Monday, 22 January 2018

Game Review: Alex Kidd in Shinobi World (Sega Master System)

Developed and published by Sega in 1990

The original Alex Kidd in Miracle World was a significant title for Sega in several respects. Not only did it demonstrate that their Master System hardware superior to that of the NES, but that Sega had the ability to create games with the same level of polish as Nintendo as well. The game came built into the ROM of the Master System and Master System II consoles, so it would be the first game that most children would experience from Sega's 8-bit machine; as we know, first impressions count for a great deal. With the success of the original game, it's no surprise that Sega developed a number of sequels and spin-offs, right up until his position was usurped by a certain blue hedgehog in 1991.

Alex Kidd in Shinobi World was the final game to star Sega's jug-eared curiosity, producing a cross-over between the Alex Kidd games and Sega's ninja-bashing arcade hit, Shinobi. This time around, Alex' girlfriend has been kidnapped by Hanzo, an evil ninja who has escaped from his 10,000 year incarceration on Planet Shinobi, and who intends to sacrifice his captive in a bid to conquer the world. Following the snatching of his dearly beloved, Alex is greeted by a ghostly apparition who just happens to be the spirit of a warrior who managed to defeat Hanzo many centuries ago - the spirit possesses Alex' body, granting him the warrior's mystical abilities and combat prowess with which he can defeat Hanzo and rescue his girlfriend.

The result of this somewhat peculiar "cross-fertilisation" of franchises resulted in a platform game that is much simpler than other Alex Kidd games, being much closer to the Shinobi series (and arguably more formulaic). The player must guide Alex through a series of side-scrolling levels, collecting power-ups and defeating ninja-styled bad guys that you'll be sure to recognise if you've ever played the Shinobi series.

Fighting ninjas down-town

In terms of abilities, Alex' is equipped with a sword that allows him to defeat enemies, break open chest containers, as well as destroy certain tile blocks in each of the levels. Breaking open a chest may reveal a power-up that grants Alex the ability to deflect projectiles with his sword, whilst it's also possible to find a set of kunai, granting him a ranged attack. Also found in chests are collectable heart icons, granting Kidd and extra unit of health when picked up. Hearts are replaced with extra lives when at full health, so adept players are rewarded for skillful gameplay by avoiding taking damage and is a neat feature.

Perhaps the most innovative (and underused) features in the game is the use of fire magic, allowing Alex to spin around poles at such a speed that he turns into a living fireball before hurling himself considerable distance, allowing him to reach platforms and areas that would be otherwise unreachable. Sadly, the levels are so short and linear in design that there are but a handful of occasions when you ever get to make use of this skill. It's a cool feature that could have helped make the game so much more engaging under other circumstances.

Going for a quick dip!

It's on this note that seems appropriate to mention my chief criticism with the game, the fact that there only four levels in the game. Without any difficulty settings, alternative game modes or options, there's very little meat on the bones of this game at all and no reason to go back to it once beaten; there are some secret rooms to find, but it's still not enough. This is actually quite a shame because I think the game is actually quite fun and the lower difficulty makes the game much more accessible to less experienced players.

As good as the NES was, the Master System certainly had the upper-hand when it came to pumping our rich, colourful graphics, something witnessed with this title. The art-style and subsequent "cutification" of the enemies means that they have a certain "bobble-head" and is a style that works well. Accompanying the visuals are a series of lively, oriental-themed background music that chip-tune fans are sure to enjoy - all in all, a solid showing for the system.

Boss: giant lobster that pelts you with lemons?

Summing up my overall impressions of the game proved to be tricky and deliberated over how to close out this review for quite a while. It's a decent-enough platform game and I think that the level of challenge is just about right, but there was a nagging sense whilst playing that, perhaps the design team struggled for inspiration as to how to progress the design, or that their hearts weren't necessarily behind the project; there's the framework for a much better game here, but the limited number of levels means it never reaches it's full potential.

Having played the game all the way to completion, I can say that, whilst I did enjoy the experience, the lasting impression of Alex Kidd in Shinobi World was not so much a final, glorious curtain call for one of Sega's more recognisable franchises, but more a reaffirmation as to why Sonic The Hedgehog would prove to be all-too-important for Sega in taking the fight to Nintendo.

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