Review by Pluvius

"Not the worst of the Alex Kidd games. Just keep in mind that it's for kids."

Everyone knows that Sega's mascot is Sonic the Hedgehog--he's arguably the second-best known mascot behind Nintendo's Mario. What a lot of people don't know is that before Sonic's explosion onto the gaming scene in 1991, Sega was looking for a figurehead to combat the plump plumber's influence. Opa-Opa, the cute little ship in Fantasy Zone, was Sega's first mascot in the mid-80's, but it was quickly overshadowed by a monkeyesque young prince named Alex Kidd. Though his charm wasn't enough to make Sega more than an also-ran in Japan and the US, he was popular enough to star in six games across the SMS and the Genesis, and was certainly Sega's most well-known character before Sonic.

For a long time, my only exposure to Alex Kidd (outside of a few rentals of his Genesis game, Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle) was my cartridge of Alex Kidd in High-Tech World. (Note: Henceforth the ubiquitous words "Alex Kidd in" will be assumed whenever I mention the name of one of his games.) Most Alex Kidd fans consider High-Tech World to be the worst of the series, and I'm not sure why. The other Alex Kidd games on the SMS consisted of a boring platformer, a mediocre bike racer, a decent but out-of-place parody of Shinobi, and Miracle World. That last game, which is actually one of the best that the SMS has to offer, is the only one I could honestly say is better than High-Tech World; the first two I mentioned are entirely forgettable, while the Shinobi parody really only works if you don't think of it as an Alex Kidd game. That's ironic, because High-Tech World isn't an Alex Kidd game at all, but a reworking of an anime tie-in called Anmitsu Hime. Sega just edited a few sprites and changed the story, much like Nintendo did with Doki Doki Panic.

At any rate, Sega's changes to High-Tech World resulted in a plot that could be the definition for the term "product placement." Alex's friend tells him about a new arcade that just opened up a couple of towns over, filled with all of the hot new games like Outrun (TM)--you can actually get in it and drive it like a real car! Suitably impressed, Alex asks his buddy where the arcade is, but for some ridiculous reason the dolt lost the map to it, which somehow got split into eight pieces. Alex vows to find the pieces strewn around his castle, travel to the arcade before it closes, and spend all of his money on those shining, beeping gifts from God as related by His messenger, Sega.

The first part of High-Tech World is similar in style to a computer adventure, taking place inside Alex's castle. To find the eight pieces of the map, Alex has to search the various rooms, talk to his friends, family, and servants, and find items that will help him in his task. Some of the things that Alex can do include taking a test from his teacher that includes a question about Space Harrier (TM), listening to his friend's copy of the soundtrack from Fantasy Zone (TM), and cleaning up a sign that proudly proclaims "Sega is No. 1!" (Sensing a pattern here yet?) Alex has to solve a variety of simple puzzles to get the eight pieces of the map, whereupon he can sneak out of the castle and continue on his quest. He can't waste too much time here, though, since he has to make it to the arcade by the time it closes at 5:00. Visiting a room takes five minutes by itself, so you don't want to waste time "lollygagging," as Alex's mentor calls it.

After the first action stage (more on that later), High-Tech World takes Alex to a small town halfway between his castle and the arcade. Apparently times are tough in Alex's kingdom, since there's a militarized checkpoint that won't even let a prince through without a pass. Unlike the castle, there are multiple ways to solve the mystery of the gate, depending on how much money you gained during the action stage and how smart and perceptive you are. There are quite a few things to do with your money in this bustling marketplace, some of them red herrings, and some of which can even get you killed. The methods of getting through this stage are unfortunately a bit obscure among all of these options, but after a few tries you'll hopefully set Alex on his way to the end.

Between and after these two stages, Alex must travel through the forest, which is crawling with ninjas and beasts that are intent on killing him. (I guess that's what the checkpoint is there for.) This is definitely the weakest part of High-Tech World, as it's rather uninspired, and getting hit even once will send you back to the beginning of the stage. It's pretty hard not to get hit, since there are a lot of enemies and hazards, and Alex's offense is weak--he can only throw one shuriken at a time, while he might have to deal with three or more of them flying at him from different directions. On the bright side, the first action stage is pretty short, and if you somehow run out of time, you can use a password to reset the clock back to where it was.

Beyond the action stages themselves, the biggest problem with High-Tech World is its propensity to kill Alex or make his quest unwinnable. There are seven or eight different things you can do both in the castle and at the checkpoint that will make your game end, some of which can happen without any warning. For example, one of the most annoying deathtraps comes when you're walking around the castle, minding your own business, then suddenly fall down a flight of stairs that has a giant hole in it for no reason. You will almost certainly have to play through both parts of the game multiple times before you beat it, unless you're using a FAQ. This can get pretty annoying, but the whole game takes only an hour or so to beat if you know what you're doing and there are passwords for every stage, so at least you're not set back too much if you get a game over.

I know that what I've said doesn't really do much to distinguish High-Tech World, but I think the main reason it holds a place in my heart is because it appealed so much to the nerdy eight-year-old I was back then. I mean, a kid's concept of "great responsibility" involves things like taking tests and doing chores, and High-Tech World gave me something that I could relate to. Kids also take corporate advertising at face value instead of sneering at it like us jaded adults are wont to do. And what boy from the 80's didn't dream of going to an arcade with all of the most awesome games ever? Basically what I'm saying is that all it takes to like High-Tech World is the willingness to open up that eight-year-old child that's inside of you. And if there isn't one inside of you, then how did you get into video games in the first place?

Reviewer's Rating:   3.0 - Fair

Originally Posted: 04/16/07, Updated 08/31/07

Game Release: Alex Kidd: High-Tech World (US, 12/31/89)

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