The Homebrew Review: Prince of Persia on the Commodore 64

Ah, Prince of Persia, a game that completely passed me by back in the late 80s/early 90s has now miraculously reared it’s ahead with a brand new port…to the Commodore 64.

It took the developer, ‘Mr Sid‘ two years of work on and off to painstakingly reverse engineer the original Apple II version over to the C64 and the result is quite spectacular.

"Marry me!" "No!" "Oh, please!" "No!" "I'll kill you!" "Oh, go on then."

This oversized egg timer shall portend your doom!

For those who have been commuting to work from under a rock for the last twenty years, Prince of Persia (PoP) is about a young man’s quest to escape the dungeon he has been imprisoned in and rescue the Princess from the evil Jaffar, who will kill her if she doesn’t marry him within the hour. The franchise was revived for a new generation with a series of games and even a Hollywood movie which were more in the mould of the Assassin’s Creed series that had begun a year earlier, but it’s the original that has retained the hearts and minds of a generation of gamers.

As I said, I’m not one of them for whatever reason (stuck with a Speccy until I got a Megadrive in the 1990s and pretty much passed it by I think) but you can’t help but admire the technical achievement in getting it to run perfectly on the bulky old breadbin that is the C64. It has retained the incredible fluidity of movement that is the hallmark of PoP and foreshadowed what was to come with games like Another World and Flashback.

Because the game successfully retains all the features of the original, there is little to say that someone who has experienced the game won’t know. You’ve got to run through a dozen or so levels avoiding traps, opening doors via pressure plates and avoiding or fighting guards until you reach the room where your Princess is being held captive after a showdown with Jaffar.

The 60 minute deadline creates a tension that runs throughout the game. I'm not sure modern games could use the same technique given the demands for lengthy campaigns.

The 60 minute deadline creates a tension that runs throughout the game. I'm not sure modern games could use the same technique given the demands for lengthy campaigns.

However, it should be noted that if you want to play this on an actual C64 you’ll need to get yourself some extra hardware, specifically an EasyFlash cartridge (not to mention all the usual accoutrements to get C64 games off your PC and onto your C64). This provides the extra necessary memory for the game to successfully play.

Think of it as turning a C64 into a C320 (256k bonus RAM + original 64k) or a C1MB (It’s got 1MB of flash memory). I’m not sure exactly how much extra RAM the EasyFlash cart provides and in what form, but it’s more than the original 64k on your basic bread(bin) and butter C64. Either way if you play the game on an emulator such as VICE it’ll have the EasyFlash option built in so it can easily be played that way.

The use of extra memory on top of the standard 64k of RAM shouldn’t detract from the phenomenal achievement in porting PoP over so perfectly. Nonetheless this isn’t something that would have been commercially viable for the C64 back in the day, as RAM expansions like the REU were pretty rare and not sold in enough numbers to justify producing much commercial software that needed them.

The animation is stunning but simply couldn't be squeezed into 64k of RAM. Thankfully the EasyFlash cartridge provides more than enough to cram it all in.

The animation is great but simply couldn't be squeezed into 64K of RAM. Thankfully the EasyFlash cartridge provides more than enough to cram it all in.

That’s not to say that PoP couldn’t have been done in one form or another for the C64 but I’d argue it’s a blessing in disguise that it didn’t happen. Corners would have been cut and the game would have suffered. There are more than enough terrible conversions of games on the old systems without PoP adding to it.

I’ve often wondered about the sort of games you could produce on dead systems, whether Speccy or C64, Mega Drive or Dreamcast, if money were no object and you could just pay someone to develop a game that really pushed the system to it’s very limits either within existing memory constraints or if memory were no object.

Thanks to Mr. Sid we can see that on the C64 the results are pretty spectacular. Of course by the time such memory expansions existed on the C64 in the 1980s alternative systems such as the Amiga and Atari ST could provide that memory and a whole lot more as standard and often at not much more cost. But it’s nice to see the C64 pushed to it’s limits so long after it stopped being commercially viable.

As it is PoP shows the sort of game the C64 could produce if RAM were not an issue. The system is still restrained by the graphics but the extra memory allows for a much greater scope in how the game plays and feels.

It took over 20 years but when Prince of Persia finally did make it to the C64, it did so without compromise and stands as one of the greatest games released on the system, even if it did come long after the system has officially been declared ‘dead’.

You can download the C64 version of Prince of Persia from Mr Sid’s development blog here.

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