RELEASE DATE: 04/90 – (US), 08/90 – (EU)
Rather than produce a misguided port of Revenge of Shinobi for Master System or let the Alex Kidd series descend to hell with a monkey boy whimper, Sega did the honorable and surprising move of combining the two franchises. Alex Kidd in Shinobi World is the Kidd’s final romp in this mortal coil. And while it’s not exactly a strict Alex Kidd game, one could make the argument that such a concept never really existed.
Alex’s girlfriend has been kidnapped by an evil ninja demon named Hanzo, tale as old as time. Despite his loss, Alex remains his smiling goofball self, only with black robes and Tabi boots. He’s also traded his big-fisted punch for a sharp sword, and abandoned rock, paper, scissors matches to the four winds.
Alex does not look or act like Joe Musashi, but he is very much in Shinobi World. The methodical pacing found in Shinobi is ever present here. Enemies always require correct timing to destroy rather than aggressive force. Stage design is also reminiscent of the original Shinobi – city scapes, ascending waterfalls, ancient Japanese architecture – with a pinch of Alex Kidd thrown in (the unfortunate swimming portions). The bosses are lifted directly from Master System Shinobi, though they’ve been given slightly different names and simplified. Hanzo is just the Masked Ninja, while Kabuto is Ken-Oh, the “Robster” (oh dear) is Lobster, and the Black Turtle Helicopter is combined with Mandara for mini-helicopter spewing action.
Because Alex is in Shinobi World and not High-Tech World or the Enchanted Castle, he’s stronger than he’s ever been. Besides his aforementioned sword, he also has a three-hit life bar for the first time ever. For extra fun, he can turn into a flaming fireball when he’s on a pole and sail across the screen, destroying bricks and enemies in his fiery wake. Treasure chests litter the Shinobi dominion and provide Alex with additional hearts/life points, a stronger sword attack, an upgraded spear attack that’s more direct, and Tornado Magic that turns Alex into a sweeping whirlwind of justice.
Shinobi World‘s flaws are its short length and lack of difficulty. There are four worlds with three stages each, but the last stage in each world is only a boss battle. With the exception of final boss Hanzo, each boss is easy to take down. And while you only start with three lives and a continue, I was able to acquire seven lives within the first two worlds without any trouble.
If Shinobi World feels like even less of an Alex Kidd adventure than usual, that’s because the game was almost called Shinobi Kid. Originally positioned as a cutesy, easier take on the Shinobi series for younger folk, young Joe was, at some point in the development process, replaced with aging Alex. What’s more, first boss Kabuto was almost named “Mari-Oh,” a chubby Italian samurai that spews fireballs. Given Nintendo’s unquestionable power around 1990, it was wise of Sega to alter the boss and avoid a potential lawsuit.
Even if Shinobi Kid morphed into Alex Kidd in Shinobi World at the eleventh hour, I’m glad Sega allowed their original mascot to ninja vanish with dignity. Rather than let the lazy, misguided Enchanted Castle be the Kidd’s epitaph, Sega gave him one final power-up: from cutesy monkey boy to a chibi, surreal version of one of their strongest characters. If that’s not a bizarrely fitting tribute to Alex’s curious legacy, I don’t know what is.