Before the blue, spiky hero with the red shoes burst onto the scene in 1991, Sega already had a mascot: Alex Kidd. A character we have never heard from since.
While not as important now as they once were, console mascots used to be seen as a big deal. They were part of the reason Nintendo had become so successful and identifiable as a brand, and other companies were trying their hardest to come up with cartoon icons of their own.
From 1986 until 1991, Sega's was a boy by the name of Alex Kidd, star of a number of platformers across the Master System, Genesis/Mega Drive and even the arcade. He was actually Sega's second crack at a mascot; previously, it had been Opa-Opa, the cute little ship from Fantasy Zone. Being a little ship without a face, though, he wasn't much use, so Alex Kidd was a welcome replacement.
Kidd, a boy who looked a little like Monkey, would star in six games in total, the first being 1986's Alex Kidd in Miracle World. While the Alex Kidd games were ostensibly platformers, they did contain a number of slightly more complicated elements than you'd find in games like the Mario series, like the ability in some games to save your money and buy items and even vehicles from between-level stores.
One area Alex was superior to his rival Mario is that he did not simply jump on top of enemies to defeat them. He punched them. With his GIANT FIST. Actually, another area was that Alex's vehicles - which could make progress through levels a breeze - were awesome, ranging from zippy little submarines to badass motorbikes.
While not exactly the most adult-oriented games Sega has ever developed, there were some changes made to the series between the versions released in Japan and in the West. In Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, for example, the loser of a rock, paper, scissors match would end up almost completely naked. In the Western versions, as you can see to the left, this was changed to a more acceptable (?) "death by falling anvil" gag.
Most games in the series followed a similar formula of platforming, vehicular action and, yes, rock, paper, scissors. The last Alex Kidd game, however, was vastly different to its predecessors. Alex Kidd in Shinobi World was a parody of ninja platformer Shinobi, and was originally designed as a "Shinobi Junior" game, with Alex Kidd thrust awkwardly into the starring role at the 11th hour. While bearing his name, it really isn't an Alex Kidd game at all.
The Alex Kidd series proved to be my video game introduction to two things. One was the game of rock, paper, scissors, which you have to play at the end of certain levels, sometimes as a battle, other times to get stuff. I'd never heard of it before playing this game! The other was the word "Ziggurat". Not a term you normally come across as a child under the age of ten, and it was a handy one to bust out on the playground or classroom to make it sound like you were smarter than you actually were.
The Alex Kidd games were great. Yet Alex himself never really caught on with the public. He didn't really have an iconic look, or a catchphrase, or something that would make him stick and make people think "yes, this boy represents all that Sega wants us to think it represents".
So when Sonic the Hedgehog came along in 1991, Alex was kicked to the curb. And it's this kicking, more than the games themselves, that really interests me. After 1990's Alex Kidd in Shinobi World for the Master System, the boy was never to be seen again. Sure, he made some cameos, in games like Altered Beast and Shenmue (and most recently in Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing), but in the 21 years since there has not been a single standalone Alex Kidd game, which is remarkably odd for a nostalgia-mad company like Sega, which has even found the time to release a new Nights game.
There are shades of a "night of long knives" at Sega HQ in his swift removal from the top of Sega's franchise pecking order. Or, for another 20th century political analogy, it's like Alex Kidd was the Leon Trotsky of the video game world: pivotal for a moment, then when no longer needed he took an ice pick to the skull, never to be heard from again.
Here's hoping that, some day, Sega seem fit to forgive whatever gross indiscretions Alex committed behind the scenes and bring him back. The world is a little short on platformers featuring mild RPG elements, rock, paper scissors matches and motorbikes, and that's something only Alex Kidd can help rectify.
Total Recall is a look back at the history of video games through their characters, franchises, developers and trends.