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Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle (Genesis) artwork

Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle (Genesis) review

"Enchanted, much like getting hit by a car while trying to change a flat tire in a downpour is enchanted."

Before the hedgehog named Sonic burst onto the televisions of Sega Genesis owners, Alex Kidd was Sega's mascot. He starred in six games released between 1986 and 1990 before being relegated to the Island of Misfit Toys, only making a recent reappearance because someone decided there might be money in remaking his old games because retro sells.

Maybe Alex was a viable mascot in the days of Master System and maybe some stuff he starred in was actually considered good — I don't know; I never played those games. But I have played Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle and can definitely say that Sega NEEDED Sonic to dethrone him with the hedgehog's series of excellent and engaging platformers. Poor Alex just didn't have the pizzazz, gumption or…well, much of anything to remain relevant in the 16-bit generation. Either that or the poor folk working on this game were sadly unable to keep up with the times. While Enchanted Castle isn't bereft of good ideas, it was too simplistic, bare-bones and run-of-the-mill to maintain my attention for any tangible amount of time.

While plot is never a big deal in these games, which often peak at "hero must save girl and/or world from villain", this game's is especially stupid. Alex must fight through a number of levels in an attempt to find his lost father. In the final level, which is also the only one that's particularly lengthy, interesting or engaging, he fights a demonic boss, only to find said boss was dad's servant and pops hadn't disappeared — he was just on sabbatical, chilling out while everyone else in the world was wondering what's what. I'd apologize for, like, totally spoiling the plot, but I'm a fan of alliteration and think it's totally cool I finished that sentence with five straight "W" words. At least, that's more awesome than about anything in this game!

Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle screenshot Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle screenshot

As for the gameplay, in a word, it's simplistic. Alex can walk, punch and jump in a really floaty manner. By finding or earning items, he can collect a number of powers. The most useful turns his punch into a projectile attack allowing him to dispose of monsters without putting himself at risk. Others improve his mobility: a pogo stick to jump higher and a pedal-operated flying machine to fly through the air for two examples. For the most part, those items will be of limited use. I used the pogo stick to get to out-of-the-way treasure chests a few times and one late-game level requires the flying machine, but the projectile punch was the only thing I saw reason to use on a stage-by-stage basis. Hell, I couldn't even tell you the function of a couple items because I never saw fit to experiment with them. For me, this was one of those "do the bare minimum to get through" games.

Why? Well, speaking of the game's levels, there are only about a dozen in this game and many of them are no longer than those found in an old-school Super Mario offering. You know, those games that tended to have eight or so worlds with each one containing four to 10-plus levels? Yeah, by comparison, Enchanted Castle is so lacking in content that merely saying "lacking in content" is lacking in context. You'll have a reasonably diverse collection of locations, including a town, sea, forest and mountain, but the only one lasting long enough to really make an impression is the titular enchanted castle.

The final stage is where this game goes from merely existing all the way to attempting to actually be kind of enjoyable. It's a comparatively vast locale loaded with tricks and traps strewn throughout many rooms. You'll have to manipulate levers to open doors and turn off deathtraps and sometimes you'll have to move quickly and precisely in order to accomplish those tasks in time. Some rooms have multiple exits to even give you the illusion you're going through a massive maze of a building.

The rest of the game can't remotely match up to that finale. Most stages are linear jaunts that may have a bit of depth to allow for a bit of exploration. Such as the water level, where you can spend virtually the entire time underwater, but there also is a fair amount of treasure on platforms in the sky. Or the forest level, where you can spend your time walking on the ground, or can choose to navigate platforms located near the tree tops. You know, sort of like how Sonic the Hedgehog's Green Hill Zone had a certain amount of depth. Just without that game's speed, rock-solid play control or sense of accomplishment one would get when discovering how to reach that extra life located on top of one of those loop-de-loops you could sprint through.

Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle screenshot Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle screenshot

Unfortunately, this game is more than mediocre platforming containing a collection of generic and uninspiring challenges. It also revolves around rock-paper-scissors to a demoralizing degree. In a couple levels, there are rooms you can enter to gamble the money you've obtained via treasure chests or defeating monsters on this totally luck-based game to win items. At the end of a few levels, there are bosses whom you'll have to defeat via the random nature of picking between three options as opposed to anything requiring reflexes or skill. You'll make your choice, your opponent will make their choice and then you'll either win, it'll be a draw and you'll have to pick again or you'll lose the game, resulting in Alex losing a life.

Yeah, you can lose lives playing a children's game based on trial-and-error. And you'll have to play that game to get through certain levels or if you want to have any of the game's cool items before they start popping up in certain treasure chests. As far as gameplay decisions go, that certainly is one. A horrible one that never should have been considered, let alone actually implemented in something that someone actually thought other people would want to play. Did Link rescue Princess Zelda from Ganon due to besting him in a friendly game of craps? Did Simon Belmont defeat Dracula via finding him in a high-stakes round of hide-and-seek? Did Mega Man foil Dr. Wily by flipping a coin and correctly calling heads or tails? No, because the creators of those games had a clue as to what gamers want to do while gaming.

It's really hard to truly put my disappointment into words as far as Enchanted Castle is concerned. As a guy who's played games for virtually his entire life, I have a lot of interest in retro titles and love the fact that I can regularly pick up and play all sorts of older titles that slipped through the cracks back in the day. There's a certain thrill that comes from starting up a game and having that "Back in the day, Alex Kidd was SOMEBODY!" vibe. The anticipation brews and builds and then…there I am on my sofa, staring dead-eyed at my TV because whatever I was expecting, I'm not experiencing. Instead, I'm playing a bare-bones game with a somewhat awkward-to-control hero. I can't even be charitable and say that this might have been a good game by 1989 standards because it doesn't even remotely stack up to comparable games of that era. Bonk's Adventure was released that year. Super Mario Bros. 3 came out in Japan in '88. Unless you're a huge fan of settling all disputes with rock-paper-scissors, this one doesn't compare to those…or that many other titles, to be honest.

overdrive's avatar
Community review by overdrive (September 03, 2021)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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