Everyone and their grandfather has likely heard of Prince of Persia, having been released on about twenty different systems and rebooted twice over for later generations. The cinematic action platformer's Arabian theme and impressive animation was considered to be like nothing else at its time. Slightly less but probably enough people have also heard of Golden Axe, Sega's seminal fantasy hack-and-slasher which proved they could do beat-em-ups before Streets of Rage. And any arcade game connoisseur should know of Taito, who first acquired fame for Space Invaders and went on to make some of the more innovative and memorable games of the arcade scene. It turns out they also made a fair number of beat-em-ups, almost enough to qualify as the honorary fifth member of the "Big Four" in that genre, even if not quite as much as Sega, Technos, Konami, or Capcom. Combine the 1001 Nights-style atmosphere of Prince of Persia with the action template of Golden Axe, and this gives you Taito's Arabian Magic, yet another product of their high quality nineties arcade run.
No strangers to belt scrollers by this time, having made the delightfully insane Growl and The Ninja Kids, Arabian Magic is decidedly less insane than those two games but still has plenty of thrills and zaniness in its stages. The premise sees a benevolent king transformed into a monkey by the evil green sorcerer Baruantess. Unable to perform his sovereignly duties, the king must count on the strength and bravery of four heroes to slay Baruantess and undo the curse: Rassid, Lisa, Sinbad, and Afshaal. Rassid is the easiest to play, fast but with no special techniques. Lisa's magic shroud fires off projectiles and she has a very powerful spinning attack, but she does not take much damage. Sinbad is a bit slow, but he can deliver charged-up slashes. Afshaal absorbs much punishment and, in addition to his morningstar, he has a Blanka-esque roll attack, but he moves rather slow. For their different attributes and abilities, they can all throw enemies if they get close enough and block by holding the attack button. Treasure chests contain power-up orbs allow them to shoot fire and lightning, and their ace in the hole is the classical magic lamp, calling forth a genie who tosses forth powerful punches and wind gusts while making your character entirely invincible.
Your quest to return the king to humanity takes you across seven levels, all of which are colorful and lavishly designed. Arabian Magic is one of the first games to run on Taito's F3 system, the same graphical hardware that would later go on to support Rayforce and Darius Gaiden among other gorgeous games. There are several lavish palaces to raid, a desert with an antlion whirlpool, and a pirate ship among several other zany locales. One stage takes place in the skies courtesy of magic carpets, and the entirety of level five shrinks you down, where fighting takes place in front of a bunch of street merchants. Magic pots keep warping you through various strange locations, including some strange crystalline dimension and the fully-breathable ocean, where you fight skeletons for some inexplicable reason. Speaking of, you encounter a fair variety of enemies ranging from basic swordsmen and knaves with throwing daggers, to living terracotta soldiers, wizards who generate snakes, magic dancing ladies, and several burly musclemen who serve as midbosses.
Of course, there are bosses to fight, but an interesting twist sees some of the bosses join you after you defeat them, becoming summons that randomly appear from magic lamps instead of the genie. This includes Asura, a six-armed war deity fulla swords, Kanjiji, who's basically a much bigger and older Dhalsim, and a quartet of Doppelgangers all looking like monochromatic versions of the heroes. Bosses who don't join you include a tall dual-wielding swordsman, a mythical Roc bird that's so big that you only see its talons and head, and a gigantic squid with, what else, deadly tentacles and ink. Most of the fights are tough and may take a life from you, as is to be expected from this genre, but they can be beaten if you play it safe. However, the final fight with Baruantess will blow away your credits like grains in a sandstorm, especially once he calls in his magical flying beast mount, and afterwards, he starts cloning himself a la Shredder from the first TMNT arcade game.
While Arabian Magic may not be too much different from your conventional beat-em-up in terms of quarter-eatery, it was rather unique for its time to feature such a game with its medieval storybook-like Middle Eastern setting. Interestingly enough, a year after Arabian Magic, Sega would attempt their own take on the same theme with Arabian Fight, which featured giant sprites with impressive scaling technology. Despite being older, Arabian Magic ultimately stands in time as the better game... yet it just doesn't seem to be as well-recognized as Taito's other beat-em-ups. It lacks the silly greenpeace ethics of Growl, the wacky marionette stylings of Ninja Kids, the completely unclassifiable insanity of Pu-Li-Ru-La, the double-screen setup of Warrior Blade, or the innovative multi-path layout of Dungeon Magic / Lightbringer. But if you like all of those games, then definitely give Arabian Magic a check. It doesn't deserve to just fade off into the dust like an ancient sultan's lost treasure in the khamsin winds, so sharpen your scimitars and save the king from his simian fate. You don't even have to resort to emulation for it, as it exists on the Taito Legends 2 compilation (released on the PlayStation 2, XBOX, and for Windows) along with other obscure and awesome games. While not everything could be Space Invaders, Taito was at least decent with paying tribute to their lesser-known catalogue.