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Super Arabian (NES) artwork

Super Arabian (NES) review


"There's nothing Super about this Arabian."



Super Arabian is a port of the 1983 Sunsoft arcade platformer Arabian. The game is all about collecting jars. Each small, one-screen stage (or “page,” as the game likes to call them) contains a handful of lettered jars. Collecting all of them will end the level, and collecting them in a specific order to spell the word displayed on the top of the screen will earn you some bonus points.

Like so many other arcade games of the era, Super Arabian is four stages long, and those stages repeat once you clear them, growing more difficult with each lap. In this game's case, you'll play through them eight times before the difficulty level resets. After each loop through those four stages, you're awarded with a “secret letter.” The reason these letters exist appears to be the real secret. If you put them together, they spell “KANHAROO,” which is meaningless. Yes, your reward for completing the game is a gibberish word.

Instead of simply adding more enemies or increasing the speed as a means of upping the challenge, Super Arabian accomplishes that goal by messing with the jars. They will be rearranged (and marked with the letters in a different word) every time you go through a given stage. Eventually, the letters will even be hidden, and can only be revealed by picking up a specific item found somewhere in the stage. Later still, the letters will only remain revealed for a few seconds (while you try to commit them to memory), or they will only show themselves when you're standing directly next to them. This doesn't really add to the difficulty of simply getting through the stages without dying, but it does make the bonus points trickier to earn.

Having to collect the jars in different orders means exploring the same stages in different ways. You may have to climb halfway to the top of the stage to collect the first letter, then drop back down to the bottom to collect the second one, for example. Unfortunately, the platforming in Super Arabian is more awkward than it has any right to be, even before you consider the fact that jumping is mapped to the B button instead of the A button. Half of the levels prominently feature flying carpets, which move at different speeds from one side of the stage to the other. Your character's jump barely affords him enough height to reach those carpets and, in fact, there are several spots where levels look like they're designed to be traversed by boarding a carpet at a specific spot ad riding it to the opposite side of the stage… but you simply can't jump high enough. Even if you do manage to reach a troublesome carpet, there's no guarantee you won't simply fall through it, anyway. If a flying carpet brings you to the edge of the screen, there seems also to be a random chance that you'll die. It's not clear why this happens, and it doesn't happen every time, but Super Arabian is just generally inconsistent and that sucks all of the fun out of the game.

Naturally, enemies will also get in your way. Your character's only attack is a deadly kick (despite carrying a sword). It will send enemies flying across the screen, taking out any other enemies they happen to hit along the way. Enemies seem to spawn in completely random places, which adds even more to the general feeling of inconsistency in Super Arabian. Foes include flying black things that may or may not be crows, and little pink blobs that might be scorpions but probably aren't. Sprites in Super Arabian are small and muddled. The backgrounds aren't much better, either. They lack most of the detail of the arcade original, which didn't look very good in the first place. It can also be difficult to tell what's supposed to be part of the background and what's actually solid ground upon which you can safely stand. Stage 3 in particular has a long solid platform running along the top of the area, but it looks no different from several other spots in the stage that aren't solid ground. Combine this uncertainty with the already wonky platforming elements, and Super Arabian becomes even more of a mess.

Super Arabian is also one of the many early Famicom games with only one song in its soundtrack. The predictably Arabian-themed beeps and boops are about the only thing in the game that don't feel like they were just randomly thrown into the mix with the hope of a coherent result. While the tune is nothing special, you'll probably make it at least halfway through the game before it starts getting on your nerves, which is honestly more than I was expecting. It's worth noting that the arcade original Arabian had a much more bizarrely diverse soundtrack, consisting of public domain songs that didn't fit the theme of the game at all (such as the William Tell Overture and Jacques Offenbach's Infernal Galop). Composing one original song to replace the whole soundtrack for the Famicom version does make a bit more sense when you take that into account.

All in all, Super Arabian is a mess of a game. It lacks polish and, more importantly, it lacks that crucial sense of consistency upon which the good platformers rely. It looks bad, it sounds bad, and playing it feels bad. There's really no reason to even consider spending time with Super Arabian. Just do the same thing everyone else has done since the 80s and ignore it…

Rating: 2/10

Roto13's avatar
Staff review by Rhody Tobin (May 26, 2013)

Rhody likes to press the keys on his keyboard. Sometimes the resulting letters form strings of words that kind of make sense when you think about them for a moment. Most times they're just random gibberish that should be ignored. Ball-peen wobble glurk.

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