Arthur to Astaroth no Nazomakaimura: Incredible Toons is one part Ghosts ‘N Goblins, one part Incredible Machine — and a genuine curio in retro gaming.
In Retro Game Of The Week I pull a game from my collection and write about why it’s important or interesting. Or in some cases, badly dated and rubbish.
I’m a long time fan of Capcom’s Ghosts ‘N Goblins series, dating right back to the mid-1980s when I first experienced it in a dingy bowling alley in a small New South Wales country town. It quickly became a favourite, whether it was the arcade game, the Amstrad CPC 6128 version that I both loved and loathed (and that nearly sent my poor dear mother mad with its theme music), through the sequels, the exceptional SNES version… I could go on, but you get the point.
Any fan of classic Ghosts ‘N Goblins will recognise this scene.
Though Arthur still has his armour on, which he does NOT in the classic arcade game.
Actual arcade hanky-panky!
I figured I was nicely across the Ghosts ‘N Goblins game chronology, right up until one day when I was travelling to Japan and buying a few retro games, as I am sometimes wont to do.
On this trip I’d decided to make the plunge into the world of Japanese Sega Saturn games and consoles, so I was getting myself a library of mostly-Japan exclusive titles. My Japanese wasn’t what it is now (and it still needs a lot of work), so I was reduced to what most retro tourists do, pulling titles out sideways to check what they actually were… when I came across Arthur to Astaroth no Nazomakaimura: Incredible Toons.
I was intrigued. That’s Arthur on the cover, there’s a Red Arremer and Astaroth… but this was a game I’d never even heard of before, or at least not one I recalled hearing of back in the day. It was inexpensive — not super cheap, but not terrible, more on this later — so into the shopping basked and collection it went.
Astaroth: He’s such a wacky prankster. And also a DEMON LORD FROM HELL, let’s not forget that bit.
There’s a reason why I’d never heard of Arthur to Astaroth no Nazomakaimura: Incredible Toons before. It’s a Japan-exclusive title (also available for the PS One) that’s essentially a reskin of Incredible Toons which is (sort of) a rebuild of The Incredible Machine. They’re puzzle games, built around the idea that you build out slightly ludicrous machines to achieve a physics-based goal, although often the physics are a little, shall we say… interesting.
You know that bit in classic Road Runner cartoons where Wile E Coyote goes over a ledge?
This is the Ghosts ‘N Goblins equivalent of that moment.
Arthur to Astaroth no Nazomakaimura: Incredible Toons is that concept, but in the Ghosts ‘N Goblins world, so you’re tasked with getting Arthur to a points statue, or feeding Astoroth some tasty fish, or blowing something up with a trebuchet, and so on and so forth.
The puzzles start simple — many early levels aren’t much more than showing you what a part can do more than setting you a specific real challenge — but quickly grow in complexity and brain-bending capabilities.
Level complete. On to the next one.
Like its predecessors, Arthur to Astaroth no Nazomakaimura: Incredible Toons does rely on a little bit of trial and error. It’s also so very clearly a game that was originally built around mouse controls (and as I read it, if you’ve got a Saturn mouse that should work, but I don’t) but it’s a model that doesn’t require fast mousing reflexes, so it maps reasonably well even to the digital controls of a standard Saturn controller.
Controls are easy enough to understand, and because they’re contraption puzzles, you don’t need fast reflexes or a mouse to speak of.
You do have to like this kind of emergent puzzle design to get all that much out of Arthur to Astaroth no Nazomakaimura: Incredible Toons, though. It was reportedly a rather late decision on Capcom’s part to turn Incredible Toons into a Makaimura game, and it does show in the way that some puzzles play out.
Classic Ghosts ‘N Goblins titles are brutally hard. This… isn’t, really, though it will tax your brain rather than your reflexes.
In a classic Makaimura title, you’re always Arthur (yes, yes, I know, Gargoyle’s Quest and all that, but still) but many puzzles are about doing what demon lord Astaroth wants and frustrating or hurting Arthur. It doesn’t matter that much except that there’s not a really particular narrative thread that ties some levels together, and it can sometimes lead to a bit of guesswork as to what the level actually wants you to do.
Some say that the real treasure was the friends we made along the way.
Arthur is quite certain that the real treasure is… treasure.
Arthur to Astaroth no Nazomakaimura: Incredible Toons never saw an English translation, which does bring up the question of the game’s use of Japanese.
Warning: Japanese text ahead.
Here you can get by with very little; while Google Translate will make its usual messy salad of translation it’s generally close enough to give you an inkling of what to do, and in any case trial and error is very much part of the gameplay loop.
Yay, we helped Astaroth get to the treasure.
Hang on… explain again why WE ARE HELPING THE LITERAL DEMON LORD?
One challenge here – and it’s inherent in most of the games of this type — is that it’s rather solidly built around a single solution to most puzzles. Once you’ve solved a level, there’s not much impetus to go back and do it again to speak of.
You can replay levels… but there’s not a time trial (or even, sadly a level builder) to make you want to do so.
Also that weird thing in Japanese games where a lot of standard commands are in English rears its head here.
While it would have been tricky to implement on a console in 1996, it’s also a pity there’s no inbuilt level editor to make your own fun.
How to play Arthur to Astaroth no Nazomakaimura: Incredible Toons now
As mentioned above, the copy I’ve got came from a trip to Japan and a rather fortuitous find while rifling through the shelves of Mandarake Galaxy out at Nakano Broadway. Mandarake isn’t typically my destination of choice for budget buying, but this was sitting there for 1,000 Yen, or about $10 or so at current conversion rates. It’s not an essential part of the Ghosts ‘N Goblins library, but it’s easily worth that.
That was more than a few years ago now, however, so what does it actually go for now?
Not surprisingly given the licensing between Sierra (the OG publishers of the Incredible Machine/Toons games) and Capcom, this isn’t a series that’s seen a remaster or compilation inclusion that I can see at all, which means you’re talking original Saturn or PlayStation copies if you want it legit.
This gets rather complicated, but the short form is that you’re not likely to find a copy at the kind of price I paid for it. The few copies I could spot for sale on eBay wanted $150 and upwards, and I couldn’t find much in the way of sold copies to give a real indicative price of what people were actually paying. That’s mirrored on Japanese auction sites, where the asking prices seem to sit at 15,000 yen (~$150 AUD) and upwards for a copy.