Sega’s slogan in the early 80s was as “The Arcade Experts”, a reputation that thrilled audiences with a vast collection of adrenaline filled titles from Hang-On and Space Harrier to After Burner and Star Wars Arcade. Despite that, they didn’t dabble much in the beat ’em up genre aside from a few titles such as Golden Axe in ’89 and WestOne’s Riot City (which Sega published) in ’91 along with the excellent Spider-Man (which was done by Sega) in the same year. On consoles, however, the story was a lot different, with hits like the Streets of Rage series that started on the Mega Drive in ’91 and a sequel to Golden Axe in the same year.
In 1992, Sega reached into their hardware bag of tricks to surprise crowds again. This time, the beat ’em up genre was back in their sights and the heavily anime-esque Arabian Fight was the result. Crowds got a taste of what Sega could do with a comic icon like Spidey. Now they were going to see something bigger and meaner, anime style.
In this game, and shown off by a great attract mode teaser that’s voiced, a princess is kidnapped by an evil baddie named Sazabiss. Four heroes answer the call to rescue her. There’s Sinbat (that’s how it’s really spelled) who is a young tough with decent speed and balanced damage. Ramaya is something like a belly-dancer-turned-fighter. Goldor’s a big muscle guy with a beard, and Datta’s a monk who has somehow found his way into Sheherazade’s imagination.
Arabian Fight looked to outdo its beat ’em up peers, such as those from Capcom, in every way. It had huge, detailed sprites of its four protagonists and bad guys all done up as if they were digitally painted anime cels, boasted incredible scaling effects, featured four-way co-op, and a ton of visual and audio effects that attempted to turn the game into an interactive, fan-imported adventure episode from Japan’s animation studios.
Powering Arabian Fight was Sega’s System 32 board introduced in 1991 and so named because it was a 32-bit system using NEC’s V60 as the brains breaking from rivals’ prolific adoption of Motorola’s 68000 processor family. It did share two other things in common, however: Zilog’s very popular Z80 which was used with the sound system and two Yamaha-brand YM3438 sound synthesis chips. The hardware had a colorful history powering games like a “hologram” game in ’92 called Holosseum, the sit-down cabinet for Jurassic Park in ’94, and a prototype of the R360 arcade pod (the finalized version released to arcades was really fun).
This 2D monster boasted extensive sprite scaling, something that Sega already had a lot of experience with thanks to titles like ’85’s Space Harrier, Hang-On, and Out Run in ’86. Taking the same concept, Sega used the power afforded by their new hardware employing the effect with player and enemy sprites. Both scaled smaller as they moved into the background and got larger as they came closer to the screen, something of an incredibly novel effect to see in a beat ’em up and creating a “3D” effect with the floor and backdrop. Certain attackseven threw enemies right at the screen. Most of its peers had a faked 3D effect in allowing players to move back and forth in eight ways through an area giving it a sense of depth, though no one scaled in addition to that movement to further enhance the effect the way Arabian Fight did.
Some enemies would appear in the foreground, as if their backs were to the screen as if in a cartoon, and then leap into the playing field. Players would also enter the action in the same way. Magic attacks sometimes resulted in a short animation in-game as the casting character spun, leapt, or jumped up to the screen while everything behind them was wrecked. It was like watching a Saturday Morning cartoon from the 90s, only with a lot more action.
The game spanned seven stages taking players to places like an Egyptian ruin where the paintings attacked them to Sazabiss’ wicked castle, and it’s here where the flashy graphics start to give way to what unfortunately is pretty boring gameplay. The stages, with the exception of the cool looking Egyptian one, were kind of tiny compared to the competition despite all of the cool effects bouncing around.
Worse yet, the game recycled the bosses (along with one of the stages) much like what SNK’s Burning Fight ground players down with in 1991. That annoying boss with the hook arm? You get to fight him not once, but two more times. His buddies? Bet on seeing them again later. Gold Skeleton boss? How about two of those guys in the final battle against Sazabiss? It’s as if the game had to find an excuse to load up on cannon fodder.
The fighting itself wasn’t quite as exciting as the special effects. Every character had their basic fighting moves that expanded into combos with consistent hits, much like any good beat ’em up, but the small areas coupled with the boring mix of recycled enemies made the action feel a little too bland in comparison to the excellent visuals. Drops included health and treasure for points, but other than that, the heroes relied mostly on their fists, feet, and magic lamps to get them through each scuffle. Continues picked up right where you died as long as you had the tokens to spare and you still kept your score.
Arabian Fight had a lot of novel tricks up its graphically enhanced sleeve, but in the end, it wasn’t quite as awesome as it looked. It had told its story with beefed up anime sized pixel-art, packed in plenty of voice and sound effects, decent music, though it still wasn’t quite enough to save the flat action.
Like many of System 32’s games, Arabian Fight strangely didn’t find its way over to Sega’s homeward hardware like the Genesis, the 32X, or even the Saturn. Still, it didn’t seem that they missed it too much. The beat ’em ups that did show up on those systems such as Streets of Rage on the Genesis to Treasure’s Guardian Heroes on the Saturn made up for its absence in every way.