Earlier this week, a great write-up about Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown was posted over on Game Informer. The piece goes into some detail about the opening three hours of the game – where you’re introduced to new protagonist Sargon (not a prince) and his quest to rescue kidnapped royal heir Ghassan (is a prince).
I’ve had the pleasure of playing The Lost Crown at Summer Games Fest 2023, and as soon as I came away from the Ubisoft booth at the show, I put my name down for the final review here on VG247. This is catnip for me; a Metroidvania with a dogged commitment to its artstyle and a much deeper combat system than you’d expect from a 2D puzzle-platformer. It’s a bastardised Rayman/Assassin’s Creed lovechild that should be so ubiquitously Ubisoft, yet somehow feels like an indie gem (much in the vein of Hollow Knight or Ori & The Blind Forest).
And, in the Game Informer write-up, we learn that Ubisoft reckons it’s a 25 hour experience. Imagine my little face lighting up as I read that, illuminated in the dark by my phone’s night screen like something from Black Mirror. That’s perfect. Perfect. The absolute best length a game like this could be.
Ubisoft games have, lately, become a synonymous with outstaying their welcome: it took even the most nimble speedrunner about seven years to finish Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and it’s labyrinthine main story, and a lot of people to say that Avatar: Frontiers of Pandora is pretty… for the first few hours. Then the formula starts to grate. That’s, in part, why Mirage was so good: it was short.
Metroidvania games don’t need to be long. They need to be focused, fun, with enough breadcrumbs to keep you retreading your old paths like a demented pigeon, set on devouring every last morsel before you fly the coop and find something else to start picking at. Even as far back as the progenitors of the series – in the eponymous Metroids and Castlevanias – we had nice, short, focused games with just enough backtracking to keep things interesting. No bloat, no mess, no fuss. Just platforms, secrets, and combat. The good stuff.
Hollow Knight, widely regarded as the best thing in the genre since… well, ever… weighs in at a tasty 27 hours, per HowLongToBeat.com (though anyone that’s actually played it knows that a full run will actually take you about 70 hours – if you want to do everything). By the end of Hollow Knight, a lot of casual players are turned off, thanks to realm-switching shenanigans, boss rush arenas, and some other ludicrous difficulty plateaus that don’t necessarily appeal to the everyman.
Ori & the Blind Forest is shorter, coming in hot at roughly eight hours. And it’s easier, too, given that it attracted a lot of people that aren’t usually into this game (that all apparently got stuck on the water escape sequence). But a lot of people complained Moon Studio’s debut was too short – it had a lot of good ideas, and some of the best-feeling traversal I have personally ever experienced in a 2D game, but it was over so damn soon. Something that was put right in the biome-heavy follow-up, Ori & The Will of the Wisps.
Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, then, sits in the middle of these two extremes – snugly nestled between nuevo genre royalty, no doubt with aspirations of grandeur of its own. From what I played, I know there are numerous collectibles in the game, as well as bonus challenges slyly tucked away behind secret walls and hidden paths. 25 hours is obviously a ball-park figrue, and 100%-ing Sargon’s adventure is easily going to take 30+ hours, but for the casual player that wants to experience the time-twisting, platform-hopping, monster-bonking romp that Prince of Persia has always offered, Ubisoft has pitched this one well.
I’ve gone off about my love of the mid-length game before, and I feel it bears repeating: focused, curated experiences can always trump 200-hour behemoths, no matter the genre. And I hope Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown reminds Ubisoft about this as it starts to put the finishing touches to whatever its next full-scale Assassin’s Creed RPG is.