WAY before Sonic entered the scene, Sega's most popular character was a freakish little monkey man by the name of Alex Kidd. He couldn't run fast like the legendary hedgehog and his back wasn't covered with serrated blades. Still, he could punch and kick his way through monsters and obstacles like no other square shaped platformer hero could. It's obvious that the monkey man was Sega's answer to Mario, but he was unable to reach the popularity of his red plumber counterpart because American gamers just didn't find him all that appealing.
Anyway, monkey man had previously starred in a ton of other games on the Sega Master System that were released only in Japan. Released in 1989, Enchanted Castle marks his first foray into the 16 bit era on the Genesis. So basically, this could be considered a pretty close launch title of the legendary system, and it was released in North America as well as Japan, although a couple of elements got lost in translation. For one, there's a huge emphasis in this game on playing "Rock, Paper, Scissors", but since the digitized voices aren't translated, Alex is constantly squeaking "Tanma Ro Rekken" or something like that. You wouldn't know the game was "Rock, Paper, Scissors" unless you paid close attention to the icons above each character
The rest of the game is kind of a funky and utterly miserable and cruel strategic platformer involving Alex going around jumping on platforms, punching bricks, dodging enemies, and (the best part) grabbing money bags and coins for his reward. In most games, collecting enough currency (or score points or whatever) in the game will yield the player an extra life. In Alex Kidd however, they serve as currency to pay for continues. $1000 nets one Continue for the player. This is a great incentive to keep collecting moneh'. Unfortunately the rest of the game is frustrating as hell. Unlike Sonic or even Mario, Alex can only take one hit and then he's out of the game. Given that this ain't Mario or Sonic, jumping on enemies to destroy them is noneffective tactic. Rather, little Alex has to punch with a grotesquely large fist or jump kick his foes before they touch him. For some reason, the game doesn't let the player input a command for a jump kick—it seems to do it automatically when Alex jumps. This can be a blessing in some cases, but most of the time its just an annoyance. Since Alex is so insanely vulnerable, all the enemies he faces are usually slow moving, ground based creatures that don't fire projectiles. There are some incredibly annoying opponents though, like an old wizard who can teleport to any location of the map and loves to use this ability when he senses Alex's fist heading his way. Most of my deaths were attained simply from bumping into a random enemy that appeared out of nowhere, or falling prey to the environmental traps that litter the area.
The boss fights are incredibly frustrating affairs, mainly in part because you don't actually FIGHT your opponents. Most of the time, the bosses will just play "Rock, Paper, Scissors" with Alex and victory during these encounters is obviously completely determined by chance. If Alex loses one of these matches, he not only loses a life, he gets sent back a significant ways to the middle of the stage. Exactly why would they do this!? It's infuriating enough just GETTING to the bosses, and to have victory over them simply be due to a matter of chance is INSUFFERABLE. The final boss is the worst example of this. This multi-armed beast challenges little Alex to a game of "Rock, Paper, Scissors" TWO TIMES in a row. Upon beating those two games, Alex then has to actually beat the boss himself, an opponent surrounded by arms and who loves to throw flying fists at his opponent. ONE screwup during the "Rock, Paper, Scissors" section or ONE TOUCH during the actual fight against the beast and Alex gets sent back several stories down.
Alex Kidd might have been the most popular franchise Sega had at the time, but I highly doubt this is one of the best games the Genesis had at the time. It's sickeningly cute visuals contrast heavily with its nightmarishly agitating challenge level. It's a sadistic lump of programming that may have well sent me away bawling my eyes out had I endured it during my youth. I feel like I'd rather play the Genesis Altered Beast nine times over than endure this again. There are a lot more exciting, more balanced, more visually stimulating, more innovative and just more COOL games on the Genesis than this relic. I'll respect it and admire it for what it is and what it meant to Sega, but I dread the day that I'll ever be placed in the shoes of Alex Kidd again…
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