Al-Qadim: The Genie's Curse is based on TSR's campaign setting of Al-Qadim, a land inspired by the legends of the Arabian Nights as well as the Hollywood-flavored interpretations of the same. It is a top down, action adventure game that boasts many puzzles, combat, light RPG elements, and an extensive story consisting of dialogue in between the player character and the numerous NPCs within the game. It was developed by SSI thanks to their license of the 2nd Edition AD&D ruleset at the time which had partnered them with TSR, a role that they had also used in developing their well known series of Gold Box titles such as those set in the Forgotten Realms (Pool of Radiance, Curse of the Azure Bonds) or the Dragonlance (Champions of Krynn) campaign settings.
The game has no direct copy protection and urges the player to make copies of the main disks and play on those instead. However, the player will be challenged by a verification question after the credits roll from the introduction that they must answer by looking up the required answer from within the manual.
The manual comes with an extensive story that introduces the player to the secrets that lie behind the world of Al-Qadim. Here, genies and other powerful spirits wield tremendous powers far beyond that of mortals, yet like the stories told of those that seek the same, can be bound to serve a master if the call cannot be resisted. But there is also great magic at work in Al-Qadim, mysteries buried beneath its shifting sands, and glorious cities filled with both nomads and city-born that work together beneath the ever present eye of Fate that governs all. It is a land that respects family honor as well as those that dare to trample on it with cunning and guile. It is into this world that the player will find themselves attempting to discern its secrets.
The starting story from the manual sees a powerful genie, an efreeti spirit, playing a game of chess from within a vast chamber until he is interrupted by a dao, a female genie, who arrives unannounced. Upset that his game had been so rudely interrupted, the efreeti roars and bellows his anger and the two trade insults until the dao tells him why she had come. She tells him chilling words that he thought he would never hear again: "Another genie will be blessed."
At first, the efreeti is incredulous. Surely, such a thing is ridiculous to believe if only for a moment. And even if it were true, why should he even concern himself with it?
But the dao has come with proof and drops a sack on the titanic chessboard that the efreeti had been playing with only moments before. With a single nail, she tears the sack open and out falls a woman whose youthful features belie the centuries of age that are already upon her. She falls to her knees in respect and begs the efreeti to have mercy on her after the mighty spirit threatens her with flames which the dao puts out with a puff of her breath. The dao tells the efreeti that she is her hakima, her seer, and she has a prophecy of warning to show the efreeti.
The hakima takes special sands from the sack around her belt and summons a vision that the efreeti knows all too well—that of a city called Zaratan and the island it sits upon, Sorceror's Isle. This is a vision of the past, the efreeti realizes, as he watches its streets bustle with activity. People go on with their daily lives, wizards practice their spells, and all is well with it as it exists under the protection of its sha'ir and his genie.
The vision shifts and mysterious monsters suddenly appear at the gate to the city, breaking through into the streets, and begin slaughtering the inhabitants. The soldiers and even the people themselves take up arms and try to stop the horde, but many of them fall to their weapons. Soon, the sha'ir emerges from his palace in fright and sees the terrible carnage. His people beg him to summon the genie and he soon does. The efreeti knows this story well, for he was the one that had been enslaved to the sha'ir in those days.
The genie appears before the sha'ir as he is called, but when he is given the command to destroy the beasts, he says the one word that no genie has ever said to their master: No.
Shocked, the sha'ir demands that the genie fulfill his role, but instead, the genie flies away with the sha'ir in pursuit before disappearing into a ball of flame. The sha'ir turns to see his city burning in the distance and refuses to return, shamed at his failure for protecting the people that were his charge. But his people were stronger than the monsters had reckoned on being and have actually won the fight even if it was at great cost to themselves.
In the years since, the sha'ir soon went into seclusion and took a wife, a woman of the sea, but never returned to the city despite the people begging him to return. A new sha'ir took his place with his own genie to help protect them, and so the story would have ended were it not for the glimpse of the future that the hakima would now go on to show the efreeti. In that vision, the efreeti watched as a genie destroyed a ship at sea, riding upon a great wind, a young woman taken from the decks of the ship by a whirlwind.
The vision shifted yet again and a group of dark figures could be seen standing around a glowing stone from which he could feel the power of even through the illusion. The scene changed and the efreeti watched as a genie rained fire down upon a city while a dao clapped her hands and caused the ground to swallow it whole. On the shoulder of the efreeti was a dark, cloaked figure who laughed maniacally. In a cave of ice, another dark figure held a chain and pulled on it, the other end tugging against the neck of the efreeti himself.
The dao reveals that those that had "blessed" him may have actually wanted to control him and fight alongside the monsters. He nearly says their name out loud when the dao silences him, the existence of such beings apparently bringing both of these powerful spirits no end of discomfort. The dao goes on to speculate that now that these beings have gathered more power into their hands, they intend to enslave jinn everywhere and finally see their plans fulfilled. The hakima suddenly speaks up and says that there may be a way to avoid this fate and shows both of them the vision of a young man, seasoned by adventure and trained in the sword, who may yet stand before them as a part of the future yet unwritten, one who help.
The efreeti is unconvinced, however, and returns to his chess game. He has been a slave before serving a master, and if it is his Fate to do so again, he is resigned to it. The dao, on the other hand, grows furious with his apparent attitude but despite her attempts to try and convince him that this man might need their help, the efreeti reminds her that if they directly interfere with mortal affairs, they risk everything. Pinching a grain of sand into a great diamond for the hakima as a reward, the efreeti turns back to his game as the dao leaves, the hakima right behind her.
The game begins with the player acting as the youngest son of a noble merchant who has gone off in search of adventure. Sea serpents, storms, and tattered sails have all proved perilous as the years passed. Your instructor, the Master Corsair Sinbar, has proven to be a valuable mentor and a good friend. But your thoughts go to the Kara, the Caliph's beautiful daughter, and it is to her that you devote your skill and honors. Once you become a Corsair yourself, you hope to ask for her hand in marriage, but first, you must pass Sinbar's final tests.
After successfully negotiating his maze of challenges, you return to the town of your youth: Zaratan. There you meet with your family and take time to explore the city, helping where you can, until the city's genie, Muliban, runs amok with a magical storm. Soon, your family's name is smeared and blamed for the destruction. In another quest to help the town, you also discover a caliph whose ship has wrecked itself on shore as a result of the storm. When he discovers that your genie is to blame, he turns a very cold shoulder to you.
Through many other adventures that take you from Zaratan to the former sha'ir's home to seek his help, to the dungeons that lie beneath the palace of the Caliph and then to a far off plane where the Nameless Masters continue their work to enslave the genies, you finally confront the most powerful of these Masters in a final conflict that finally sets things aright within Al-Qadim.
When the game begins, the player is encouraged to give their character a name, although their last name will be that of the noble family they were born into. Their character will have already earned enough fame at this point to earn the love of a princess as well as enable them to survive the challenges ahead. Sinbar's final test for his Corsair students is also used as a primer on how to move the character and solve a few rudimentary puzzles using the interface.
The Genie's Curse is presented with a top down view with the main character controlled either with the keyboard of led by the mouse onscreen with a cursor. With the mouse, two different modes are offered: Normal Mode and Travel Mode. Normal mode allows the player to guide the character by holding down the right mouse button and then moving the cursor onscreen. Travel Mode allows the player to move the character by clicking with the right mouse button in a direction and then letting the character head there until the right mouse button is clicked again. A joystick is also supported with the game and the game can be saved at any time and nine slots are available.
A difficulty level can also be selected at the start of the game. The default is Normal and the difficulty level only affects monster strength, not the difficulty of its puzzles.
The hero starts out with rudimentary statistics based on 2nd Edition AD&D rules. These statistics help determine the character's effectiveness in the game and hit points also gauge how much damage that they can take before dying. However, given the action-oriented nature of the gameplay and its simplified approach to the complexities of AD&D, most of these statistics have little bearing on the hero's condition or actions.
The player can also hide behind bushes to overhear NPCs, sneak by enemies by hiding around corners, smash items to clear the way, and push blocks around to help solve puzzles. The player can also search chests and drawers and if they leave items in there, they will remain where they are until the player decides to take them.
Experience and Leveling
As puzzles are solved, quests finished, and monsters slain, the hero will also earn experience points up to a maximum of nine levels. New levels include increased hit points and eligibility to learn a new combat move with your scimitar.
Talking with NPCs
Talking with other characters in the game is as simple as walking up to a character and using the action command. Many side quests are found in this way and the player can affect the success of your quest.
The player starts with a unique magic item, the "pouch of accessibility" which allows them to pocket many objects discovered on their journeys whether it is from the floor of a dark, dank dungeon, or in someone else's home as they pick up everything like a good adventurer would. The inventory can be brought up at any time and the player can quickly go in and use items such as healing potions or magic items in battle. Keys are automatically used on the doors that they are meant for.
The hero can cast spells using spell shards that allow them to cast magic although it consumes the shard in the process. Each spell is cast at sixth level. The spells that can be cast are:
- Cone of Cold - a cone shaped area of cold envelops enemies caught within its range. Nasty stuff.
- Flame Arrow - a fiery bolt is hurled at foes, although its range is short
- Sunfire - harnesses the power of the sun and blasts targets with an explosive ball of searing flame
- Lightning Bolt - a powerful stroke of electricity arcs out and damages whatever it hits, even ricocheting off walls to blast enemies
- Magic Missile - a tight group of three missiles shoot at any visible target within 120 yards
- Sundazzle - small multicolored spheres appear to blind enemies
- Sunscorch - an intense blast of heat is focused into a narrow beam and strikes its target. It can even curve and wrap around obstacles to find its prey.
- Water Blast - a fast moving shot of water erupts from the caster, striking its target
Fighting in the game is easily handled by simply clicking on an enemy and watching the hero attack it if they are close enough for melee strikes. Missile weapons, such as bows or spells, can also be used in the same way by left-clicking on the target. With the joystick, hitting any enemy close enough is as simple as pushing a button. All enemies are visible in the game allowing the player to maneuver around them and target each one with missile weapons or spells if needed.
The player starts with a simple sword slash as an attack maneuver, although as the hero levels up, they can become eligible to learn new abilities from a master, extending the chain of unique slash attacks that they can use in battle making them more effective. Even their first moves become much more efficient as a result of the training.