Let’s be frank. Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars is a very weird and very frustrating platformer from the early ages of the 8-bit era. It was one of my first Sega Master System games, and one of the only ones that I could manage to beat. The levels were colorful, the enemies bizarre, and to this day, I’m still not really sure what the hell the story was about. I think it has something to do with collecting the signs of the zodiac. “Find the Miracle Ball,”says the disembodied digitized voice. This is almost all of the storyline you have to go on aside from the blurb on the back of the box.
Its predecessor, Alex Kidd In Miracle World, had a lot more going on for it: breakable blocks, purchasable items and power-ups, a varied terrain that seamlessly went from vertical to horizontal, and to top it all off: a freaking motorcycle. AKIMW is also one of the hardest things I’ve ever played and I don’t think I’ve even gotten past the second stage.
Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars shares the same protagonist, but its gameplay is almost nothing alike. To me, it seems more like Wonder Boy crossed with a hallucinogen-fueled nightmare. The erstwhile Sega mascot can no longer deliver his trademark punch, and is left pretty much defenseless until he gets an “S” card power up which allows him to shoot some sort of energy wave. They’ve thankfully done away with the one-hit death system from Miracle World and have replaced it with a health bar that also serves as a timer. An unlimited amount of continues makes this decently kid-friendly; the disturbing sound clip of Alex Kidd screaming every time he dies, probably does not, however. And die you will. Often.
The seven levels in Lost Stars consist of Toyland, a robot assembly line, some sort of Halloween crap-forest, an underwater escapade, some dinosaur crap, the inside of a body, and a low-gravity outer-spaced themed area simply known as Ziggurat. The action is solely limited to “run from the left side of the stage to the right” while jumping over pitfalls and dodging enemies. The game features angled surfaces, swinging ropes, and a few different types of platforms that will drop, raise, dissolve, or launch you into the air, but nothing really breaks the monotony of left-to-right. In place of end bosses, the final screen of the level has some sort of hazard to navigate to get to the Exit sign. Most of these you can run right through without much of a problem, but others will snag you in a flurry of overlapping projectiles that will make you lose precious time and take you back to the start of that screen.
The enemies in this game are something else. Some of them fit right in with their themed levels, such as a puppy that spits a rainbow of colored letters in Toyland or the falling anchors and octopuses of the undersea level. Others, such as the outer-space penguins of Ziggurat, the rolling baby heads in the esophagus area of the body stage, and the naked men that shoot skulls out of their asses from the Halloween area, left me scratching my head. Certain previously encountered enemies will act completely different later in the same level (oh, now they jump!), which furthers the frustration level. I’m unsure whether to haul ass to the edge of the screen or take my time, as things will drop down on you from the top of the screen pretty much either way.
Power ups are haphazardly scattered around the levels and many are invisible until you’ve come within a certain distance, which means you will probably be jumping around like an amphetamine-crazed pogo enthusiast for much of your playing time. Most of the items don’t have any obvious use aside from the “J” card that doubles your jump height, the “SC” card that will partially replenish your health bar, and the aforementioned “S” that gives you a limited number of projectiles. What does a mirror or a clown head do? Beats me. There is a score system in place but you can’t see any numbers until after clearing a stage, so I’m never sure if the point items are worth the risk.
The game features one of the most maddeningly asinine second halves I’ve ever seen. Here’s how I think this went down. The developers come up with six or seven wildly imaginative levels pushing the boundaries of the Master System’s graphic capabilities and nearly taking up all of the cartridge space. It goes into play-testing and they realize that the game is simply too short. They don’t have room for many more assets, so some genius gets the idea to simply re-use the levels again in the same order, without so much as a palette swap. There are a few more enemies and the power ups are harder to come by, but the player is simply left to trudge through the whole game a second time to find the other six signs of the zodiac. It could be the original NG+, except for the fact that you didn’t even really beat the game yet.
Alex Kidd still had about five years left as Sega’s mascot but they were already starting to give him the raw deal with this title. It has since been released on the Nintendo Wii’s Virtual Console, so you don’t have to scout flea markets and garage sales for this whimsical piece of trash. I can’t say it offers much replay value, as you’re already sick of it by the time you get to the first stage your second time. I had to force myself to complete it and I was not terribly surprised by the lack of a satisfying ending. Fun for masochists of all ages!