game and its plot are simple yet enduring, having survived across decades and dozens of reinterpretations. Why?

wallpaper_prince_of_persia_warrior_within_08_1600This is not the Prince of Persia you grew up with. What’s given him so long a life?

Ryan Lambie at the Den of Geek has an answer. In a thoughtful if occasionally rosy reflection on the original game, he points to Prince of Persia’s tension and challenge as its timeless qualities.

It didn’t matter that the levels themselves were a comparatively sparse amalgam of grey walls, blue tiles and white spikes — when the Prince hung by his fingertips above a precipice, or leapt through a closing gate with barely a second to spare, the experience was akin to stepping into the shoes of Indiana Jones or Luke Skywalker.

[But] was the game’s challenge that made it so addictive. No other game could match its sense of danger, nor the horrendous sense of loss when the Prince was inevitably sliced in two, run through with a sword, impaled by spikes, crushed by falling masonry, or had his bones shattered by a precipitous drop. Even now, it’s difficult to think of a game whose animation, control system (which, looking back, was extremely fiddly) and level design merge so seamlessly.

As true as it is that Prince of Persia possessed these traits, I’m not sure they can explain what makes the franchise unique. Many early computer and arcade games possessed their own kind of anxiety and difficulty: who can forget being chased by stormtroopers through the halls of Castle Wolfenstein? That game inspired a 1992 first-person shooter and a series of modern sequels, but I’ve not witnessed it infusing popular (or at least geek) culture of the degree Prince of Persia has.

Is it just luck of the draw that made Prince of Persia succeed in ways that its contemporaries, such as Choplifter and Lode Runner, have not? Or has Jordan Mechner’s genius made his opus into something unquantifiable and irreproducible?

  1. One of the Apple II’s greatest claims to fame. And don’t give up on Choplifter’s enduring legacy, they remade that came a couple months back in…. HD… oohhhh.

  2. Brian, I agree that Choplifter and even Lode Runner have quite a legacy, with both having been remade for XBLA in the past few years (see my first impressions of Choplifter HD from when it was released earlier this month). But neither has been made into movies, comic books, or retail games, AFAIK. Prince of Persia seems to have more diversely infiltrated our pop culture.

  3. Prince of Persia has a classic fairy tale plot – a peasant goes on a perilous journey against an unrelenting environment and the king’s army to rescue the beautiful princess. This timeless plot translates well into books, movies, etc. The game itself has many great elements – puzzle solving, timing, and action. Also, as with any great game, it’s easy to learn but difficult to master…