With the Master System falling behind the NES in sales and Super Mario Bros a modern cultural phenomena Sega decided that their ailing console needed a mascot to boost sales. Starring in Alex Kidd in Miracle World the character never did rival Nintendo’s mascot despite starring in several games of reasonable critical acclaim. Whilst Mario went on to largely embody gaming and the mass market appeal it’s capable of, Alex Kidd starred in his final game in 1990 and was “replaced” by the more success Sonic as Sega’s mascot.
At his core the Alex Kidd character holds a very simple set of characteristics. A brave orphan of hidden royal lineage his key skill is Shellcore, namely the ability to enlarge his fists and punch with incredible strength. He is also a skilled practitioner of “Janken”, a paper scissors stone game played to the death in the Alex Kidd universe. He can also ride a motorbike and a fly a peddle helicopter. His age varies from 14 to hundreds of years old depending on which game you play and his clothes also vary from game to game. Indeed it’s hard to come to any consensus on what constitutes the characteristics of an Alex Kidd game as they also varied greatly from title to title.
Sega were late to the 8-bit era and by the time they looked to launch the Master System in the west Nintendo were well entrenched. Super Mario Bros was going beyond a video game and becoming a pop culture success and the NES was selling well. Sega’s mascot at the time was “Opa Opa” and was not deemed to be a good fit for the western market. As such Alex Kidd became an unofficial leader for Sega in the west. The obvious parallels in Alex Kidd’s look and the games genre seemed to make him an ideal fit. Alex Kidd in Miracle World was launched on cartridge and became a pack in for the Master System several years later. The game did not achieve the commercial success of Super Mario Bros but was a stand out title for the console with innovative gameplay.
Following this Alex Kidd rapidly lost critical acclaim which was in reality the only thing it held at this point. Alex Kidd and the Lost Stars launched in arcades the same year as Miracle World but didn’t have the same gameplay style as the console game. A left to right platformer the game held all the hallmarks of a Mario clone. The console port in 1988 also held little difficulty or replay value leaving gamers with a weak game which is easily beaten. The game also had the first redesign of the Alex Kidd character with a large head drawing focus to his monkey like ears. The next game to reach the west was Alex Kidd in High Tech World. A taller thinner Alex this time is in an adventure game where he seeks items and solves puzzles. Frequent changes to asthetic and gameplay continued to damage the brand and by this point sales ensured Alex Kidd was no more than a cult product for Sega fans.
Alex Kidd and the Enchanted Castle saw a return to the Miracle World style of game, Janken included. Providing an early showcase of the power of the Genesis the bright platformer gave hope of a return to form for Alex Kidd. However the game suffered from poor controls and whilst the return of Janken seemed like a good idea it’s expansion highlighted the luck aspect of paper scissors stone. With no gameplay gimmick to get around this it was easy to lose lives frequently through Janken matches. Again the game drew criticisms of being too short with there being less levels than Miracle World despite being on the larger Genesis cartridge. The final title in the series highlights the levels to which Alex Kidd reached. Alex Kidd in Shinobi world was a $30, 4 level parody of Shinobi released on the Master System in 1990.