Flashback on the Mega Drive (and later the Jaguar and 3DO) and once I'd finished it, I looked into other games that were similar in scope and design and eventually my quest lead me to buy an earlier title from the bountiful table of Delphine Software and US Gold: Another World.
Another World (or Out of This World if you're American) was tossed aside after about an hour of trial and error (and random outbursts of rage at the TV screen if I remember rightly). Before you start foaming on your yellowing, crumb-filled Amiga keyboard know this: I have since played it as an adult and fully appreciate the game now; but back then in my youthful 'fresh from Flashback' comedown period, I thought it was an impenetrable mess. A good looking mess with excellent cut scenes, but a mess all the same. I can only apologise for such adolescent idiocy.
I looked again for another title that could fill the void left by Delphine's spectacular adventure and eventually I landed a copy of Prince of Persia for the Mega CD. I knew that Prince was basically the grandaddy of the genre - side-on action with relentless hardcore puzzles and cruel trial and error insta-death gameplay - but I vividly remember buying it from a stall in Manchester's Arndale market, and excitedly absorbing the contents of the manual on the bus back to my squalid homestead. After getting home and slapping the CD into my Multimega, I recall that it took me about 10 minutes to realise that Prince of Persia was not a game I would be enjoying in this life, or the next. Constant deaths, shit controls, graphics that looked like something out of a Kinder egg. The CD was quickly removed from the machine, replaced with Silpheed and never spoken of again.
Anyway, let's get back on track. During the Dreamcast era, I was aware of Prince of Persia 3D/Arabian Nights but because the game never got a PAL release, I just let it pass me by. I'd heard it was shit anyway so figured I wasn't missing much. Last week though, I managed (through the kindness of a friend) to finally get my hands on a copy of this much maligned 3D platformer and my torrid affair with his Highness was rekindled. Contrary to what you may expect though, I was pleasantly surprised by the whole experience, and not because of his rugged good looks and legendary witty banter.
Yes, you read that right. I was expecting a total abortion of a game, but what I got was a perfectly functional 3D action adventure in the vein of the original Tomb Raider. The story is as contrived as you'd expect (you're basically a prince rescuing a princess, natch) but the execution is perfectly fine. Control of your onscreen avatar is via the analogue stick, you can crouch under objects and jump over chasms. The D-pad lets you adjust the camera or switch to first person, while the triggers act as modifiers for combat, sidestepping etc. The only odd thing I must note is that 'grabbing' ledges etc is not automatic - once you jump, you must press the 'action' button to grab a ledge. Failure to do so will inevitably lead to some form of death. And death comes very quickly, which is really my only real bugbear with Arabian Nights. I recall that the Mega CD game I played for twenty minutes all those years ago was packed full of 'instant death' moments. Be it falling down a shaft lined with spikes or having your head cut off by some arcane system of pulleys and wires - the same is true in Arabian Nights. While you have a health bar of sorts, if you come a cropper in one of the game's many, many unannounced and downright illogical traps (sometimes you literally can't tell if a door handle will kill you), then that's it - you're dead and you have to reload from the last checkpoint.
So what of the other aspects of the game? Well for a start, it looks pretty great to be honest. The environments are quite varied and well textured and the locations are nicely realised. Prisons, city streets, rooftops, caves, underwater caverns...it all looks good as far as games from the era go. Sure, it's a port of a PC game and so it doesn't make much use of the Dreamcast's dedicated hardware (as is evident in the angular character models) but apart from that it looks fine...and even better through VGA. There is no slowdown whatsoever and the engine seems perfectly at home with even the biggest of open areas...which is more than can be said of any of the Tomb Raider titles on the Dreamcast. The sound is also very good - the music is perfectly suited to the 'Arabian' setting, with lots of drums and whining horns. The voice acting is also pretty good - even NPCs you encounter have good quality dialogue.