Review by xenodolf
"An underappreciated Arabian-themed brawler that mixes elements from Golden Axe and The King of Dragons with much success."
Arabian Magic is another hack 'n slash I never got a chance to play in the arcades, but was inserted into a collection (Taito Legends II) for old fans and newcomers alike to enjoy. Since I play on reviewing that compilation and have no other means of playing this game (I avoid MAME) I figured I'd go ahead and add my opinion of Arabian Magic to the swelling ranks of my reviews.
Despite a bit of Engrish, Arabian Magic tells the tale of a Persia-like Arabian kingdom that sees its peaceful and prosperous reign come to a grinding halt when the king is transformed into a monkey by a devil-worshipping magician who attempts to take control of the army for his own corrupt vision of authority. To prevent the kingdom from plunging into full chaos, the king's son, daughter, and loyal guards come together to seize seven magical gems that kept the land in harmony from the evil wizard and his legion of enslaved men and beasts. Each level transitions smoothly from the first to the last with a bit of overhead narration and dialogue from defeated bosses piecing together the perils of the journey. While the story borrows heavily from tradition folklore of that region of the world (as evident by an almost identical plot in Aladdin) I applaud the effort that went into giving the characters and stages a bit of personality.
At face-value, you'd think that the visuals in this game - while by no means bland or substandard - are outclassed by beat 'em ups seen several years prior to the 1992 debut of Arabian Magic. There is some truth to that, as the sprites are slightly smaller than most of Capcom's brawlers from 89-92 and seem to have a bit of a grainy effect. However, you have to look at the big picture - there are quite a few different background set-pieces, most of which look pretty good for the time and are more varied and overall interesting than the typical brawler environments (especially the market level). There are a good number of enemy designs, ranging from typical turbaned brutes to shamans, dancers, skeleton warriors, living statues, and even cobras. I quite admire the small touches Taito invested into the game, like having pirates shimmy down flagpoles, the characters soaring off into a distant city in the background and being able to cut apart a giant boss in a proto-God of War fashion.
The din of battle seems a bit muted compared to what you'd expected in a brawler, with not a whole lot of clanging or crunching going on. Compared to games like Final Fight (which sounds like a riot going on in the arcades), the roar of combat in Arabian Magic is quite tranquil. There were some pretty good death rattles, though, and the genie character has an amusing laugh. The music fared better, with a couple of quality songs that wouldn't sound out of place in a game like Final Fantasy IV.
Just about everything that could go right with this area did, despite a couple of minor level sections with floor that could have been annoying (ie. Double Dragon) but turned out quite well. My only complaint is that there was no reserve system for power-ups, which fizzle out too soon and should have been kept in an inventory system to use whenever you'd like instead. Also, being able to choose between which summons you'd like to invoke would have been a good ideas, as they are selected randomly and two of them (the genie and Ashura) are not nearly as useful as the meditating magi and mystical clones of you and your crew.
Arabian Magic is a one or two player hack n' slash set in the small niche* of Arabian brawler environments (*honestly, a tiny portion of the brawling empire - I can think of less than a dozen such games even if you factor in The Prince of Persia series). You (and your partner if you manage to find another person) can select a character from four different choices of a semi-typical set of archetypes. There's the strong and powerful big guy who creeps along slowly, a very quick and enduring lad, the single female character who has great range at the expense of health and power, and the middle-of-the-road warrior who can charge up his attack for a more devastating blow. The game doesn't feature the usual desperate attack, which lets you use some sort of special move or magic to deal great damage in exchange for 20% of your life-bar. Instead, you come across magical lamps in a kind of Golden Axe fashion that unleash a supernatural force that knocks apart cannon fodder and deals significant pain to bosses. While there isn't a "level" of magic as featured in Sega's own hack 'n slash classic, you earn up to four different summoning allies - your initial helpful genie buddy, several former bosses who are now on good terms with you, and a room-wrecking set of doppelgangers that eat away at enemy life-force like an accelerated cancer. In addition to the usual scrolling battles, you can obtain health-bar upgrades, weapon enhancing items (that really should last longer), and hourglass pick-ups that paralyzes enemies for a few seconds. Each of these things reminds me of the good times I had in The King of Dragons, even if they don't have as much depth. The level design in Arabian Magic is quite nice - featuring an aerial battle on a flying carpet against a giant bird and getting shrunk and fighting your way out of ensnaring magical realm. Even some of the genre staples everyone gets kind of tired of (like fighting old bosses in the final level) is done with a bit of creativity, giving those aforementioned foes new attacks and partnering them up with other bosses. All of this is done in the refreshing setting of Arabia, a nice vacation from all those beat 'em ups set in the western cities, China, or Japan.
Replay value 5/10
Each of the four characters has their own set of stats and fighting styles, allowing you to mix and match partners throughout the campaign to suit your own strengths and weaknesses. There's also a bit of RPG aspect thrown in, although it is much more limited than the leveling system of The King of Dragons and Knights of the Round. No major dialogue changes and a single ending limit the alternating approach each character choice could mean, giving the game a decidedly average value in terms of re-play.
While Arabian Magic is clearly influenced by Golden Axe and The King of Dragons, it never felt merely derivative or leeching - but rather complimenting two legendary titles while going in its own direction with such a solid foundation. A lot of people probably never heard of this game prior to Taito packaging it into their second compilation volume, but that is no reflection upon the game's quality. Now that you have to chance to play it whenever you want, along with many other great game on Taito Legends II - don't hesitate!
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 02/22/10
Game Release: Arabian Magic (US, 12/31/92)
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