Back in June, we went hands-on with Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, a new 2D Metroidvania take on the long-running dashing and slashing franchise. We were thrilled to learn that Ubisoft Montpellier is the team crafting this new adventure as its past games like Rayman Origins and Rayman Legends were incredibly unique works of art, and The Lost Crown quickly joined the ranks of games we’re most looking forward to in 2024.
While our time with The Lost Crown was smooth, snappy, and seems like a promising title for Metroid fans, we didn’t really consider that this new entry could be straying too far away from what made the Sands of Time trilogy and Jordan Mechner’s original games so special. There are plenty of titles vying for the throne shared by Samus and the Belmonts, so will this crown lose its luster over time compared to its contemporaries or can this Prince weather the sandstorm that lies ahead?
Ubisoft kindly invited us to its San Francisco office and let us hunker down with The Lost Crown for three and a half hours. We fought and defeated five unique bosses, acquired plenty of new abilities, and saw the plot take all sorts of twists and turns. Unlike our last demo, we played all the way through on Nintendo Switch this time in docked mode and while some of the impressive in-engine cutscenes may have dropped a few frames, the rest of the game ran like an absolute dream during our time with it.
One element that made itself abundantly clear was that The Lost Crown puts heavy emphasis on story. For most games in the Metroid series, the narrative often takes a backseat and is told through ambient, environmental changes and your overall actions. The eerie feeling you get when landing on a dark and unexplored planet is one of Samus’ great hallmarks, and there’s not usually much dialogue. The Lost Crown, however, appears to have a much deeper story it wants to tell, with the new protagonist, Sargon front and center. We thought we had this story all figured out after the opening hour, then realized by the time our demo was over we had more questions than we started with.
To add to this, we found loads of lore sprinkled throughout the world in the form of collectible items, and Sargon’s pals, The Immortals, can be found searching the world for answers to their troubles. Occasionally they’ll help progress the story, but other times they’re just available for a quick chat to make the world feel a little less lonely. You’ll also find other characters on your journey who you can purchase items and upgrades from too, who simultaneously can help you breathe a sigh of relief after a potentially tough moment.
That’s not to say this game is all sunshine and rainbows, though. Those of us who experienced Prince of Persia: Warrior Within at a questionably young age will remember the fear the Dahaka could strike into you. Sargon has a grueling journey ahead of him, in part thanks to a new enemy type that draws some inspiration from the E.M.M.I. found in Metroid Dread, made more terrifying with a simple twist. We won’t spoil the surprise for you here, but just know that we genuinely shrieked during our demo after coming face-to-face with them.
Another thing we greatly appreciated about The Lost Crown is the options given for approachability. This particular genre hasn’t always been the friendliest towards newcomers, but this Prince lets you pick from multiple difficulty settings and even lets you play using a guide on your map that’ll help point you in the right direction if you need it. However, if you prefer to forge your own path forward you can switch to a mode without the map assist feature.
A core element of this genre involves blocking progress to certain areas until you receive a particular item or weapon upgrade. If it’s designed cleverly, the map may naturally loop around without the need to remember the places you discovered earlier in your journey. The Lost Crown offers a genius feature that allows you to take a snapshot of your field of view and place it directly on your map to check later on. You’re given a select amount of times you can use this ability, and you’ll need to delete old snapshots in order to take more. Backtracking is one of the main ingredients that make up this formula, but the same could be said for random encounters in turn-based RPGs and many of us nowadays skip those if possible, or use auto-battle. So, in The Lost Crown, if you run into a treasure chest that’s just out of reach or find a path that you can’t move through quite yet, the ‘Eye of the Wanderer’ tool helps keep tabs on tasks for later and makes encountering those barriers a bit more engaging from the get-go.
We already sang the praises of the combat in our initial hands-on session, but we’re still impressed with the array of abilities Sargon has at his disposal. Most enemy attacks can be parried or even outright canceled with Sargon’s moveset, which seems to expand steadily over the course of the game. Finding fun ways to utilize his attacks against enemies and find the loopholes in boss battles is rewarding, too.
We’ve been told to expect the main adventure to take around 20 to 25 hours to complete, but we’re sure speedrunners will absolutely demolish those potential playtimes.
At the Ubisoft Forward event this past summer, we confirmed The Lost Crown on Switch was running at a smooth 60fps in handheld, and while we were slightly worried the developers weren’t going to hit their goal in docked mode, we’re pleased to share we had nothing to be afraid of. If you stop and stare at our Switch screenshots for too long, the game can look a bit empty and muddy in places. You’ll definitely get more visual detail on other platforms, but seeing The Lost Crown in motion made all of those worries flutter away. It’s impressive to see games like this do so much with the aging Switch hardware. Characters looked sharp and striking on Switch and, outside of a few cutscenes here and there, we didn’t notice a single stutter during gameplay. This really seems to be the real 60fps deal with all the bells and whistles.
In a world full of incredible Metroidvanias, Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown has us anxiously awaiting the new year so we can dive back into its world once again. Our session came to such a climatic close that it had us wishing we could have flipped our hourglass back over to play some more. With the way the god-like manticore showdown got our blood pumping the first and second time we faced it, we’re dying to see what other surprising fights are lurking around the corner. There are so many story beats that we wish we could discuss here, but we’ll be able to discuss — and play — more next month.
Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is scheduled to launch on Switch and other platforms on 18th January 2024. Thanks to the team for inviting us to play the game. Travel costs for this preview were covered by Ubisoft.
This story originally appeared on Nintendo Life