A couple of years before Disneys Aladdin imposed that corporations universal vision of Arabian mythology onto the worlds youth, Krysalis Software attempted something similar, only infinitely less successful and targeting only young Amiga users. Arabian Nights is yet another one-player platform game, which was easily among the most popular and over-used formats for early 90s computer games, but succeeds in distinguishing itself as a worthwhile and entertaining use of the players time through friendly graphics, nice handling and dabbles in mixing game genres.
An animated opening sequence (easily skipped by pressing the joysticks fire button) lays down the plot: the player controls Sinbad Jnr., a lowly but skilled gardener who is secretly in love with a Princess. While finishing off an impressive bear-shaped bush, he witnesses the Princess being grabbed and whisked away by an ugly, red flying demon thing, and immediately runs to her rescue. Unfortunately, the palace guards are stupid, and mistakenly believe that Sinbad Jnr. was responsible for their Princess disappearance. He is imprisoned in a dungeon, and you must help him escape.
Animated intros were always great features of early video games, and like most from this period, the dialogue is all typed rather than spoken, appearing on title cards between animations in a process reminiscent of silent films. Theres a damsel in distress, and her plucky, young would-be rescuer is out on his own. Theres no point dwelling on some of the stupider points of the plot as this is all just the necessary scene-setting for some simplistic platform fun. Needless to say, Sinbads gardening technique never comes in useful in the game, understandable as you are too busy tracking down the Princess to mess around trimming bushes into bear shapes, though Sinbad is quick off the draw with his little cutlass.
The general look of Arabian Nights is instantly reminiscent of the more popular Soccer Kid, also released by Krysalis. Its clear that the same art team was involved, as both Sinbad Jnr. and Soccer Kid have the self-same oversized head, but the backgrounds, setting and enemy / obstacle design are completely different, owing to the differing time periods of both games. Arabian Nights also tends to be a little more claustrophobic in terms of level design, with most areas involving vertical movement as much as sideways, whereas Soccer Kid follows a more standard left-to-right scrolling style. The graphics are colourful but measured, and theres plenty of variety due to the multiple locations of the game, from the pastel-pink dungeon to a lush forest, sunken galleon and ice palace. The enemies are all nicely detailed with easily discernible facial features, and its always obvious as to which objects are background details and which are props or collectables. The games sound effects are fairly good, but nothing too impressive, and the music is quite energetic and fast-paced with something of a Middle Eastern flavour.
Primarily a platform game, Arabian Nights is marketed as something of a puzzle game, although the puzzles themselves are nothing too complex, perhaps targeting children of around seven to ten years. Levels commonly feature keys that are needed to progress through locked doors, and some of these are stealthily hidden, necessitating some backwards movement through the stages. A couple of one-off puzzles are perhaps a little intimidating for younger players, but many can be discovered by accident, and these are often repeated throughout levels to allow the player a smug sense of satisfaction at having solved the riddles so early. The prime example is the large pots in the dungeon level that can be entered by pulling the joystick down. The other heavily marketed aspect of the game is actually fairly disappointing, and sees a shift from platform game format to flying carpet frolics between select stages, reminiscent of poorly thought-out racing simulators. These sections are essentially mini-games, but progress through them is essential and the players lives can be lost to the numerous obstacles such as flying galleons and parachuting sheep.
The main appeal of Arabian Nights lies in the ease of its controls, a feat that many games of the time sadly failed to achieve. As expected, two-dimensional movement of Sinbad Jnr. is controlled by the joysticks left and right clicks, with up for jump and down for duck. The fire button swings the players sword, which only has a very limited range but can at least be held down to slice the air indefinitely. The keyboard also comes into play, with the space bar activating the glowing light bulbs that appear above the characters head when puzzle events occur. This is a fairly small feature of the game, hardly ever coming into play, unlike genuine platform-puzzle games like the excellent Dizzy series. Other customary keyboard commands include P to pause the game, and Esc to exit to the title screen. The game manual comes as standard and may be needed by players who are unsure how to use the inventory, as well as providing copy protection at the start of level two. Software pirates and thieves can play level one though; thats fine.
Arabian Nights is a nice game to pick up and play, without the burden that comes with many modern video games. Sinbad Jnrs fez-and-waistcoat appearance and stupid name dont serve to eradicate Western stereotypes of mythical Arabia, and the damsel-in-distress plot is equally subject to scrutiny, but in terms of gameplay and pleasing graphics this is an above average Amiga game. The afore-mentioned Soccer Kid is better in both of these areas, but Arabian Nights has a nice, naïve charm in its attempt to rise above being a mere platform game by introducing an inventory. Thankfully, it works, and the sunken galleon level remains one of my favourite stages from the hundreds of platform games I have on this dumb old computer.
This 16-bit game comes on a single floppy disc, and is playable on Amiga 500, 500+, 600, 1200 and 4000 machines. Alternatively, get an emulator.