I played and finished this game recently, and wrote up a short-ish review of my thoughts. I’ve expanded it a bit here, but it’s shorter than most of my full reviews. Hopefully it’s a good review. This game is obscure, but it’s actually reasonably good, and is definitely fun and worth playing for any platformer fan.
- Title: Doraemon: Nobita no Dorabian Nights
- Publisher & Developer: Hudson Soft
- Released: 1991, Japan Only Release
- Platform: TurboGrafx-16 (PC Engine)
Introduction and Story
This is a game I got fairly recently, and decided to try out. At first the game seemed simple and average, but it actually gets pretty good, so I stuck with it and finished the game in a few days. This game’s fun stuff! Dorabian Nights is a fairly standard Hudson platformer, so it’s not one of the greats of the genre — Hudson platformers never were — but it is a good, solid game that’s fun to play. This game is a licensed platformer based on the popular, long-running childrens’ comic series Doraemon. As usual in Doraemon games, you play as Doraemon, the silly blue cat/alien/robot guy, and have to save the day. Unlike the SNES or N64 Doraemon games, you cannot also play as Doraemon’s human friends, only Doraemon himself.
In specific, this game is loosely based off of the animated movie of the same name as the game. One odd thing about this game is that even though it’s a licensed game based on a movie, from what I’ve read about the movies’ plot, almost none of that happens in the game. The movie is almost entirely set in the fantasy Arabian setting of the title; Doraemon and his child friends go on an adventure there. The girl character gets kidnapped and the others have to rescue her, etc. I hate ‘rescue the girl’ as a plotline, and you still have to do that here, but it’s different. In this game, in the intro cutscene the four children jump into four different storybooks, and Doraemon has to go into the books to rescue them. Each book is set in a different time period. The first is dinosaur-themed (just dinosaurs, thankfully, no cavemen!), the second ancient Japan themed, the third creepy/’horror’ themed, and the last Arabian themed. You rescue a child at the end of each book, with the girl last, but as they’re not playable in the game, this doesn’t matter as much as it would in the SNES games.
So, as far as the Arabian, or “Dorabian” (heh), setting goes, on the title screen Doraemon has a turban on and the four children are in Arabian outfits as they fly on a magic carpet, fitting the Arabian setting, but ingame he only wears this in world 4 and the final level. Similarly, his human child friends only have their Arabian outfits on on the title-screen image and in the second part of the end cutscene, too. It’s a little odd, but there’s only five levels in Arabia in this game. So yeah, don’t expect much of the movie here. Of course, games that try something different often end up better than movie games that strictly follow the plot, so it’s okay. Plus, I like the variety of the four worlds. Every level has a different setting, and they’re interesting to see as you progress. I’ll get back to that, the level variety is a strength of the game.
Level Setup and Items
Another good point of the game is the mostly well-designed difficulty curve that starts out easy, but gets much more difficult in the second half of the game. By the end, the game’s a legitimate challenge. Dorabian Nights uses a map screen between levels, with a new map for each of the five areas. You can go back and play earlier levels whenever you want. The game has four worlds of four levels each and a final level at the end, so it’s not long, but it isn’t overly short either. The first world is very easy, the second fairly easy, the third pretty tough, the fourth about on par with the third or maybe slightly easier, and the last level is hard. Overall I had the hardest time with level 3-3, I died more in that level than any other. It had me stuck for some time; beating that level took a few days of leaving my TG16 on. I had to do that because you can’t save in this game, sadly, though you do have infinite continues… from the beginning of the world. Die in a level and you start it over, lose all your lives and it’s back to level 1 of the world. This may be a kids’ game, but it’s not as easy as you might think. The first SNES Doraemon game is a lot easier than this game, for sure, and all of the SNES Doraemon games have password save too. Still, I like the challenge in this game, and it’s probably more fun to play than most of the SNES games as well. The game is by a more prominent developer and it shows.
While the game is fun, replay value is somewhat limited. You can go and play the levels again after beating the game so long as you don’t turn it off, because the map screen is accessible if you start the game again, but there is little reason to; there are a few areas in earlier levels you can only access with items you get later in the game, but these only give you extra lives and such, so they probably aren’t worth it unless you really want to replay the game right away, or see absolutely everything. Ah well, it’s fun while it lasts.
In the game, you have 4 hits per life. Green things you can dig up give you a hit point back, if you’ve been hit, and these do respawn… but so do the enemies. Doraemon has five different weapons, one of which you only use during the final boss fight. You’ll get a new weapon in each world, pretty much. The four weapons you use through most of the game have some nice variety. The starting gun stuns enemies, the second is the best all-purpose gun, the third is a homing gun which fires slowly but the shots will curve to hit a target, and the last is a cape which sends enemies flying back to damage other enemies, which can be fun. You also can collect some other items which give you a shield, invincibility, and more. You get these items from doors; hit Up at a door to go in. Doors either have a powerup, a bonus minigame (for an extra life or health), or in a few cases some other usually-silly scene in them. There are never enemies in these rooms. The bonus rooms are amusing and add more variety to this already varied game. This is a slow-paced game, though — Doraemon moves slowly and there is no run. I don’t mind, though some people do. I think the game plays well despite its slow-ish pace.
Visuals and Level Design
Graphically, the game looks like a standard late ’80s to mid ’90s Hudson platformer, with Doraemon in it. As with all of their platformers from the era the game is cute and cartoony and looks nice. The art is well-drawn and there’s more graphical variety here than in many cartridge games. Visually, the one downside is that, as usual on the system, there isn’t much parallax scrolling, unfortunately — only two stages have any, the rest are flat. one of these two is the first level, and it looks good, but you won’t see parallax again until one of the last levels, and that’s its only other appearance. The graphics are better than I thought they’d be; I was expecting something maybe more like the mediocrity of Bakusho Yoshimoto Shingeki, but this game looks better than that one for sure, and it’s also a lot longer and harder than that game is. The music is good, but not hugely memorable. Still, it’s catchy, fun stuff, and it held up well throughout my time playing the game.
As I said earlier, the game also has some nice gameplay and enemy variety. Almost every one of the 17 levels in this game is visually unique! Every single level has multiple enemy types you will only see in that level as well, and no enemies return when you go from one world to the next. As a result, Dorabian Nights is always mixing things up by introducing new enemy types and level styles. Many levels have one-off challenges or stage-design gimmicks that only appear in that one level. For example, there is one (and only one!) underwater level, one level where you ride a dinosaur for part of the level, one level where you shuffle along platform edges where one hit knocks you back down (this is 3-3, the hardest level), one level is loaded with these pots you can break, some of which keep spitting out enemies at you, and more.
The variety is great, but I kind of wish some of the better ideas appeared more than once — more later levels with platforming as hard as 3-3 might have been a good idea, for instance, or an animal or vehicle to ride on after the first stage other than those flying-carpet bits in the last level — but still, it works, and the game is challenging even without more levels like that. The final boss is definitely a good challenge, for instance. This is one of those games where the final boss plays differently from anything else in the game, and it uses that special 5th weapon as well, but I won’t spoil how it plays; I’d recommend playing the game instead! The boss took a while to beat, and I finally beat the game with 1 hit point left on my last life. Yes, really; it was pretty tense! I thought that a death would send me back to 4-1, but I think that actually you might be able to start from the last level, since it has its own screen on the level-select map, though fortunately I didn’t test it. That was close, though… I had to survive for quite a while with only that 1 hit point left! Tense stuff, but it was fun. The ending’s decent. A bit short, but good enough.
Overall, Doraemon Nobita no Dorabian Nights is a simple but fun platformer, and I like it a lot more than I thought I would. I didn’t think this would be all that great, but it’s a fun game for sure. It’s not as good as the Bonk games, but after them it’s better than some of Hudson’s other platformers for the system. The game has decently nice graphics, lots of variety (I really like that every single level has a unique look and feel to it; that’s not common in a game like this!), and good level design. It’s a good game. The main flaws are that the game should have had saving (having to leave the system on for this long is annoying), I’d have liked to see parallax in a lot more levels than just two, and the difficulty is uneven — why is 3-3 the hardest level (other than maybe the final boss), for instance? And why is the desert stage, 4-3, super easy, while the other levels in world 4 are a reasonable challenge? Ah well. The game is pretty good, these issues aren’t too bad. The game is also slow paced, something some people really dislike, but I don’t mind this; as with, say, the Bonk or Tempo games, the slow pace fits the design well. I give the game a solid B.
On one final note, there is also a Turbografx CD Super CD version of the game that released in 1992, a year after this HuCard version. Sadly, it is an INCREDIBLY lazy port — Hudson just redid the intro and ending with voice acting and more animation, redrew some graphics to make them look a little better, put in vocal songs on the title screen and in the new end-credits sequence (yes, there are actually credits on the CD version), and added some voiced sound effects. That’s it, no other changes. It even still has chiptune music ingame. That’s not an issue with this version, though, just with Hudson failing to improve the later CD port much at all. Anyway, this game is fun, try it out if you like platformers.
PC Engine / TG16 version longplay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Zxw1gJ3k_A
PC Engine CD / TCD version longplay: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yyWOVpMsXCI