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CONSOLE: Sega Saturn DEVELOPER: Magical Formation PUBLISHER: Capcom
RELEASE DATE (JP): August 30, 1996 GENRE: Puzzle
// review by SoyBomb

Ghosts 'n Gadgets.

When I was a kid in school, one of the most fun parts of the week was going to the computer lab. Though my earlier years offered little in terms of variety in what we could do (our computers still had large trackballs embedded in the top right corner of the keyboard, as opposed to a separate mouse), later years offered a wider variety of educational software. One of the most fun games to play was The Incredible Machine:

The puzzle gameplay was simple yet challenging. Every level required you to perform a task, whether it was turning on a fan or shooting a basketball. The only problem was that you were not allowed to directly interact with any of the objects as you ran your "simulation" of performing the task. Instead, you were given a set number of objects in which to achieve your goal. Common items included electric generators, pulley systems, and even animals that react to certain stimuli you place in the environment. As they interacted with each other, you basically created a machine... an INCREDIBLE machine. The solutions were simple in early stages, but you had to really put on a thinking cap for later levels, as the path to success was not clearly paved.

The game received significant praise from game critics, and numerous sequels were released, though none offering significant innovations over the original. One of those sequels was Sid & Al's Incredible Toons, which followed the exact same formula but used more cartoony graphics and items. It starred the comically cringeworthily-named duo of Sid E. Mouse and Al E. Cat and focused more heavily on goofy animations and cornball sound effects and yelps. For fans of the first Incredible Machine game, it was basically more of the same.

Now here comes the unexpected part. Sid & Al's Incredible Toons was published by Sierra, known for their popular King's Quest series above all else. In walks the most unexpected of developers: Capcom, definitely not made famous for their involvement in the PC community at the time. They licensed the game for themselves and plugged in the most unlikely of franchises: Ghosts 'n Goblins, also known as "Makaimura" (translating to "Demon World Village") in Japan. Ghosts 'n Goblins is known for its hard as hell gameplay starring the brave knight Sir Arthur who always rescues the kidnapped Princess Prin-Prin from the clutches of Astaroth, the mighty demon king. He hops across gravestones, fire bridges, and cavernous pits alike while brandishing his mighty lance to help slay the zombies, witches, and other underworldly crusties that do not wish him well. Perhaps the series is most known for Arthur's reaction to getting hit: his armor falls off, and he is forced to continue on wearing nothing but spotted boxer shorts. Thank goodness he has the legs for it.

But all that action is thrown out the window because this is a spin-off whose existence makes little logical sense. The two franchises of The Incredible Machine and Ghosts 'n Goblins have practically no connection, either in gameplay or even in tone. Leave it to Capcom, however, to make things bizarre. In the tongue-twisting Arthur to Astaroth no Nazomakaimura: Incredible Toons, you have a few standard goals. Either Arthur or Astaroth (and often both) are on screen as part of the puzzle, and your goal typically involves you either getting food or treasure to them (Astaroth really loves snacking on whole fish), or committing a good old-fashioned violent act upon them. And yes, you read this right: sometimes your goal is to actually KILL Arthur. Not even the grand hero of the franchise is safe — a brutal analogy of many of Capcom's franchises, actually.

All Astaroth wants is his delicious meat fresh off the bone. Isn't that what we all want in life? ...*crickets*

The Incredible Machine had mice and bowling balls as part of its repertoire. Arthur no Astaroth makes use of different items more suited to the medieval theme. Fire-breathing dragons (Red Arramer, from the Gargoyle's Quest sub-series, perhaps?), extra lives (which Arthur will run toward), temporarily petrified boars, and even the Grim Reaper will help bring these puzzles to life as you place them wherever you think they'll be effective on screen. Once you press Start, your "machine" will be set in motion, and you can watch what ensues. If it fails, you just go back to the drawing board and move items around. There is no penalty for failure here. The puzzles start out with very little challenge, but as the game gradually progresses, you'll have to be more innovative with your roasting dragons and tumbling balls. After each level, you'll be given the option to save your game, so you'll lose very little progress if you decide to quit and take a nap.

One thing that holds the game back a bit is that it uses a cursor, similar to one controlled by a mouse on a PC. It would take a fraction of a second to do this on the computer, but with the Saturn controller in hand, moving around is far more sluggish. That may increase your accuracy, but it also makes this game take longer than it should. Another issue is that Sid & Al's Incredible Toons used to have multiple modes of play, such as a head-to-head mode where two players could combine their brain power to solve challenging puzzles and race to see who could solve the puzzle first, but Arthur to Astaroth has done away with them in favour of just a straightforward set of puzzles and nothing more. There isn't even an Options menu; it's rather bare-bones. Although, come to think of it, what options do you need for a puzzle game like this?

Though the arcade-style series took on a more serious look (except for Arthur in his boxer shorts — that's classic pants-down humour), Arthur to Astaroth is grounded in comedy a bit more. Arthur and Astaroth boast a number of silly animation, both during puzzles and even between them, as surviving each set of five puzzles earns you a small vignette, usually involving Astaroth accidentally causing an explosion for some reason. The music harkens back to the series' earlier days, with many tunes remixed from earlier titles.

It's still rather peculiar to see two franchises that couldn't possibly be less alike come together this way. I know there are crossovers in Japan, such as Street Fighter X Tekken, but this probably ranks at the top of the most UNLIKELY things to have ever ACTUALLY happened. Fans of the Ghosts 'n Goblins series coming in and expecting some classic platforming and testing of their reflexes will be extremely disappointed; this one's more for the thinking man's crowd. It's actually a pretty fun game if you have patience in your pocket, but it's still... so out of place for the series...

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