Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is pure pleasure

Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown is the rare video game that has me excitedly Googling and ending up in research rabbit holes because of the world’s lore and the inspirations it’s pulling from. Did you know, for instance, that the Immortals — which you may know from the movie 300 — were a real-life heavy infantry unit in ancient Persia, made up of fighters trained from the age of 5? I didn’t, until Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown’s fusion of history and mythology engulfed me and didn’t let go. The game’s protagonist, Sargon, is one of the Immortals, and dozens of times across the 10 hours I’ve spent playing this game so far, I’ve put down my Nintendo Switch in order to learn more about the nooks and crannies of this layered world.

I began this review with erudite praise for The Lost Crown because everything else I have to say about this game will be infused with simplistic, childlike glee. It feels so damn good to just swing Sargon’s swords in this game; maybe it’s the animation of light glinting off the blades’ silver surfaces, maybe it’s the slick rhythm of connecting multiple swings into a full combo. But because The Lost Crown is actually a Metroidvania — meaning the emphasis here is on exploration, and on discovering power-ups and abilities that will facilitate more exploration — Sargon’s blades are merely the tip of an extraordinary iceberg of combat techniques.

If you don’t want to hear about the rest of Sargon’s abilities, and all you need to know is that The Lost Crown is the perfect package — an excellent Metroidvania with gorgeous environments, challenging but intuitive puzzles, beautiful music and even better voice acting, plus those history-meets-myth lore entries that may capture your imagination and curiosity — then you can stop reading right now. Go ahead and buy this video game. It’s freaking great, OK? We can’t just say that in a review; we have to explain why, and I’ll do that. But if there’s ever been a time to just trust me, this is it.

Sargon introduces himself to the otherworldly blacksmith in Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown, telling her, “I’m Sargon. I serve Persia as one of the Immortals.” Image: Ubisoft Montpellier/Ubisoft via Polygon

Sargon stands next to a Wak-Wak Tree, a glowing white tree that serves as a save point and recharge station in Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown Image: Ubisoft Montpellier/Ubisoft via Polygon

Sargon reaches out to grab a glowing blue feather, which will give him a power-up, in Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown Image: Ubisoft Montpellier/Ubisoft via Polygon

Still here? OK, great. So, Sargon’s adventure really pops off after the first 30 minutes or so, when you start getting your first few power-ups. What’s more, many of the abilities break the Metroidvania mold in unique ways. The bow and arrow, for instance — a mainstay in many games from the genre — soon doubles as a boomerang. Early on, Sargon has the ability to slide across the floor, allowing him to rocket underneath huge enemies so he can stab them in the back, or slip under tiny crevices in order to discover new areas. That’s cool and all, but what’s better than sliding on the ground? Sliding in the air — in the form of an air dash reminiscent of Hollow Knight or Celeste. That’s a classic move in platformers, but what’s key here is how they actually feel — every single ability in The Lost Crown is slick and satisfying, and every time you discover another ability, it feels empowering and exciting rather than overwhelming or overstuffed. I haven’t beaten the game yet, to be fair, but the more I play and the more I discover, the more I love the whole experience.

I don’t expect or even need a Metroidvania to have a story, beyond some basic explanation as to why your character is exploring an unfamiliar area. But The Lost Crown delivers in the narrative arena, as well. As my colleague Oli Welsh noted in his glowing preview of the game, the protagonist is not the titular prince, which initially struck me as a strange departure from the rest of the series. Now that I’ve seen more of the game, however, I love this decision. Sargon is reminiscent of Link in The Legend of Zelda; at the outset of the game, once Prince Ghassan gets kidnapped, Sargon is soon mired in the political intrigue and magic dust-ups surrounding this event. He’s a talented warrior, but he’s also naïve and endearing in the way that Link can often be, determined to right this injustice but also shocked to learn that smacking a sword at the problem isn’t always going to be the best course of action. And like so many Zelda games — not to mention Prince of Persia games, most notably 2003’s The Sands of TimeThe Lost Crown turns out to be a story about time travel, fate, and realizing that one’s self can be both the most stubborn enemy and the most valuable ally.

Sargon, with his blades drawn, faces away from the camera and towards a hulking beast emerging from the swirling desert sands. The monster’s name is Jahandar, and he admonishes Sargon by saying, “Your life ends here.” Image: Ubisoft Montpellier/Ubisoft via Polygon

The palace intrigue of The Lost Crown has plenty of twists and turns; some of my favorite characters have ended up betraying Sargon, and some of my early guesses about what’s going to happen next have been flouted flagrantly. It’s not, like, Game of Thrones-level complicated or adult-oriented; a 10-year-old historical fiction nerd would love it as much as I do, probably, and would follow its tale just as easily. The bosses, platforming, and puzzles can be difficult, but the game includes a vast suite of difficulty modes and additional tweaks, including the option to skip certain platforming sections entirely. Doing so doesn’t ruin the game by any means — the combat and environmental puzzles are both exciting pursuits of their own.

Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown may seem like a bit of a strange digression in the long-running series, especially considering the Sands of Time remake that’s been delayed and rebooted and remains an unknown quantity. But it’s a fantastic Metroidvania about a character you wouldn’t expect in a series that desperately needed somebody to blow the dust off. Not only does Prince of Persia look downright shiny again, it’s now a more vibrant reflection of the history and myths that served as its inspiration.

Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown will be released Jan. 18 on Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X, and Windows PC. The game was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a pre-release download code provided by Ubisoft. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.