Thursday, 23 July 2015

Arabian Nights (Amiga)

Arabian Nights title screen amiga
Developer:Krisalis|Release Date:1993|Systems:Amiga, CD32

It's been exactly 30 years since the first Amigas hit stores, so today on Super Adventures I'll be celebrating by taking a look a classic Amiga exclusive! To be honest I only just learned about the Amiga's birthday from Twitter, so it's pure coincidence I'm playing this now (the game probably won't even run on an original A1000), but the timing worked out eerily well.

You can probably already tell from the title screen that Arabian Nights is all about managing your own 'One Thousand and One Nights' themed theme park! Actually no it's just another platformer from the golden age of running and jumping. That roller coaster is really a mine cart, the pirate ship ride is probably an actual pirate ship, and the guy floating around on a balloon likely didn't win it with his archery skill in a carnival game.

Despite the title, it's not an adaptation of any 'Arabian Nights' story in particular either, though if Scheherazade had gone on for a 1002nd night she might have gotten around to it. It's got that same kind of 'swords and flying carpet sorcery' fantasy setting. I know all this because I dug the game up from my hazy childhood memories, and I'm very familiar with it. Well, the first 20 minutes anyway (I didn't have much patience back then)... but I promise you I'll show you least three proper levels before I turn it off this time. Maybe more if it has continues!



The game begins with an animated intro sequence to set up the story. Unless you choose not to show it. Then it doesn't.

Not very stylish, but hey it's better than having to wait a minute for the thing to load before being able to get rid of it.

While Sinbad Snr was a wealthy shipwreck-prone sailor in the original 'One Thousand and One Nights' story, we find our hero Sinbad Jnr spending his time cutting the Caliph's bushes into interesting shapes while gazing at the beautiful princess Leila out on her balcony. "If only you could get her to notice you!" the next message box says, establishing the player as a rival for her affections!

Oh wait, it means that I'M Sinbad Jnr now? A second ago 'we' found him in a garden and now we suddenly are him. Okay then.

Anyway, the princess gets snatched by a Demon who then kind of floats off with her. Not that I'm complaining about the animation; you're lucky to get a cutscene at all from an Amiga game coming on just two tiny 880k floppy disks.

I might complain about how they've capitalised 'Demon' though, that seems a bit weird.

Sinbad Jnr... uh, I mean you run off to save the princess, but in entirely the wrong direction. The palace is her home Sinbad, that's where she was taken from. Nice bear though.

To be honest I stitched this GIF together from two separate clips, as the bush sculpting bit happens before the kidnapping. I'm trying to be efficient with my images!

Unfortunately you are caught by the palace guards and blamed for the princess' disappearance. Minutes later you are chucked into the deepest, darkest palace dungeons!!

I'm not sure it ever occurred to the guards that if Sinbad really was carrying out a kidnapping they'd have found the princess along with him. Anyway, enough with Sinbad Jnr's tragic backstory, I want to set some options.

This isn't going to have continues is it? No passwords or saves either by the look of it, though I can at least raise a couple of those numbers to improve my odds. As a rule when I'm playing games for Super Adventures I choose the default or normal difficulty level to make it easier to judge and compare them... but that lives counter is fair game.

Huh, there's a detail setting here too. What can that possibly do in an Amiga platformer? I'm going to have to look this up because there's no way I'll be able to figure that out myself.

Okay, the game requires a typical 1MB expanded Amiga 500 machine at minimum to run at all, but stick more even more RAM in there and it'll load itself into memory entirely, and if you have a higher spec system with a better CPU like the Amiga 1200 you get to enjoy more action and detail on screen (apparently). Still the same amount of colours though.

So here I am then, an innocent man trapped in the dungeon catacombs beneath a Middle Eastern palace, with a princess to rescue, spikes to jump over, and... oh sorry, this is the wrong screenshot.

Well here I am then, hopelessly trapped in the palace dungeon inside a locked cell, with only a chest, a broken lightbulb and the world's largest door knocker to keep me company.

I suppose the dungeon music's pretty catchy at least (YouTube Link). It's by Matt Furniss, the composer for Soccer Kid and the man responsible for The Spy Who Loved Me Amiga port's distinctive James Bond theme remix, so I'm pretty sure it'll be stuck in my head for days after this.

Oh I see, when the lightbulb appears above his head, that means I can bring up some info about my situation. I'm using a second joystick button to access things like this, but most Amiga joysticks were single button so a typical player would have to lean over and hit the space bar instead.

Well the good news is that the chest was unlocked and had the cell door key in it. The bad news is that I don't know why and it's making me paranoid. Are the guards trying to lure Sinbad Jnr into a suicidal escape attempt or something?

I'm starting to think... yes. This is the first jump of the game? Seriously?

A few seconds later I discovered that it's worse than this, as I have to jump across three of these rotating skull platforms in a row, with barely enough time to cross between them before I get an acid bath. To be fair the acid isn't an instant kill and you can bounce along to the end before the invincibility flickering wears off.

Though I wonder how many guards die every week while escorting prisoners to their cells. Actually, I bet they just give prisoners a key and send them over alone, telling them to put it in the chest when they're done locking themselves in.

The plot might be a little bit Prince of Persia, but the gameplay's nothing like it. There's no time limit for one thing, and Sinbad Jr. moves around just like any typical non-rotoscoped console platformer hero. Well maybe 'typical' is unfair, as he moves like a hero from a good platformer... except with the run button jammed in.

Wow, I suddenly remember why I've never liked the combat in this. To hit a guard I have to run up to them and swing my shiv when I'm as close as I can get without touching them. If I collide with them I'll lose health. If I'm too far away or I hesitate they'll hit me instead and I'll lose health.

I could really do with a weapon with a bit more range to it, like... the sword that guard just dragged down to hell with him. Or a football I can kick at people! Wait, why did that jump into my head? Oh damn, I've just realised where I've seen Sinbad Jnr before: he's the guy from football-themed platformer Soccer Kid cosplaying as Aladdin! I bet if you put the sprites side by side they'd be near identical.

Well I was wrong, beyond the hair he isn't even slightly Soccer Kid.

But Arabian Nights itself really reminds me of the game Soccer Kid so far in how it looks, moves and sounds. They're both ridiculously slick for an Amiga platformer, they share the same composer, and I'm sure they even use some of the same sound effects. You can tell that they came from the same developer (Krisalis) during the same year (1993).

The guard was standing in front of a ladder, but I investigated the room to his right first and found this Prisoner chained up. There's no winding handle to let him down, but I'm thinking that's probably for the best. I mean if Sinbad got a cushy cell and a complimentary key for the crime of kidnapping the Caliph's daughter, this guy must be Hannibal Ultra-Lector to get this kind of treatment.

I decided to walk past him and smash open an obviously smashable wall instead, and found a secret room full of gems! The secret room was a dead end though, so I'll be heading back to climb the ladder.

Damn, I don't even want to know how he smuggled that snake in here. There's another lightbulb message here, but it obscures the screen a little so I've cut it out and put it below for you.

Hmm, 65 jewels for a snake... do I really want a snake that badly? Man I don't even want a snake at all! Plus I've only found 48 gems so far anyway. Alright, let's see what else is on this floor.

I found another hallway, another guard and then another cruel jump.

Sorry that the GIF doesn't loop, I screwed up there. Thankfully I didn't screw up my jump though, and I was able to grab another stash of gems floating above one of the platforms before running into a locked door my key doesn't work on. Hey, this means I've got just enough jewels to head back and buy the snake! Good thing I found that secret room earlier or else I'd be screwed.

You have got to be shitting me. That's how I lose my first life?

I wasn't even aiming for the lift! I wanted to slip under it so I could drop down and head back to the snake charmer. Well at least now I've learned that Sinbad respawns a safe place near where he died.

Also check out that Mario-style scrolling, which only moves the camera up to follow me after I've landed. Shame I can't then scroll the screen back down again by crouching and pulling down to see where I'm landing.


SOON, AFTER A VISIT TO THE SNAKE CHARMER.


Arabian Nights inventory Amiga
Whoa, I've stumbled across Solid Snake's yet unrevealed third brother.

Actually I handed over a ridiculous 65 jewels for this thing, and for that price the snake charmer threw in a couple of magic ancient words that hypnotised the thing into paralysis. So now instead of a useless snake I have a useless frozen snake that looks like a crank handle. Hey... you think this handle-shaped snake might work on that handleless crank down the ladder?

Nice Link to the Past looking inventory screen by the way, I'd forgotten that this game had one. It looks like I've got plenty of room in here for gameplay altering equipment and new weapons to replace the world's tiniest scimiter. I don't remember ever finding any in all the times I've played it before, but then you might have noticed that remembering things isn't my strong suit.

Releasing the prisoner with the snake got me some lockpicks! I guess Sinbad just leaves poor Rigid Snake shoved into the mechanism. He's not the only one I've left bent out of shape though.

I'm no doctor, but I don't think arm bones are supposed to curve like that.

Right now, I've got the lockpicks I'm heading back to the room with the firepit floor and the skull platform of death to get the exit open. Assuming that the Chief Gardener's Assistant Helper 2nd Class knows how to pick locks.


MORE DEATH-DEFYING PLATFORMER ACROBATICS AND A FIGHT LATER.


I've picked up a Maze Djin? What's a Maze Djin?

The dungeon's been pretty linear after the lockpick door, but I decided to drop down and head back a screen to investigate this chest under the floor. It was guarded by a guy with 5 health points so I knew what was inside had to be important. And maybe it is.


SOON.


The sign on the entrance said this the "Magic Pot Maze", but it looks more like a dead end to me. A dead end without a ladder to get back out.

Fortunately the Magic Pots are actually portals, and the Maze Djin tells me which pot to jump into next. So that worked out.


THREE KILLS AND A LOT OF POT LATER.


He's coming! Smash faster, drop those blocks, open a gap!

This situation is my own dumb fault for thinking I could evade one of these guards instead of killing him. In my defence I am very bored of fighting these guys now.

Wow, it turns out I only completed 64% of that level. I guess it wasn't as straight forward as it seemed. But I did it, I made it out of the dungeon! And I even have a few of my lives left. Before I can continue though, I need to go through customs and hand in all my accumulated swag for extra points.

I remember back when I was a baby gamer I thought that sign in the back said 'Arabies". I was so disappointed when I learned it wasn't actually an ingenious and witty pun, I was just reading it wrong. Nice art though.


LEVEL 2: THE FOREST.


Whoa, I just took that bird's head clean off with a single slash!

Actually looking at it frame by frame it seems that I actually just flicked off his glasses. Well that's disappointing. Everything in this game's a disappointment to me lately!

These birds are annoying little bastards and they're the only thing I fight on this level. They don't respawn, but every few seconds as I'm walking around I hear one coming and then I have to hope I can get a lucky hit in like this before he humiliates Sinbad to death. Still it could be worse, at least none of them pick him up and carry him back to the start of the level.


Wow, I've finally found a guard who doesn't want to kill me on sight... and he's a bear. A bear in a tree in fact, which couldn't have been easy for him to pull off. You'd think he'd jump at the chance to team up and help me rescue the princess, but all I can get out of him is tears so I guess I'll leave him to his self-pity.

Speaking of trees, you can tell this is an Amiga game just by glancing at that low colour background and gradient sky. The background and sky scroll on their own layers so it's not as flat as it could be, but you wouldn't mistake it for a SNES game when it's in motion.

Sinbad Jnr's a fugitive from the law, fighting his way through a creepy forest on mission to rescue the woman he loves and prove his innocence... and he wants to stop to help a plant along the way?

Well I suppose he is a gardener.


This is the end of the road, but I've ran into a talking turtle called Bruce who's offering to drill a tunnel through the hill with his three automated excavation drones for 50 coins. Seems like an exit could be useful, but I could nearly buy a whole snake for that much!

I see how it's going to be though: each level I run into a problem that needs solving, then come across a guy who wants money/jewels/whatever to help me get the item I need to solve it. But the level doesn't actually have that many collectables on it, not in the open anyway, so I have to go hunt down some secret areas.


EVENTUALLY.


I went back to the start of the level and found a way I can leap into the trees. So now I get to solve my financial problems and get harassed by birds at the same time!


SOON, AFTER PAYING THE TURTLE.


The turtle's tunnel led to to a row of wells, each presumably a teleporter like the pots on level 1. There's no Maze Djin telling me what to go into this time though so I'll just have to try all of them.


I chose wisely! This well is full of health potions. Trouble is that I can't see what an item is until I collect it, and when I collect a potion it's used automatically. So I just wasted three decent health potions on a full health bar.

The next well led to a granny's cottage, who's offering Sinbad a knitted vest in exchange for a spool of thread. The only reason Sinbad came to this particular forest in the first place was to look for an old woman who makes magic carpets, so I think I'm where I need to be.

Now I need to go back and open up a new area which has the thread inside... using the thimble she gave me. Fortunately I remember what to do here. 

I have to go back to the bear and catch his tears in the thimble. One teardrop isn't enough, so I need to run back and forth grabbing several of them as they fall (he's deliberately aiming them away from me).

Then when I have the thimble filled with salty bear tears, I have to pour it on the dry looking plant I passed earlier. This makes it grow into a lift to take me into the trees, where the spool of thread is found! Plus more of those bloody birds.

The game's not that bothered about explaining why you need to buy a snake, water a plant, or get a vest knitted, because you're supposed to be surprised by what happens when you do. It's not a great way to design a puzzle in my opinion, but when there's just a thimble, a crying bear, a dry plant, and all the wells are teleporters, a patient (or stubborn) player is going to stumble across the solution eventually.


SOON, BACK AT GRANNY'S HOUSE.


Granny knitted too fast and blew up!

Seriously, she exploded with enough force to blow her whole house apart! Everything she owned is now scattered through the forest as rubble. Well except for this magic flying carpet that is. SWIPED!

I figured that'd be the end of the level right there, but nope it keeps going! I rode a flower into the treetops, took a teleporter into a cave, travelled underneath a pit of fire, and then found myself locked in a room with this guy:

It's the half-naked first boss of Arabian Nights, and he's utterly immune to my pathetic sword attacks. I tried to jump onto the boulders to get some extra height and attack him in his weak point, but that hurt me a lot more than it did him.

Don't worry, I'll figure this out eventually. It's just going to cost me all my lives to do it because it's well established than I'm an impatient dumbass when it comes to boss fights. I don't know why but I always jump straight to the 'getting frustrated and making dumb mistakes' phase before I've methodically run through all my options.


EVENTUALLY.


Well he at least he died as he lived... naked and leaning out of a dirty hole in the ground.

Turns out my prophecy wasn't entirely accurate, as I only lost half my lives killing him. I realised that I had to hit the boulders back his way almost immediately, but man I suck at it. It was just like fighting those birds in the forest: you have get Sinbad in the exact right place at the right time to hit them, because his sword attack is so feeble. 3 and a half minutes I spent hacking away at bouncing boulders in the end and it cost me 14 of my precious hit points. I really wish I'd been able to stock up on some of those health potions right about now.

But whatever, I've beaten the bad guy and I've gotten myself trapped in an underground cavern, which means this is the perfect time to get out the magic carpet and take to the sky!


LEVEL 3: FLYING LEVEL.


The sky sucks.

Not only have the palace guards sent their entire air force after me, but they're also catapulting sheep! We're above the clouds here right now; they're going to be raining mutton all over the bloody countryside. Dozens of people are going to be killed in their sleep as bullet-proof farm animals crash through their roofs.

I'm not actually sure what Sinbad's firing here seeing as he doesn't carry a gun, but by the colour and the effect it's having I'm going to assume he's just spitting all over everything. It is actually possible to kill these enemies, it just takes a bit of patience and it's not really worth the effort when it's so much quicker and easier to dodge them. The ones you can see coming at least. Another thing that takes patience is sitting through this level. It's so damn long that I actually thought it had looped at one point, and to be honest his death was a bit of a relief.

Well that's it I'm afraid, as there's no continues, passwords or saves to get me back in the game. I'm back to staring at the title screen again, listening to the music and contemplating my failure. It does have a nice theme though (YouTube link).


LEVEL 4: THE GALLEON.


Amiga CD32
But I couldn't just quit without taking a look at the CD32 version! So I've been playing the game again from the start just for you folks, and this time through I've learned something. Two things actually:
  • The CD32 version looks and sounds exactly the same as the original Amiga release, with no 256 colour AGA visuals and no CD soundtrack. The system has a proper controller though so there's no reaching over to hit the space bar.
  • I can store health potions in my inventory by pressing the second button instead of fire when the message comes up. That's why I have 4 lives this time instead of none. This isn't a new feature for the CD32 version though, I could've collected potions in the floppy disk game too instead of wasting them all when I didn't need them.
I've also learned that these bomb enemies on the fourth level keep respawning and they're a pain in the ass. They don't just reappear like he's doing in the looped GIF, I have to scroll the camera away from them first, but they're always waiting for me when I come back.

Amiga CD32
After a forest level with next to no platforming challenges, things have gotten a lot more serious, with spiky blocks, bombs, cannons and evil octopuses all over this galleon. It must be at least a dozen decks thick as well, the boat is endless. Don't ask why Sinbad's come to a ship instead of going straight after the Demon on his magic carpet, because the game doesn't say. He wants to see the cook, that's all I know.

Well that's not entirely true, because I also know that these ropes are a pain in the ass as well. After a wasting a few hit points sliding off onto spiky bad things, I've learned that if I want him to leap to another chain I need to press jump and THEN a direction, instead of the other way around. Though I suppose that might make more sense if you're playing using a joystick with 'up' as jump.


SOME SHAMEFUL PLATFORMING LATER.


Amiga CD32
Well I've found the chef, but of course he wants me to get him X amount of collectables before he'll give me ITEM. He also wants to stare at me with his cold, blank, crustacean eyes. It's like when you see the front of a car and the headlights make it look like a face, except here it really is his face.

It was a real pain to get here by the way, travelling through a twisty maze of stairs, secret passages, switches and one of those sliding segmented platforms that you have to stay on as it snakes around spikes. I did all that and found that it had actually taken me right back to that screenshot with the bomb on it! I lost all my lives going around in circles.

But I'm on the right track now at last.

Amiga CD32
And then I got Sinbad killed by charging into an octopus and screwing up the timing. The end.


CONCLUSION

Arabian Nights is one of those games that I really want to like, and I actually kind of do. I just don't like playing it all that much.

On a technical level it feels great. It's slick, Sinbad Jnr moves well, the visuals are endearing and it's got a fine soundtrack. I've played some badly made piece of crap platformers before, and this isn't one of them. But I haven't found a single enemy I've enjoyed fighting, or a platforming challenge I've enjoyed beating. Sinbad's weapon is pretty pathetic and the enemies all require a precise strike or several charging attacks to wear away their hit points, and they get in the way so you're stuck dealing with them. It just got tedious for me after a while, and I was losing health all the time through boredom and carelessness. Not ideal in a game with no continues, passwords, saves etc.

It makes sense that the developers didn't want to make it easy for you though, considering it only has 9 levels (including 2 flying ones). I've actually shown off half the game here, and a skilled player could finish it off in under an hour. I do tend to prefer short games with a lot of replay value, but only when there's something different to do and it's my choice to do the replaying, not the game being stingy with the continues.

The game got a lot of acclaim at the time so if you're into 2D platformers or catching a bear's tears in an 8th Century Middle Eastern forest I'd recommend ignoring my whining and checking it out for yourself, but I can't look you in the eye and tell you that it's a fun game because that's not the experience I got out of it.


You're not going to guess the next game this time around so don't even think about trying it. But you can leave a comment about Arabian Nights, Amiga computers, all the ways I should've written my article differently, my website in general, or some other topic I haven't thought of that's totally relevant. Share your thoughts.

7 comments:

  1. Salt, you need to talk about salt. That's relevant.

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  2. Though I suppose that might make more sense if you're playing using a joystick with 'up' as jump.

    It's quite funny reading reviews of British computer games on a certain other "hardcore" gaming site; they go into a furious rage whenever they run into a game that uses up/jump and they seem to consider it a central conceptual flaw.

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  3. I know what that is, i've seen it before!... I just cant remember!!!

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  4. I thought I had seen that logo before, but I hadn't. Mobile games aren't my forte.

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  5. "Whoa, I've stumbled across Solid Snake's yet unrevealed third brother."

    *nerd mode engage* Wasn't Snake's third brother Solidus Snake from MGS2? *end nerd mode*

    Note: I've never gotten around to playing anything after MGS3.

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    Replies
    1. I suppose that depends on whether you consider Naked Snake to be his brother or his dad. Otherwise the only two brothers I know about are Liquid and Solidus.

      Delete
  6. Nice game, what makes it different from other amiga platform games is plot. It's not just an intro that say You why You are doing this, but it's also game that communicate it with those light bubs. Also just like other old games this one is hard :) and later levels I find hard to complete without practice.

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