Ubisoft's made it very clear that Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands, being released alongside the Jake Gyllenhaal-starring PoP film, is not another lame movie-to-game adaptation. It's also not a lame port of a superior 360 or PS3 entry.
In fact, aside from sharing the same time line-the seven years between Sands of Time and Warrior Within-Wii owners can expect an entirely unique Prince-driven adventure. Sure, sword-swinging acrobatics, puzzles, and sand-lots of sand-will play key roles in all versions of the game, but in terms of mechanics, Nintendo fans can look forward to wielding the Wii remote like a magic-conjuring wand.
The defining feature of the Wii version is Sand Powers, abilities activated by pointing the Wii remote at specific areas and objects.
Early in the game, players are granted the ability to create sand rings; these hand-holds can be placed anywhere you see a sparkling jewel encrusted into a surface. Point the remote at one of these shiny stones, and you now have a new object to grab onto. Similar stones yield different effects; some will open doors, while others will activate moving platforms that drop pesky archers to their deaths.
As the Prince progresses through the game, so do his Sand Powers. By the title's concluding chapters, for example, you'll be able to place the hand-holds wherever you like, without the previous necessity of activating jewels. So, in theory, you'll be able to create your own platforming path.
Another wand-enabled trick allows the Prince to temporarily put enemies on ice. Simply point-and-freeze, then go in for the kill with an intuitive-although not WiiMotion Plus-enabled-sword swipe. A quick jab of the nunchuck will also punch or block. You can also pop baddies in the air with a neat little bit of magic that recalls BioShock's cyclone trap plasmid. This ability erupts a blue pillar from the ground, sending any unfortunate squatters flying, or providing the Prince with a pedestal which he can utilize for a platforming puzzle.
The sand sphere serves a similar dual purpose. It can temporarily surround the Prince in a protective shell-perfect for when a barrage of arrows is about to rain down on him-or it can briefly suspend him in mid-air, granting a few precious seconds so he can plot his next pole-swing, wall-run, or ledge-shimmy. Although my demo was hands-off, it appeared these powers were introduced gradually, allowing players to become comfortable with them before throwing too much their way. All the sand powers work as effective tools on their own, but later in the game, when they're combined with each other, or used alternately between platforming and fighting, they promise to demand more strategy and open a variety of dynamic gameplay scenarios.
While Ubisoft believes more seasoned players will appreciate the increasing complexity of the sand powers, they also want newcomers to feel welcome in their rich fantasy world (this is a Wii title after all.) With that in mind, they've included an assist mode-similar to the one made popular in Super Mario Galaxy-that doesn't offer a full-on cooperative experience, but allows a second player to help the Prince along the way. This could mean breaking vases and crates by pointing a second Wii remote at them, slowing down moving traps, or even drawing navigational tips. While this sort of limited interaction won't appeal to experienced gamers, children and parents may not mind playing second fiddle to the Prince.
Visually, The Forgotten Sands looks damn good on the modestly powered hardware. It runs at a steady 60 FPS, and great effects like whipping sand and falling rain look like the real deal. Some nice lighting and shadowing effects are also utilized in the varying indoor environments and exteriors. Fighting and acrobatic animations also looked fluid, even when the screen was cluttered with multiple scimitar-wielding baddies.
By not simply porting a watered down version of the 360 and PS3 entries, Ubisoft is providing the Prince's loyal following with an alternative adventure, while also adding enough optional accessibility to introduce new fans to the franchise. While my demo was strictly eyes-only, what I saw has me pining for the day when I can wield the world-altering sand for myself.