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Retrospective: The development of Alex Kidd

Before the times of Sonic the Hedgehog or even before the glory days of the 16-Bit era, SEGA had problems to get more share of the console market in the west and Japan as well. Some of those attempts included porting arcade games to their home consoles like the SG-1000 and the SC-3000, by the time the Famicom / NES was on the market, things got more difficult because of a certain plumber (who also made use of the amanita muscaria fungi in his game) that took the market by storm. Their latest home console, the SEGA Mark III, even with better hardware and FM sound was still struggling to compete with the Famicom’s popularity. It was clear, SEGA needed a mascot to rival the plumber who sometimes worked as a doctor without really having a title/license (just like Osamu Tezuka’s Black Jack).

Alex Kidd

And so SEGA’s official yet unofficial mascots successions started. We say it that way because SEGA of Japan at that time never really intended to use most of them as such. For example, Professor Asobin, an antropomorphic rabbit used in the SG-1000 game instruction manuals to give “taking care of the card games” or game tips advices, is considered as SEGA’s 1st mascot, but in fact the character was just used as a friendly way to communicate such things. It was time and his constant usage that gave him that accidental spot. The same could be said for Dr. Games, a Doctor who stepped in to fill the same role during 1984 but had early retirement that same year for its lack of appeal, restoring the throne to the same Prof. Asobin. There was even a period in time were both characters appeared on the game manuals. Things started to change in March 1986, when SEGA, in an attempt to compete with Konami’s Gradius (the most popular space side scroll shooter at the time in Japan) twisted things on its own take on the genre adding color and cuteness (setting it in the same universe as their arcade hit Space Harrier) with Fantasy Zone. Using the moment of popularity for the game, SEGA used Opa Opa, the series cute spaceship protagonist, as a type of mascot releasing it on products. This game + mascot combination was there, but Opa still lacked the strength to compete with the fat rival in overalls. SEGA R&D (research and development) was assigned with the task to create action games that were strong enough to make the SEGA Mark III sell more.

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A HAPPY ACCIDENT

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Kotaro Hashida, a man who rarely shows his face on photos, joined SEGA in 1983 after reading a recruitment ad. He lost his way several times trying to reach the SEGA HQ for a job interview. He chose SEGA over Namco that time…

In that same year, Kōtarō Hayashida (Ninja Princess aka SEGA Ninja along with other SEGA Mark III ports from arcade), as part of the SEGA R&D assigned with the action game task, was already working on a type of action RPG which he was tentatively entitling “Miracle Land“. The game prototype in the beginning had a character who used weapons, but eventually was substituted with kempo (martial arts) after re-writing things a lot of times. As these combat actions progressed, the game changed from an RPG to a platformer. Kōtarō wanted so much his work to be a lot different from the Ninty Plumber that he even inverted the button setting for the controller’s actions. Eventually the game evolved into a space story set in the Aries Constelation Star System’s Radaxarian town, inspired by Star Wars, as Kōtarō narrates himself on SEGA Japan’s AGES interviews, were he also apologizes for the controversial Yanken Pon system (the battle system in which rock, paper or scissors are delivered at random leaving the combats to luck rather than player’s skill) a gameplay mechanic he desgined in his attempt to deliver something original.

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Reiko Kodama, SEGA’s veteran illustrator that designed most of the game charcters you cherish.

The game still needed some good looks, so SEGA’s illustration veteran, Rieko Kodama (Phantasy Star, Ninja Princess, Altered Beast, Quartet, etc.) designed the looks for Alex Kidd and the rest of the game’s characters. Kōtarō provided sketches for its universe as well. Later on, other stuff was added like more background on the story, vehicles, and more enemies.

Alex Kidd’s full name (Alex Kidd Osaru) comes from a fonetic pun that means “Osaru (mythical giant monkey beast) house prince” (osāru-ka no ōji) which kinda explains why he has big ears.

And so, “Alex Kidd in the Miracle World” was launched on November 1st 1986 for the SEGA Mark III. Kōtarō was also assigned to produce a Zillion game to be launched next year (1987), SEGA’s attempt to deliver a strong anime + game + toys combination to acquire more market, the IP featured Fantasy Zone’s Opa Opa.

AN ADVENTURE OVERSEAS

After that, the story is better known to us, SEGA attempted a console adventure in the western market with the launch of the Master System, a revamped SEGA Mark III, in the USA in September 1986. The console was benefited in its catalog due to its backwards compatibility since it was able to read SG-1000 / SC-3000, Mark III cards and cartridge games that were already available for the console, of course, Master System eventually had its own. To take on the Ninty Plumber, Alex Kidd, was selected as the mascot because it was on the same action platformer genre, some changes were made to the localized version like changing the rice balls for hamburgers or story settings, but… sadly it wasn’t enough.

As the system’s sales didn’t rise, former SEGA of America president, Mike Katz, started having more conflicts with former SEGA of Japan president Hayao Nakayama… Setting the stage for a new director on USA and a new mascot…

LEGACY

Alex Kidd’s legacy lasted 4 years, leaving 4 Master System exclusive games, 1 Arcade game with a Master System port, and even a SEGA Genesis / Mega Drive title as his last own adventure.

  • Alex Kidd in Miracle World – 1986, Master System
  • Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars – 1986 Arcade Version with a Master System port (it features setting in the Aries Star System and an Opa Opa cameo)
  • Alex Kidd BMX Trial – 1987, Master System
  • Alex Kidd: High-Tech World – 1987, Master System
  • Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle – 1989, Sega Mega Drive/Genesis
  • Alex Kidd in Shinobi World – 1990, Master System, his last appearance on a game of his own.

WHERE ARE THEY NOW?

Kōtarō Hayashida is now president and CEO of his own social game company, Liber Entertainment Inc. (founded in 2006), he still has SEGA as a client and other companies such as Gumi, Cygames, and Bandai Namco on the mobile front. His company operates with 24 people with a capital of 3 million yen. He is still shy and never allows his face to be displayed on photos.

Rieko Kodama still works at SEGA as artist, animator, director, and game producer. Her SEGA work portfolio as illustrator and character designer is impressive: Champion Boxing (the world’s 1st fighting game), Ninja Princess, Alex Kidd series, Quartet, Fantasy Zone II, Phantasy Star 1, 2, & IV, Altered Beast, and many more. She even worked as producer for Skies of Arcadia. She currently works in the production of the 7th Dragon series, along with Yuzo Koshiro with Sasakure.UK on music, and Shirow Miwa as artist.

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As for Alex Kidd… he currently works as a clerk in a convenience store as portrayed in Segagaga (Dreamcast legendary cult classic title), forgotten by time because of Sonic the Hedgehog’s rise as SEGA’s mascot. Sometimes he takes his chopper and bike to race among friends in the Sonic & All Stars Racing series. Will he ever return on a series or more cameos on SEGA titles? Only time will tell… In the meantime he is still cherished among SEGA fans from the 80’s and 90’s and mostly in Brazil, the place on Earth were SEGA is still the biggest thing.

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kopke

Graphic Designer and Illustrator, and of course a SEGA Nerd and Fan!

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