"The game is so colourful in fact, that a cursory glance at screenshots gives you the impression you are looking at a children’s book. Games that would appear many years later, such as Super Mario Brothers 3 and Yoshi’s Island, will spring to mind. There is a definite, simplified artistry at work in Sega’s cartridge. "
If ever there was a black sheep of a video game family, it is The Lost Stars of the Alex Kidd series. The first game of the series, Alex Kidd in Miracle World, garnered much attention and rightly so, and set a high precedent for its sequels to follow. The general consensus was that The Lost Stars was the definite weak link, and being the game that would be released directly after Miracle World, made its inability to measure up all the more evident.
The story involves an evil monster, Jiggarat, stealing the stars from the sky above the planet Aries. Prince Alex, from the City of Radactian, must venture forth, thrashing some of the weirdest bad guys you’ll ever see, and return the stars of the constellation in Aries in prompt order. The game was criticized for not ‘staying true’ to the Miracle World themes of Shellcore, (Alex’s ability to punch through rocks) and Janken (Alex’s mastery of rock, paper, scissors). These elements are really missing from the next three Master System outings for the Kidd, only reappearing again in the Genesis game, The Enchanted Castle, (the TRUE sequel to Miracle World). But for whatever reason, The Lost Stars is the game that got shafted for being ‘different’.
However, I am of the opinion that The Lost Stars, while not possessing the depth of its predecessor, is an extremely fun game, nevertheless. The game retains many of the earmarks that the series would become known for, (no pun intended!) and does so in bright, colourful, and playful fashion.
The game is so colourful in fact, that a cursory glance at screenshots gives you the impression you are looking at a children’s book. Games that would appear many years later, such as Super Mario Brothers 3 and Yoshi’s Island, will spring to mind. There is a definite, simplified artistry at work in Sega’s cartridge. Alex is bigger than he was in Miracle World, and his animation seems to have improved somewhat. There was an arcade version of this game, and upon comparison, the console derivation stands up quite well graphically, inevitably losing only some amount of sharpness.
Be forewarned--if you don’t like ‘cute’ looking games, you will be turned off by the Alex Kidd series in general, and this game in particular. Everything here is cute: from Alex’s big-eared sprite, to the bad guys. Perhaps only the last boss of the game, Jiggarat, has a malevolent countenance.
The Lost Stars even sounds cute. The music is quite catchy, and the tunes are very ‘hum’ worthy. There is much more variety present than the simple score from Miracle World, which contained the memorable theme track, but only a few other tracks, that were nowhere as memorable. I remember every single tune from The Lost Stars, and Sega managed to improve (if only slightly) on the tinny quality factor, as this game’s music, sounds a little less ‘dinky’.
As with all Alex Kidd games, the game play is as colourful as the game itself. Alex makes stops in Toy World, where he deals with a giant teddy bear, and a dog that barks out the letters 'BOW WOW', (not unlike Air Zonk) among other interesting ‘enemies’. They don’t look like they’re out to get you, as much as being simply in your way. There is a robotic themed level, that looks like something you may have seen in Sonic the Hedgehog, and you later travel inside a giant’s body, something seen years later in Bonk’s Adventure. What these examples should serve to illustrate, is how innovative Alex is, in all of his cuteness.
There are the obligatory swimming levels and platform jumping, and Alex wields a cloud shot as his weapon of choice. It’s use is finite however, as is use of the super jump item, but it's possible to finish the game without it, simply playing to avoid everything. As you guide Alex along, you will notice his vitality drop. The game uses a vitality gauge a lot like the one in the Adventure Island series and the first Wonder Boy game. As time passes, Alex becomes weaker. If Alex touches an enemy, he reappears right back where he was when it happened. He flashes with momentary invincibility, with several bars knocked off his vitality gauge. Therefore, taking long in your travels, and getting hit by enemies, will all contribute to your vitality decreasing. Strangely enough, falling in holes does NOT affect your vitality and doing so will place you perhaps one screen back. When your vitality is drained, the game will flash ‘Time Up’ on the screen and you will be given the option to continue from the beginning of that level. You can continue indefinitely.
And therein lies the main fault in Alex Kidd and the Lost Stars. It’s very easy. You will play through seven rounds, and then find that round 8 through 14 are basically the same as 1 through 7, only some of the items and enemies are in slightly different places. The items are fewer the second time through as well, making it slightly more difficult. But really, the amount of SC items (the item that restores bars to your vitality) available are such that even if you get hit a lot, you will still be able to cruise through the game. At the end of each level, there will be an exit sign. The obstacles at these junctures provide the most challenge the game has to offer. Overcoming these obstacles usually requires you to run and jump toward the exit sign, perhaps taking a hit, only to reappear invincible and in stride, to run through to the exit.
Perhaps the best comparison of Miracle World’s follow up, The Lost Stars, is Yoshi’s Story, following up Yoshi’s Island. In each case, the sequel looks even more vibrant and storybook-like than the original, but does not have the depth and difficulty in game play to really compete at the same level. The criticism about the game’s unworthiness as a sequel is unfounded though, as every Master System Alex Kidd game to follow Miracle World, is a sort of side story anyway.
Thus, Alex Kidd and the Lost Stars is a GREAT game for younger players, and a very enjoyable romp for more experienced players, who may find it a nearly stress free way to pass some time. Admittedly, it gets a little dull at times, especially playing the levels the second time through, but Sega found a way to inject a very valuable and intangible quality into this and every other game in this popular series, and that is charm. It goes a long way in establishing any video game mascot character, and unless you get nauseous easily, you will appreciate the fact that Alex--in this simple game more than any of the others--has charm, colour and cuteness, in spades.
Staff review by Marc Golding (January 12, 2004)
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