Unleashing ancient spells and armies of monsters and then destroying them all in order to save your kingdom wouldn’t be considered a run-of-the-mill activity by most.

“Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands”

PlayStation, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS and PC
Ubisoft

But by now, the Prince of Persia, the protagonist in his self-titled game franchise, ought to be used to it.

In the most recent installment of the series, “The Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands,” the Prince is on his way to Persia to see his brother Malik, who rules as king. However, upon arriving, he finds the country ravaged by war and his brother in the midst of a losing battle. Despite the tense circumstances, Malik welcomes the Prince warmly, and the player gets a chance to get comfortable with the controls by following Malik and his men through the palace, away from the enemy army.

Malik decides his only hope at winning the war is to release King Solomon’s Army — the ancient, mythical fleet of soldiers said to be as numerous as the grains of sand on the beach. Players of the earlier games know what happens next — the army turns out to actually be made up of gruesome sand creatures bent on destroying the kingdom, led by the giant demon Ratash. It is up to the Prince to save his brother’s kingdom by killing Ratash.

The gameplay is extremely similar to the earlier installments of the franchise, which is a good thing. The Prince is up to all of his old uber-athletic tricks — running along walls, leaping across vast gulfs and climbing impossibly tall structures.

In “The Warrior Within,” the second game of the trilogy made for GameCube, PS2 and Xbox, the distinguishing feature was essentially a whole lot of new battle moves and lots of blood. For the third, “The Two Thrones,” it was the Prince’s evil alter-ego and stealth kills.

In this newest game, made for the latest platforms, the prince can still control time. The new feature is his ability to control the elements, at times freezing water briefly to climb up fountains and swing from springs spouting from the walls of the palace, adding an exciting angle to the game.

The battle scenes are fun, with the Prince taking on hordes of extremely slow and relatively weak sand creatures that fill him with sand power and occasionally refill his health. A great aspect of the battles is that they make the player want to win. The Prince can not only rewind time and erase mistakes, but during his first confrontation with Ratash, the big boss sends a few easy-to-kill sand creatures the Prince’s way that renew his health once they’re killed — just as the Prince is on his last legs. It’s not easy, but it’s certainly not impossible.

One disappointment, though not necessarily a surprise, is that the Prince is still making his extremely annoying, out-of-place, Peter Parker-esque quips. Every once in a while, he’ll say something that’s supposed to be funny, just as he’s running along a wall above a bed of spears and getting huge sandy fireballs thrown at him. It didn’t make sense in the first game, and it still doesn’t make sense why the game designers kept it up in the newest version. But all things considered, listening to the Prince’s stand-up act every so often is a small price to pay — for the entertainment the game delivers.

“Prince of Persia” is a great gaming franchise. Along with “God of War,” it’s probably the best action-adventure series out there. That said, it has a formula — it’s a proven formula, and it works, but it’s still a formula. There’s nothing earth-shattering about the gameplay or the environment, and the story is routine and at times boring. The franchise has set the bar very high for itself, and while the “Forgotten Sands” doesn’t quite reach the bar set by “The Two Thrones,” the game comes awfully darn close just by following the formula that got it there. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but if you don’t try to improve it, it stays the same. That’s what happened to “The Forgotten Sands” — it’s a very good, safe option, but not quite great.

And in the end, there’s nothing wrong with that — the game’s still fun as hell.

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