The Rogue Prince of Persia is stylish and addictive | Early access review

by on May 27, 2024

This time last year I wouldn’t have expected to be playing one, let alone two, side-scrolling Prince of Persia games in 2024. But with the excellent Prince of Persia: The Lost Crown still fairly fresh in the memory, we now have Evil Empire’s Dead Cells-alike The Rogue Prince of Persia hitting early access. And yes, we should absolutely feel spoiled.

In this roguelite universe, the kingdom is beset by the Hun, here reimagined as feral warriors with skull masks and tribal magic. The titular Prince is stuck in a timeloop, attempting to save his people with help from a handful of allies. It feels very similar to Dead Cells from the off, though there are changes where pacing and difficulty are concerned. First, though: the good stuff.

Rogue PoP

As usual, the titular Prince is an acrobatic sort, and holding the left trigger allows you to run along and up most walls, negating the need for things like air dashes and double jumps. Linking together traversal is straightforward but hard to master, as there are traps and hazards everywhere – and you’re never certain what you might drop into or onto. The dash lacks the i-frames of Dead Cells’ dodge-roll, though, so watch out for that. I’ve died countless times trying to roll under an enemy’s arrow thanks to muscle memory alone.

However, pressing the dash button when close to an enemy will allow you to vault over them, and then you can either attack them or do a flying kick that knocks them back. If they hit another enemy both will become dazed for a moment, while this is also the quickest way to remove an enemy’s over-shield, too. When you’re facing a screen full of Hun, surrounded by traps and falls, a firm grip on the combat flow becomes essential. It’s largely thanks to the feel of the combat that it becomes so moreish from the get-go.

The Rogue Prince of Persia

You have a handful of weapons that can appear in chests randomly once you’ve unlocked them back at your camp. There’s nowhere near the level of variety you might expect, either in melee weapons or the secondary “tools” like a bow, chakram, and grappling hook. The latter doesn’t let you swing around either, and is used for pulling enemies close to you. More weapons will likely be added throughout early access, as well as amulets.

These buffs can be equipped in any of your four slots and have effects like adding elemental damage to your attacks, kicks, or slides. You can also equip powers that heal you for kills or refill your energy, the pool from which your tool ammunition is drawn. Managing your energy also becomes pretty important pretty quickly.

There’s an almost Hades-like progression system where your deaths unlock narrative beats and bring new characters into your camp, though eventually you will have to face the first boss to progress. As more allies join you, you’ll unlock more and more abilities and upgrades for your gear. Collecting purple “glimmers” also allows you to unlock new weapons, amulets, and tools to add to your loot-pool.

The Rogue Prince of Persia

While I’ve been having fun with The Rogue Prince of Persia, I have found the difficulty a little uneven. I’ve unlocked over half a dozen areas which all have the same basic level of challenge, as the enemies here aren’t over-powered and, depending on the randomised level set-up and loot drops, aren’t too hard to overcome. But the bosses are another story.

The first boss, General Berude, has a huge amount of health and an armour bar you’ll need to beat down before you can even harm her. It’s not all that hard to learn her attacks (although the patterns themselves feel irritatingly random), but it takes so long to do damage that unless you’re superb at wall-running and dodging, killing her takes an absolute age. You might get lucky in the pre-run and have upgraded weapons and strong amulets, but if you don’t then you’re going to have a tough time.

The Rogue Prince of Persia

Perhaps the biggest difference between The Rogue Prince of Persia and Dead Cells is that the latter gives you many options to upgrade your health and attack damage, and even in early access had a lot more traps, secondary weapons, and boosters you could apply between runs. The Rogue Prince of Persia offers fewer tools and options for stacking damage or defence, and with only two areas between you and the bosses (regardless of your route), you’ll often meet at least the first one in an underpowered state. Because of the nature of the structure, you’ll also need to run through two full areas before each attempt too.

But this is, of course, the early access period – and we’re right at the start of it. It was many months before Dead Cells transformed into the powerhouse it eventually became, and Evil Empire are on the right track here. The movement and combat feels fluid, the feedback is sublime, and the simplistic art style is super effective. Oh, and the music… My word, does this game have some incredible scores. The music in the Academy stage is so good I stood still and listened to it for a while, just because. Despite a few minor issues with balancing, there’s no doubt in my mind that, given time, The Rogue Prince of Persia will become a worthy addition to its vaunted franchise.