Luckily, by 2003 Jordan Mechner has got together with Ubisoft's Montreal studio and given the prince a second chance. Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time is one of the best action/adventure games of the last decade, and one of the most successful franchise reboots of all time. It takes everything we loved about the Prince and his Arabian Nights universe and makes it work with fantastic 3D graphics and one of the most acrobatic heroes ever seen. Sands of Time didn't just nail how to control such a character in full 3D ¬ to the extent that it would itself be aped by Tomb Raider for Tomb Raider: Legends and Tomb Raider: Anniversary - it introduced a series of superb game mechanics based on giving the player the power to control the flow of time.
Other games, like Microsoft's ill-starred platformer, Blinx, had tried and failed to accomplish this, but Sands of Time makes slowing, pausing and reversing time a pillar of the gameplay. Not just the key to solving a range of ingenious puzzles, the sands of time become a way of bypassing the frustration engendered when a player comes up against a particularly fiendish chunk of game. What's more, Mechner and Ubisoft even make time the fulcrum of a thrilling tale of love, sacrifice and personal growth. If you don't know why Sands of Time is a classic, then you really ought to play it.
The 2004 sequel, The Warrior Within, is rather more controversial. One of the few marks against The Sands of Time was its reliance on rather tiresome sequences of mass combat. The Warrior Within takes these even further. And with the new emphasis on violence comes a new style - darker, more bloodthirsty, more in line with the interests of the 18-24 year old males who made up the hardcore section of the games market. Out goes the sweeping Middle-Eastern flavoured score of the original, in comes more generic hard rock. The Warrior Within sells better than its predecessors, but fans of the prince's first tale are left feeling somewhat disappointed.
2005's The Two Thrones does its best to connect the two sides of the Prince's audience. There is more platforming, a more flexible approach to combat, and a visual style that bridges the gap between the Eastern fantasy of the first game and the gothic violence of the second. It even splits the prince into two selves - the noble swashbuckler we knew from the first game and a sneering, demonic Dark Prince wielding a chain-whip device called the "daggertail". Despite some harsh difficulty spikes and some infuriating boss battles, The Two Thrones is a real return to form. As the next-generation consoles loomed heavy on the horizon, we waited to see where the Prince would take us next.