Forgotten Franchises: A Look at Sega’s ‘Alex Kidd’

Key Takeaways

CreationBorn from an action RPG prototype, transformed into a platformer
Design InfluenceInspired by ‘Star Wars’, designed by Rieko Kodama
Mascot EvolutionFrom Professor Asobin to Opa Opa, finally Alex Kidd
Game Releases6 games from 1986-1990, plus a remake in 2021
LegacyCultural icon, especially cherished in Brazil

Before Sonic the Hedgehog became the face of Sega, there was a whimsical character named Alex Kidd who held the mantle. This article dives into the history, development, and legacy of Sega’s ‘Alex Kidd’ series, a forgotten franchise that once rivaled the likes of Mario.

The Genesis of ‘Alex Kidd’

In the mid-1980s, the video game industry was undergoing a significant transformation, with the console market rapidly expanding. Sega, a key player in this arena, was facing stiff competition, particularly from Nintendo’s Famicom (NES) console, which was dominating the market thanks to its flagship character, Mario. Sega’s efforts to increase market share involved strategies like porting arcade games to their home consoles, the SG-1000 and SC-3000. However, the challenge intensified with the rise of Mario, a character who had quickly become a cultural icon. This led Sega to recognize the necessity of having a mascot that could rival Mario’s appeal.

Sega had experimented with various characters as their mascot, including Professor Asobin, an anthropomorphic rabbit, and Dr. Games, a doctor character. However, none of these characters had the lasting appeal needed to significantly impact the market. In March 1986, Sega released ‘Fantasy Zone’, featuring Opa Opa as a kind of mascot. While this brought some popularity, Opa Opa still couldn’t compete with Mario. This led to Sega’s Research and Development team being tasked with creating an action game that could bolster sales of the Sega Mark III, their latest home console.

Kōtarō Hayashida, then a part of Sega’s R&D, was working on an action RPG tentatively titled “Miracle Land”. The game underwent several transformations during its development, eventually shifting from an RPG to a platformer. Hayashida was determined to make his game distinct from Nintendo’s Mario, even going as far as inverting the controller’s button settings. The setting for the game was inspired by ‘Star Wars’, located in the Aries Constellation Star System’s Radaxian town. The game incorporated a unique rock-paper-scissors combat system, designed to add an element of originality and unpredictability.

The visual design of ‘Alex Kidd’ was entrusted to Rieko Kodama, a seasoned illustrator at Sega. She was responsible for the character designs and the overall visual style of the game. Her contributions were crucial in giving ‘Alex Kidd’ a unique and memorable appearance, differentiating it from other games of the era. The character of Alex Kidd, with his distinctive large ears and martial arts skills, was designed to be a relatable and engaging protagonist for players.

On November 1st, 1986, ‘Alex Kidd in Miracle World’ was released for the Sega Mark III. This game marked the official debut of Alex Kidd and represented Sega’s ambitious attempt to carve out a significant presence in the console gaming market. Despite these efforts, and even with the Master System’s introduction in the USA, ‘Alex Kidd’ struggled to reach the heights of popularity enjoyed by Mario. The franchise, however, did leave a lasting impact on Sega’s history and the broader gaming community.

Through ‘Alex Kidd’, Sega showcased their creativity and willingness to innovate in the face of stiff competition. While the franchise may not have reached the iconic status of Mario or Sonic, it played a crucial role in Sega’s evolution as a gaming company and remains a nostalgic and beloved series among many gamers.

Alex Kidd box art

The Creative Minds Behind Alex Kidd

The creation of Alex Kidd, a seminal character in Sega’s history, can be attributed to the visionary efforts of Kotaro Hayashida and Rieko Kodama. Their collaboration brought to life a character and a game series that, while not achieving the long-term fame of Sega’s later mascot, Sonic the Hedgehog, still holds a fond place in the hearts of many gamers.

Kotaro Hayashida – The Architect of Alex Kidd’s World

Kotaro Hayashida joined Sega in 1983, a decision that set him on the path to creating one of Sega’s most memorable characters. He initially worked on an action RPG tentatively titled “Miracle Land”. The game’s evolution from its initial RPG format to a platformer was a result of Hayashida’s determination to create a game distinct from Nintendo’s Mario. He even inverted the controller’s button settings to differentiate his game. The game’s setting in the Aries Constellation Star System’s Radaxian town was inspired by ‘Star Wars’, showcasing Hayashida’s creativity and willingness to blend different genres and influences​​​​.

Hayashida’s role in developing the game was crucial. He was responsible for the initial concept and the various iterations the game underwent during development. His innovative approach to game mechanics, such as the controversial Yanken Pon system (a rock-paper-scissors battle mechanic), was a testament to his creative problem-solving and originality in game design. The evolution of Alex Kidd under his guidance marked a significant moment in Sega’s history, as they sought to carve out a unique identity in the competitive gaming market of the 1980s​​​​.

Rieko Kodama – The Artistic Force

Rieko Kodama, a seasoned illustrator at Sega, was responsible for the visual design of ‘Alex Kidd’. Her artistic vision brought the characters and the world of Alex Kidd to life. Kodama’s character designs were not only visually appealing but also played a significant role in defining the game’s identity. Her work on Alex Kidd showcased her ability to create engaging and memorable characters, a skill she continued to demonstrate in her later projects at Sega​​.

Kodama’s contribution to ‘Alex Kidd’ extended beyond character design. She was instrumental in shaping the game’s overall aesthetic, including the development of story backgrounds, vehicles, and enemies. Her artistic direction helped to create a cohesive and immersive world for players to explore. The character of Alex Kidd, with his distinctive large ears (a nod to the character’s name, which in Japanese means “mythical giant monkey beast house prince”), was a direct result of Kodama’s creative input​​​​.

Continuing Legacy

Both Hayashida and Kodama have continued to contribute significantly to the gaming industry. Hayashida, now the president and CEO of his own social game company, Liber Entertainment Inc., founded in 2006, remains connected to Sega as a client. His company, operating with a team of 24, reflects his ongoing commitment to the gaming industry​​.

Kodama, on the other hand, still works at Sega, holding roles such as artist, animator, director, and game producer. Her impressive portfolio includes work on major titles like ‘Phantasy Star’, ‘Altered Beast’, and ‘Skies of Arcadia’. Currently, she is involved in the production of the 7th Dragon series, showcasing her enduring impact in the gaming world​​.

The collaboration between Hayashida and Kodama on ‘Alex Kidd’ demonstrates the significance of creative synergy in game development. Their combined efforts resulted in a game that, while not achieving the lasting fame of Sega’s later icons, remains a testament to their innovative spirit and artistic prowess.

The Evolution of the ‘Alex Kidd’ Series

The ‘Alex Kidd’ series, created by Sega, is a fascinating journey through the evolution of video game design and storytelling. Spanning seven titles, each game in the series brought unique elements while maintaining the core identity of its protagonist, Alex Kidd. Below is a detailed look at each title in the series.

1. Alex Kidd in Miracle World (1986)

The inaugural game of the series, ‘Alex Kidd in Miracle World’, was a platform game released for the Master System. It was known for its 2D platform style where players had to navigate through levels, overcoming obstacles and solving puzzles. The game featured 17 stages, each presenting unique challenges and enemies. Alex Kidd’s primary ability was his powerful punch, used for both combat and exploration. Intriguingly, the game had no save system but offered a continue feature using in-game currency​​​​​​.

2. Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars (1986)

Following the success of the first game, ‘Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars’ was released in the same year. This arcade platform game, later ported to the Master System, introduced a quest for Alex and Stella to find twelve Zodiac signs. The game’s levels were creatively themed, ranging from Toy World to the Giant’s Body. Notable for its time limit mechanic and the unique scream Alex lets out when injured, the game provided a distinct experience from its predecessor. The arcade version also featured a two-player cooperative mode​​.

3. Alex Kidd: High-Tech World (1987)

‘Alex Kidd: High-Tech World’ diverged from the previous titles, featuring an adventure-style gameplay. Interestingly, this game was not originally an ‘Alex Kidd’ game in Japan but was based on a 1980s Japanese animated series. The gameplay involved different challenges, marking a significant departure from the platform style of the earlier games​​.

4. Alex Kidd BMX Trial (1987)

This title was a unique entry in the series, focusing on BMX racing. It was exclusive to the Master System and showcased a different aspect of Alex Kidd’s character, emphasizing agility and speed on a BMX bike​​.

5. Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle (1989)

This game, released on the Sega Genesis, returned to the platformer roots of the series. It was a direct sequel to ‘Miracle World’, featuring improved graphics and gameplay mechanics. It retained the core elements that made the original game popular, including the rock-paper-scissors battles​​.

6. Alex Kidd in Shinobi World (1990)

Combining elements of the ‘Alex Kidd’ and ‘Shinobi’ series, this game was the last one released for the Master System. It was a unique blend of platform and action gameplay, showing Alex Kidd in a ninja-themed world. This title marked the end of the original run of the ‘Alex Kidd’ series​​​​.

7. Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX (2021)

In 2021, a remake of the original ‘Alex Kidd in Miracle World’ was released. Developed by Merge Games and Jankenteam, it brought updated graphics and gameplay to modern platforms, reviving interest in the classic character for a new generation of gamers​​​​.

Each game in the ‘Alex Kidd’ series contributed to the evolution of platform and adventure gaming. While the series underwent several changes in gameplay style and presentation, the character of Alex Kidd remained a constant, endearing symbol of Sega’s early years in the gaming industry. The series’ influence, particularly in the 1980s and early 1990s, is a testament to its creativity and the enduring appeal of its titular character.

The Legacy of ‘Alex Kidd’

Despite being overshadowed by Sonic, ‘Alex Kidd’ has left a lasting impression on the gaming world. The series’ titles have been re-released as part of various Sega video game compilations, such as Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection and Sega Vintage Collectio. In 2021, a remake of the original ‘Alex Kidd in Miracle World’ was released, reviving interest in this classic character among a new generation of gamers.

The creators of ‘Alex Kidd’ continued to make significant contributions to the gaming industry. Kotaro Hayashida went on to become the president and CEO of his own social game company, Liber Entertainment Inc., while Rieko Kodama remained with Sega, working on various successful projects.

Alex Kidd’s Cultural Impact

Alex Kidd, beyond being a notable entry in Sega’s gaming portfolio, has left a significant cultural imprint, particularly in regions like Brazil, Australia, and the UK. This impact is a testament to the unique appeal of the character and the games he starred in.

In Brazil, Alex Kidd achieved an iconic status, becoming a cherished part of the gaming culture. The ‘Alex Kidd’ series resonated strongly with Brazilian gamers, partly due to the widespread popularity of the Sega Master System in the country. For many Brazilian gamers growing up in the 1980s and 1990s, Alex Kidd was synonymous with video gaming, much like Mario was in other parts of the world. The character’s legacy continues to be celebrated in Brazil, reflecting a deep-rooted fondness for Sega’s early gaming era.

In Australia, Alex Kidd also enjoyed popularity, bolstered by the Master System’s success in the region. The character became a familiar face to Australian gamers, contributing to the early growth of the video game industry down under. Alex Kidd’s adventures were a part of many Australian childhoods, leaving lasting memories and a sense of nostalgia among those who played the games during their formative years.

The UK market too saw a significant impact from the ‘Alex Kidd’ series. In a region where Sega competed fiercely with Nintendo, Alex Kidd served as a flagship character for Sega, helping to establish a strong presence in the British gaming scene. The character’s quirky charm and the games’ innovative mechanics resonated with UK gamers, ensuring Alex Kidd’s place in the history of video gaming in the country.

Overall, Alex Kidd’s cultural impact in these regions exemplifies the character’s role in shaping early console gaming experiences. It highlights how a video game character can transcend its digital boundaries to become a cultural icon, fondly remembered and celebrated across different parts of the world.

In Conclusion

The ‘Alex Kidd’ series represents a fascinating chapter in Sega’s history. Although it didn’t achieve the same level of success as Sonic or Mario, it remains an important part of the gaming landscape. With its distinctive character design, innovative gameplay, and enduring legacy, ‘Alex Kidd’ deserves recognition as a significant, albeit forgotten, franchise in video game history.