I’m still a bit bereft. Some of the better releases are still a ways away. For lack of any better ideas, let’s do a retro review!
I bought the entire Sands trilogy – when else – during a Steam sale a while ago. I started playing Sands of Time on a Saturday afternoon. Next thing I knew, it was my bedtime on Sunday night. I wasn’t quite sure what had happened to me in the intervening hours, but I could tell you all about what happened in this pretty parkour game from 2003.
You play the unnamed Prince, who has retrieved a treasure during a raid on an enemy palace. Unbeknownst to him, the treasure is the legendary Sands of Time. A traitorous vizier tricks the brash Prince into unleashing the Sands in the middle of the Persian palace, causing a curse to sweep through the land and bringing forth sand demons. The Prince happens to have the Dagger of Time, the only thing than can control the Sands; and he teams up with Farah, a prisoner from the enemy palace who knows about the Sands, to right the curse for which he is partially responsible.
Having read the 1001 Nights, I can tell you that this story reads exactly like some of the better-known stories from that. It also bore some resemblance to hero stories from traditional Middle Eastern epics, but Campbellian heroics are not exactly new in video games or anywhere else. I liked the Prince and Farah because they sound real; they came across as relatable and flawed.
Also like the 1001 Nights, the story is being narrated. The Prince is telling his adventure, and whenever you die or make a misstep in the game, the Prince stops, comments that he made a mistake in his narration, and the Sands will rewind time to give you the chance to do it correctly. It’s a cool mechanic and it fits perfectly with the framing narrative.
The first thing I noticed when I played the game was the beautiful environments. Indeed, it’s difficult not to notice them, as the first thing that happens in any given room is a long, sweeping shot so that you can see what you’re going to be navigating. Every single room and cave and bit of terrain has been designed to evoke the idea of a semi-mythical Middle East. While it is all obviously stylized, I’d say the people who did the design work knew a fair bit about the actual art and architecture it parallels.
I enjoyed Sands of Time in part because it met me halfway. It’s relatively simple, but not easy. It’s obviously inspired by myth and classical literature. The characters are complex, but still likeable, and the combat and parkour are extremely fun to play. It’s also pretty, which is the cherry on top of the sundae.