Poor Alex Kidd. The pint-sized, big-eared wonder never really caught on as a mascot, although it was not through lack of trying on Sega's part. Alex appeared in a number of games featuring vastly different forms of gameplay and, with this last throw of the dice, Sega tried to pair the ailing character with one of their more successful franchises, in the (perhaps desperate) hope that something about the combination would catch the gaming public's attention. It is something of a shame that this last attempt also failed, because they very nearly got it right with Alex Kidd in Shinobi World.
As one might expect from the title, the game is a scaled-down version of Shinobi, with many of the original game's elements making an appearance, albeit with a bigger, bolder, more light-hearted tone; think perhaps of the relationship between Mario Strikers Charged Football and Pro Evolution Soccer, or Kid Dracula and Castlevania. As it's essentially a basic platformer, the gameplay is simplistic, but also responsive and well-balanced, with the same indescribable sense of things being "just right" that permeates titles like the original Super Mario series. If there is a complaint, it's that the game is too comfortable to play, and offers little in the way of innovation or the unexpected.
As such, it is not a difficult game, as the enemies have basic and unchanging attack patterns, alternate paths through the levels are rare and even the secrets are exactly where any veteran gamer would expect them to be. The whole thing can be played through in one sitting without too much trouble; only the last boss offers much of a challenge, and even he will not take more than a handful of attempts before he's sent packing. All of this is not to say that the game is not enjoyable, but it will be far from taxing for all but the most novice players. It is the equivalent of an old movie on a rainy Sunday afternoon: something to while away an hour or two without having to think too hard about it.
There is a sense throughout that the designers did only what was necessary, the minimum required to produce a playable game, and this also extends to the graphics. They're certainly clear and functional in terms of conveying the setting, and are as bright and colourful as one would expect from the Master System hardware, but even so never truly impress. That said, there are some pleasingly idiosyncratic visual choices made herw and there, particularly in the enemy designs; the first boss bears a striking resemblance to a certain famous plumber, and the Moai-like helicopter and lemon-spitting giant lobster are unique opponents to say the least.
On the other hand, it is clear that some corners were cut in places, such as the black squares behind the more complex sprites and a distinct lack of detail and imagination in the backgrounds of the boss stages. The sound is by far the weakest aspect of the game, with some good tunes mangled in their execution and some notable glitches in terms of the music slowing down or sound dropping out altogether when there is a lot happening on screen. These issues are sadly retained, with disappointing fidelity, in the Virtual Console release.
All in all, this is not a great game, but it would be a mistake to discount it completely. The most disappointing thing about Alex Kidd in Shinobi World is that there's little in the way of ambition; everything it sets out to do, it does well, more or less, and the general impression is that if the designers had just pushed themselves a little harder, and reached a little higher, this could have been one of the more memorable titles of the 8-bit generation. As it is, the game is not an embarrassing farewell for Alex Kidd, but neither is it the blaze of glory Sega's long lost mascot deserved.