Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Matter of Import 67: Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves [SEGA 1982]


Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves is a 1982 SEGA maze chase game based on the Arabian legend of the same name. The game begins with a cutscene where the protagonist steals seven bags of gold from the Thieves and secures it in his own vault.

While the game has thematic similarities to Taito’s 1980 Lupin III, the goal here is the opposite - the thieves here are after your treasure, which you need to defend by stopping them before they can grab it and return to their own vault. If they manage to grab all your bags, you lose a life.

You also lose a life if you’re caught by the red thief, who chases you around the maze. You can hold him off by dropping brief explosives, though he cannot be harmed this way. The other thieves can be defeated by running into them, before or after they’ve stolen your treasure, the challenge coming from the fact that you’re facing a whole gang of three or four at a time.

In the center of the screen is the counter of remaining thieves, and once you’ve defeated all 40 you move on to the next stage - the physical layout is the same, but the enemies move faster, and eventually you’ll face multiple copies of the deadly red thief.

Occasionally four question marks will appear in the center of the screen, and touching them either gives you a power-up that lets you move twice as fast for a brief time, or takes you to one of two bonus stages. In the first, all but the central maze disappears and you’re chased by a giant red thief while singular normal thieves move through the void to try and grab your treasure. In the second, you’re the giant, able to dispatch the red thief - the only time in the game you have such an ability.

Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves is a very different approach to the maze chase genre that puts the player in the role of the chaser, defending treasures instead of trying to capture them. It has depth without losing its fundamental simplicity, and the opening cut-scene is a nice touch. 

The visuals are plain for 1982, however, and it lacks the polish and charm of Ms. Pac-Man, released the same year, and suffers for the comparison.

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