Prince of Persia is a 1989 fantasy cinematic platformer originally developed and published by Brøderbund and designed by Jordan Mechner for the Apple II. In the game, players control an unnamed protagonist who must venture through a series of dungeons to defeat the Grand Vizier Jaffar and save an imprisoned princess.
Much like Karateka, Mechner's first game, Prince of Persia used rotoscoping for its fluid and realistic animation. For this process, Mechner used as reference for the characters' movements videos of his brother doing acrobatic stunts in white clothes and swashbuckler films such as The Adventures of Robin Hood.
The game was critically acclaimed and, while not an immediate commercial success, sold many copies as it was ported to a wide range of platforms after the original Apple II release. It is believed to have been the first cinematic platformer and inspired many following games in this subgenre, such as Another World. Its success led to the release of two sequels, Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame and Prince of Persia 3D, and two reboots of the series, first in 2003 with Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time, which led to three sequels of its own, and then again in 2008 with the identically-titled Prince of Persia.
Despite a positive critical reception, Prince of Persia was initially a commercial failure in North America, where it had sold only 7000 units each on the Apple II and IBM PC by July 1990. It was when the game was released in Japan and Europe that year that it became a commercial success. In July 1990, the NEC PC-9801 version sold 10000 units as soon as it was released in Japan. It was then ported to various different home computers and video game consoles, eventually selling 2 million units worldwide by the time its sequel Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame (1993) was in production, and more than 2 million copies by 1999.
The game is set in ancient Persia. While the sultan is fighting a war in a foreign land, his vizier Jaffar, a wizard, seizes power. His only obstacle to the throne is the Sultan's daughter (although the game never specifically mentions how). Jaffar locks her in a tower and orders her to become his wife, or she would die within 60 minutes (extended to 120 minutes in the Super NES version, which has longer and harder levels). The game's unnamed protagonist, whom the Princess loves, is thrown prisoner into the palace dungeons. In order to free her, he must escape the dungeons, get to the palace tower and defeat Jaffar before time runs out. But in addition to guards, various traps and dungeons, the protagonist is further hindered by his own doppelgänger, an apparition of his own self that is conjured out of a magic mirror.
The main objective of the player is to lead the unnamed protagonist out of dungeons and into a tower before time runs out. This cannot be done without bypassing traps and fighting hostile swordsmen. The game consists of twelve levels (though some console versions have more). However, a game session may be saved and resumed at a later time only after level 2.
The player has a health indicator that consists of a series of small red triangles. The player starts with three. Each time the protagonist is damaged (cut by sword, fallen from two floors of heights or hit by a falling rock), the player loses one of these indicators. There are small jars of red potion scattered throughout the game that restore one health indicator. There are also large jars of red potion that increase the maximum number of health indicators by one. If the player's health is reduced to zero, the protagonist dies. Subsequently, the game is restarted from the beginning of the stage in which the protagonist died but the timer will not reset to that point, effectively constituting a time penalty. There is no counter for the number of lives; but if time runs out, the princess will be gone and the game will be over, subject to variations per console versions.
There are three types of traps that the player must bypass: Spike traps, deep pits (three or more levels deep) and guillotines. Getting caught or falling into each results in the instant death of the protagonist. In addition, there are gates that can be raised for a short period of time by having the protagonist stand on the activation trigger. The player must pass through the gates while they are open, avoiding locking triggers. Sometimes, there are various traps between an unlock trigger and a gate.
Hostile swordsmen (Jaffar and his guards) are yet another obstacle. The player obtains a sword in the first stage, which they can use to fight these adversaries. The protagonist's sword maneuvers are as follows: advance, back off, slash, parry, or a combined parry-then-slash attack. Enemy swordsmen also have a health indicator similar to that of the protagonist. Killing them involves slashing them until their health indicator is depleted or by pushing them into traps while fighting.
A unique trap encountered in stage four, which serves as a plot device, is a magic mirror, whose appearance is followed by an ominous leitmotif. The protagonist is forced to jump through this mirror upon which his doppelganger emerges from the other side. This apparition later hinders the protagonist by stealing a potion and throwing him into a dungeon. The protagonist cannot kill this apparition as they share lives; any damage inflicted upon one also hurts the other.
- Developer: Broderbund, Domark, Arsys Software, Riverhillsoft, MotiveTime, Virgin Games
- Publisher: Broderbund, Riverhillsoft, Konami, Ubisoft
- Release Date: Tuesday, 03 October 1989
- Genre: Platform
- Platform: Famicom/NES/SNES, iOS, Amiga 500, Sega Genesis, Game Boy, Sega/Mega-CD, X68000, Sega Master System, TurboGrafx-16, Game Gear, Apple II, PC-9800
- Director: Jordan Mechner
- Mode: Single-player