One of the most popular video gaming franchises of all times, Prince of Persia series has seen no fewer than 8 main games, and countless ports to various computers, consoles and handheld systems. In this write-up I summarize what I learned about the different PC releases of the series, both from my personal collection as well as external sources.
The 2D Games
Originally developed by Jordan Mechner in 1989 for the Apple II, Prince of Persia was ported to PC MS-DOS in 1990 (and to many other platforms in the following years). The original DOS release was on floppy disks, as was the 1993 sequel – Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame. Both games were using manual-based copy protection, where a letter or a symbol from a specific page needs to be correctly selected to continue past the first level.
Later on, at least two collections of the first two games were released. The first one – in 1995, titled “Prince of Persia CD Collection“, included PoP v1.3 and PoP2 v1.01. It came on a DOS or a combined DOS+Macintosh CD.
The second collection was released in 1998, already by RedOrb Entertainment, as they were working on the third game in the series. It was known as “Prince of Persia Collection: Limited Edition“or simply “Prince of Persia Collector’s Edition” in some locales. Included were PoP v1.4, PoP2 v1.1, a video about the making of Prince of Persia 3D, and some playable demos of other games by RedOrb. A $5 rebate for PoP 3D was offered with some editions. A Windows-based installer front-end was added to access all content, but the PoP games themselves still ran under DOS and could be installed under DOS by manually navigating to the correct directory. Like with the original CD collection, at least some releases were on combined Windows+Mac CDs.
In both collections, the games still rely on the manual-based copy protection, but the original manuals were not included. Instead, the codes were printed on the CD inserts, except in certain versions, the publisher neglected to include them, leading to frustrated customers calling the tech-support lines.
Prince of Persia 3D
Released for Windows in 1999, Prince of Persia 3D is a good example of the problems of early 3D platformers. It is a game with a lot of potential, bogged down by clumsy controls and occasional game-breaking level bugs. Some would blame the deficiencies on the absense of the original developer, Jordan Mechner, from the creative team, others would point to the fact that it was rushed without proper playtesting and bug fixing. The result is a pretty, but lackluster game that is not very fun to play, and has little lasting appeal.
All Windows releases come on two disks (install CD + play CD). Early ones came in a big box with a manual (and sometimes a rebate for a 3dfx Voodoo2), later releases in a jewel case / DVD case with only a PDF manual. For what it’s worth – I could get the game to run on Windows 7 64-bit (haven’t tried newer versions), which is not bad considering it was released for Windows 98 originally.
Following its lukewarm reception, PoP3D has not seen any re-releases, and was only ported to one other system – the Sega Dreamcast in 2000 (as Prince of Persia: Arabian Nights). It is said that many of the bugs were fixed for that release, but I have never played it to know how much of a difference it makes.
Prince of Persia Unofficial Website – the best PoP, PoP2 and PoP3D online resource I know.
The Sands of Time Trilogy
Probably the most famous trilogy in the franchise gets its name from the magical “Sands of Time”, which play a key role both in the story and the gameplay mechanics of all three games. The games are Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time (2003), Prince of Persia: Warrior Within (2004), and Prince of Persia: The Two Thrones (2005), released for sixth-gen consoles (GameCube, Playstation 2, Xbox) and PC (Windows).
The main games have seen multiple re-releases, featured in various collections, and have subsequently been ported to some next-gen consoles, with the main benefit being higher resolutions (which the PC versions had from the get-go) and native widescreen support (available on PC via mods). Some of the games have seen ports and spin-offs for portable systems, which are generally completely different games, even if they share the same name. PoP:SoT for the Game Boy Advance is one good example – the game is completely reimagined as a 2D platformer, using the story and some of the assets of the original console versions, and is quite enjoyable.
Content-wise, the PC versions are pretty much identical to the console releases, except SoT is missing the classic unlockables for PoP and PoP2. Since you can just play the original games on your PC, it is not that big of a deal.
Original PC Releases
All three games were originally released in multiple-CD packages, with SoT having two CDs, and WW / TTT coming on three CDs each. The first North-American releases came out in nice medium-size boxes (SoT) or cardboard sleeves (WW/TTT), with flaps and detailed artwork. Inside you would find a jewel case with a manual booklet as an insert (SoT) or a thick DVD keep case with 3 CDs and a larger-format manual (WW/TTT). Most European versions, as well as later North-American releases, mostly used standard DVD keep cases. One exception is the exclusive European big-box release of SoT, which came bundled with a Thrustmaster USB gamepad.
At some point, the publishers had switched to single DVD for each game. I believe that the European release of TTT was using a single DVD from the beginning, and so the “uncensored” version remained exclusive to the original North-American 3xCD release. See here for additional details.
From what I’ve established, all the original CD-ROM releases featured some sort of DRM (SafeDisc / StarForce), whereas some later DVD-ROM may be DRM free. This is relevant for running the games on modern systems, since neither SafeDisc nor older versions of StarForce are compatible with Windows 10. Getting a no-CD/no-DVD crack will typically be a simple way out.
The official Ubisoft releases typically included English, French and Spanish, with European versions additionally featuring German and Italian, sometimes Dutch. Translation to some Eastern European languages (Czech, Polish, Russian) was done by local teams. Of these I am mostly familiar with the Russian translations by Akella (who was also a game distributor, and the official presenter of Ubisoft’s Prince of Persia series in Russia. Like in most countries – early releases on multiple CDs were later followed by single DVD releases. All of them used StarForce DRM, except some very late DRM-free re-releases of SoT and WW (by the time Akella became PlayHard).
Bundles and Collector’s Editions
Complete bundles of all 3 PC versions in the Sands of Time Trilogy were eventually released both in Europe and North America. The European version came first, in 2006, known as The Two Thrones Special Edition. A similar collection was released in North America as Prince of Persia: Sands of Time Trilogy. Both were basically slim DVD keep cases with just the 3 DVDs. The European Release also included a physical manual (but only for one of the games), whereas the North-American one went full digital with the documentation, but all 3 games were completely DRM-free.
Russian-localized bundles were also released. A “3-in-1” is mentioned, but it is very obscure, and I am not even sure it is official: the only references I can find to it nowadays are on torrent tracker sites. A “4-in-1” which included the 2008 “Prince of Persia” reboot came out in 2009, in a big box. It contained Akella’s original “Sands” trilogy releases (multi-CD) and the DVD of PoP(2008) – a total of 9 disks; however, all the extra “collectible” material was for PoP(2008).
Additional unique releases were made for the Chinese market, including a big box for the full trilogy, with a Prince action figure. They can be found from time to time on auction sites; pictures show fully translated packaging and manuals, but I do not know about the games themselves.
The Final Games
The last two games (so far) in the series were release for 7th gen consoles – Playstation 3, Xbox 360 – and PC (Windows).
Prince of Persia (2008)
In the tradition of reboots using the exact same name as the original classic, this game stands unique in the series – both in the character of the Prince (who is not a prince at all) as well as certain unique gameplay and combat mechanics. The game is also highly non-linear with a lot of freedom to choose the order of playing the levels, although in the end, they all have to be completed just the same.
The PC releases all featured a single DVD with the game, usually in a keep-case with a manual. No fancy big boxes or “Limited Editions” (like the console versions had) were made for the European / North American markets, as far as I know. The best part is that the official retail version by Ubisoft is completely DRM-free.
Some localizations came with their own DRM, such as the Russian release, which is once again done by Akella, and once again uses StarForce. Fortunately, it is a newer version of StarForce and will work on any Windows from XP all the way to 10, without requiring cracks. The Russian version could be bought either in a jewel case or in a fancy slip case (no printed manual). The slipcase version was also included in the aforementioned 4-in-1, complete with ‘The Art of Prince of Persia’ artbook (and a huge poster). As far as I know, it was the only PC release outside of pre-orders, where the artbook was included. Chinese big box releases also exist, including one sold under the name of Prince of Persia: Prodigy (this title was used during some phases of the development, but changed for the final release).
The downside of the PC version is that it never got the “Epilogue” DLC, which was released for the consoles in 2009, leaving you stuck with the extremely annoying cliffhanger ending, and without the few additional hours of gameplay. With that said, many console players were left disappointed with the quality of the DLC, considering that it was not free.
The Forgotten Sands
Following the mixed reception of the 2008 title, Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands was released in 2010, going back to the formula of the earlier trilogy (and apparently also to the same Prince character, story-wise). The sands once again play a key role, the time manipulation mechanics are back (with extra touches) and combat returns to the Prince against hordes of enemies, with occasional boss battles. A rudimentary RPG system was put in place, where gained experience points can be used to unlock / upgrade various abilities, giving you the choice on what skills to develop first.
With this installment, Ubisoft went to a full-online DRM, of the very annoying kind. Every copy, whether bought physically or digitally, has a unique, non-reusable and non-transferrable key that ties it to a Uplay account, and the Uplay client must be up and online during gameplay. For those used to physically buying their games, standard DVD keep-cases have been released. The North American one does not even include a physical manual (the European version does). Buying this gives you nothing that you cannot get from a digital copy purchased directly via Uplay.
A “Limited Collector’s Edition” exists in a nice “steelbook” case, although, unsurprisingly, the PC version is much less common than the console releases. It includes an extra multimedia DVD, three “lithographies” with the game’s art, bonus codes for in-game unlockables and a free download offer for PoP:SoT. Refer to the gallery page showcasing the content and comparing the European and Russian Collector’s Editions.
Once again, localized releases were made, at the very least for the Russian and Chinese markets. A separate write-up on the Russian editions of PoP:TFS, including Uplay DRM annoyance is available.
In September 2020, with no new Prince of Persia games for 10 years, Ubisoft announced a planned remake for The Sands of Time, to arrive in early 2021. Being a remake, and not a reboot/sequel, the expectation is that of a game upgraded to a modern graphics/physics engine, rather than a completely new experience. Will it be the first step of breathing new life into the series? (The Sands of) Time will tell.