Retro Game of the Day! Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle
Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle by Sega for their 16-Bit Genesis console, released shortly after the system's US launch in 1989.
Ah, Alex Kidd. For awhile you were supposed to be Sega's answer to Mario - but that didn't last very long, did it? You failed. And then that uppity hedgehog Sonic took over your job. Life is just not fair! You survived through the 8-Bit days, but on 16-Bit you only got one chance - and you blew it!
Like Mario, Alex was all about platforming. Run, jump, avoid stuff. Where Mario was a head-hopper, Alex was always a fist-puncher. Maybe that was the problem (not to say it wasn't fun.. just not compared to jumping on people, I guess)
Following a relatively successful run on the 8-Bit Sega Master System (well, I'd say about half of his games were good, and the first was the best), Sega decided to give their old boy the audiovisual upgrade and put him out on the field to see how he'd test.
I remember seeing promo screens for this game prior to release - they looked phenomenal. These shots may not look like much now, but compared to what we were all used to looking at during those days (super-pixelated scrunched-up 8-Bit graphics) Alex's world looked lush, charming, and detailed, colorful. A nice layer of polish was applied on everything, and this looked like it could be a hell of a character action game the likes of which no one had ever seen before. Remember, a 16-Bit Mario was not due for a couple more years, yet. Even looking at these screens now, I still get a little nostalgic.
The game itself plays decent, for its time. Not wonderful, not terrible, just above-average when it released (and probably what many would consider sub-par now). That's not a knock against it - it was a fairly complete package, there's lots of cool powerup items to utilize (when did you ever see Mario on a Motorcycle or in missile-firing helicopter?) The platforming was decent, there were enemies to kill and obstacles to crush, different themed worlds, it had everything. Too bad the controls were not as tight as they could have been - also unlike Mario, this game kills you with a single hit.
Alex isn't a bad game by a long shot. Given a proper chance they could have plumbed this for some excellent sequels, and I will argue that it's a shame they didn't - the time just wasn't right. Also, I will chalk it up to a cultural thing. Mario and Sonic are a lot more appealing to Western tastes for many reasons, "Alex Kidd" - what the heck does that mean? And the cover art wasn't helping things - overall, his world was a little strange and the story not terribly compelling. But, a good solid game nonetheless, and one worthy of any old-school gamer's attention. If you must play an Alex Kidd game, stick it out with the old original 8-Bit Miracle World title - but Enchanted Castle will give you some good times as well.