In what spare time I have, I’ve been hacking away at some neglected Master System games on my Power Base Converted model-1 Sega Genesis. A brief, and perhaps obvious series of conclusions:
- The best Alex Kidd game? Alex Kidd in Shinobi World.
- The best Shinobi game? Alex Kidd in Shinobi World.
- The best Master System game? Alex Kidd in Shinobi World.
This game is… not really even a satire; it’s basically an earnest attempt at a cute chibi-style revisitation of the Master System port of the original Shinobi, in the style of Mighty Final Fight or Kid Dracula or the like. It’s from that era, you know.
The game is very pretty — increasingly so as it goes along — and has a great soundtrack, which involves dramatically shifted permutations of pieces from the original Shinobi. You know how R-Type has this one motif that keeps developing and exploring from different angles, leading to a sense of thematic depth and change as the game goes along? This isn’t like that, but it’s interesting to hear one of the most familiar pieces of jaunty Shinobi music repurposed to accompany a moment of plot-based emotional trauma for our young Mr. Kidd.
The design itself has a surprising depth to it, that slowly peels away. Each level is full of secrets, and ideal ways to tackle the puzzle-like situations that it presents, often involving abilities that you weren’t aware the character had until you were forced to try them out. Furthermore, the challenge sits at just the right level where it’s never so hard that it’s irritating to play yet it’s never so easy that you can tune out completely. It’s harder if you just charge ahead and tackle things head-on, but it becomes rather easy if you take the time to explore, find all the secrets, and come at the tough situations from an ideal position.
There should have been more of these. Cross-overs should have been Alex Kidd’s thing; it’s already right there in all his game titles. He’s already moving from one world to another, each game a different format from the last. We could have seen Alex Kidd in Golden Axe World. Alex Kidd in the OutRun Zone. Alex Kidd in Monsterland. Alex Kidd in Zillion World. Work that licence, and: Alex Kidd ‘n Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (the Western version of Alex Kidd in Demon Village).
Long-time Sega fans often muse about Alex Kidd, and what happened to him. SEGAGAGA, Hitmaker’s nostalgic if-only farewell game to the Sega of old, released more or less as an epitaph to the company’s days as a first party and to their original company culture, makes a point of this question, answering that at some point the character left Sega, feeling sidelined by all of the new characters like Sonic, and now was working in a convenience store, looking a bit sad.
I’m thinking now, now that they have nothing to lose, Sega could easily restart the franchise by doing an Alex Kidd in Sega World, incorporating everything to the present day. One section might be Alex Kidd in the House of the Dead. Another, Alex Kidd in Shenmue Land. Which would be a total piss take. You know how at the end of each level in Super Mario Bros. 2 (US), there’s that slot machine thing? Like that, but all about petting cats and getting capsule toy trinkets that you’d carry with you for the entire game but would do nothing.
Satire would be the route to take: Think of The Typing of the Dead, but an affectionate (if merciless) tour of all Sega’s biggest or most beloved franchises. Maybe Alex Kidd misunderstands their rules; maybe he understands them too well:
- Alex the Kidd-Hogg would disable all buttons but right, down, and jump, yet keep placing things to the left that catch your attention, that it would be nice to go back and explore. (Capsule toys? Cats to pet?)
- Alex Kidd in the OutRun Zone, he’d just turn the wheels 90 degrees and drive sideways the whole time, straining his neck and causing crashes and traffic. (This section should also be side-scrolling and should follow the Alex the Kidd-Hogg section so it can be retroactively looped back in for a further gag.)
The game would begin as Alex Kidd in Curse World (compared to the first Alex Kidd game, Alex Kidd in Miracle World), which (beyond a few Q*Bert style expletives) would involve a sort of Faustian bargain to reclaim Alex’s fame and recognition. As it turns out, that bargain forces Alex to live through the roles of all the Sega heroes he’s replaced, racing back and forth to do it all himself. Often ineptly.
Maybe along the way he’d pick up a peeved Opa-Opa (an even earlier Sega mascot; a little sentient space ship from the game Fantasy Zone), who would follow him around like Sonic’s friend Tails or an Option from Gradius, or even at times enlarge to let Alex step on-board.
As he went along, of course, Alex slowly would come to realize things weren’t great for any of the other Sega protagonists either. All of Sega World was, in fact, a bit of a mess, lost to neglect. Heroes like Joe Musashi (from Shinobi) had been missing for years, and nobody even noticed or cared. (Alex might briefly wonder if that was his doing.)
In the end there would be a massive team-up, with everyone — all the Sega heroes Alex tried to replace, and more besides — coming together to fight the curse. Presumably the embodiment or explanation for that curse would have a metaphorical value for Sega’s greater misfortune and the commercial or sociopolitical explanations behind it. They’d start off fighting a bogeyman like the Sony expy villain from SEGAGAGA, then realize things weren’t that easy, and maybe it was just time for everyone to work together and try to build something nice, regardless of any outside pressures or influences.
This is a game I want to play. And on some level, I think it could actually be the thing to elevate Sega back to its heroic status as the scrappy major developer with all the personality.