Let me set the record straight. I’ve never played Prince of Persia. The original one, I mean. I played the first of the new series and kind of liked it, though wasn’t sure how I felt about the active removal of failure conditions. I understand that killing off the player early and often is a holdover from the arcade era, where it was beneficial to create a game hard enough that the player would have to be put through the same trials over and over again, but not so hard that the player would be driven away.
But this game isn’t from that. I now realize it’s one of the significant influences on one of my favorite 16-bit games, Flashback. But playing this game for the first time, nearly 20 years after it first appeared in MS-DOS form, it feels like a manifesto. It plays like the product of a mind fed up with lunar jumping physics and linear traversal. This game has maps, goes in all directions. Everything is fatal, from a bad fall to guys with swords and spiked pits.
Movement is kind of fluid, where momentum and timing matter. The downside of this is that a number of the jumping puzzles feel really unnecessarily difficult. But I envision a man who is tired of changing direction in the air, of jumping on people’s heads, of the implausibility that at the time had overtaken the entire genre. Where were the real people in platforms?
Mechner demanded something that no other platformer designer at the time did. Plausibility.
What an unusual thing to look for in a game.
Years later, all we have is a few artifacts of his work. Flashback is one, maybe Mirror’s Edge and a few other games. His series has gone on to be about time travel and fighting your evil self and Jake Gyllenhall.
He fought the good fight I guess.