While it certainly had its moments, the original Prince of Persia could be an incredibly frustrating game. Pre-determined animations make for some particularly clunky controls compared to other platformers, and fatal plunges, accidental deaths and flung keyboards were a common occurrence back in 1989.
The Xbox Live Arcade version thankfully does some work in smoothing things out; HD graphics and beautiful, super-smooth animation bring this most digital of platformers right in to 2007. But it's not enough to stop us pulling our hair out.
The premise is the same as the PC classic; some defenceless princess has been given an hour to live by evil contender-to-the-throne Jafar. As the Prince you've got to rescue her by jumping massive gaps, stepping on lots of pressure switches and battling with Persian hoodlums with a big-arse sword.
New to Classic is Time Attack mode with saveable ghosts to race, and the insanely difficult survival mode which challenges you to finish the game without dieing once (and if you manage that we will personally deliver a pack of Chewits to your house).
Thanks to some much-needed interface changes Classic is far easier to pick up than its old cousin. HUD prompts help ease you in to the controls fairly early on, while a purple, glowing butterfly hovers towards your destination making sure you don't get lost in the palace (as we so frequently did in the original).
The new animation work on the Prince is really, really nice. The Prince's jumps, rolls and flips are now immensely improved over 1989's rotoscoping, and each move flows together fantastically. It's also impressive how the shirtless swashbuckler interacts with the side scrolling environment; he now clambers up walls, flips on ledges and generally makes the world feel a lot more alive.
For such a simple system, combat looks fantastic as well. Sword fighting is basically a volley of attacking with X and blocking with A. Sensing your opponent's next move is the key to victory, and there's lots of other small touches like button-mashing parries and spins that make combat a very enjoyable aspect of Classic.
In fact the production values are fantastic all-round; the new in-game cut-scenes look great and the attention lavished on the environments and menus are comparable to that of a full-on retail release. Developer Gameloft has certainly earned its pennies here.
But it's easy to let the fancy new visuals trick you; this isn't a new-age 3D platformer. Behind the polygons lies the same old game from 15 years ago - even if there are new traps and encounters to be discovered.
The d-pad, bizarrely, is unused in Prince of Persia Classic's control scheme, instead asking you to man the analogue stick to move our hero about. A choice would have been nice. The stick basically does everything the d-pad would've with marginal success, though it seems to us that even Gameloft wasn't sure what angle it was going for; the controls are completely digital, yet you can use soft touches of the analogue stick to make the Prince walk.
This adds even more problems to the already vicious platforming in PoP. Many times the digital nature of the Prince's movements require one-touch movements to get him exactly where you want, yep the walking system can slip you up. More than once we've walked into a giant spike when we wanted to run passed it.
This might not mean much in other games, but the utterly ruthless nature of Prince's platforming - where traps mean instant death and fatal falls surround you on every side - makes every slip-up a trip right back to the start of the level. Classic takes the much-needed liberty of adding check points, but in most cases they're far too near to the end of the level to make much difference.