Alex Kidd: The Lost Stars is a bit of a departure from Miracle World. Many of the more unique elements have been ditched in favor of a more straightforward move-right-and-jump-over-stuff approach. As a result, it feels even closer to Super Mario Bros. than the original. The game originated in the arcades on the Sega System 16 board (and was released very shortly after Miracle World in Japan) but was later ported to the Master System.
The goal this time is collect the 12 Zodiac signs. You can no longer punch anything, and there are no rocks to be broken, nor any cash to grab. It’s actually quite similar to Westone’s Wonder Boy, particularly in that there’s a timer on the screen.
The arcade version keeps track of lives, making it quite a bit more difficult compared to the Master System port. On the Master System you receive unlimited lives, but getting hit or falling down a pit will reduce the timer or send you back a few screens. The toughest bits in both versions are the end-of-level encounters, requiring that you make it through a single screen while various enemies attempt to screw you up. To make things easier you’ll find power-ups which let you jump higher, restore your timer, or give you a limited amount of “shadow“ shots to destroy most enemies with.
The graphics are bright, colorful, and full of detail, while the music, provided by another relatively famous Sega composer, Hiroshi Kawaguchi, is extremely catchy. Despite the smaller color palette, the Master System version is actually brighter and more attractive overall.
Other than the issue with the lives, the biggest difference between the arcade and Master System release is that the arcade version offers two-player simultaneous play, with the second player taking on a girl named Stella, who is otherwise never seen in any other game in the series.
The first stage is a land of toys, set up to look like a kid’s stage play, complete with a background that appears to have been painted on a hanging banner. Dogs attack by barking out the letters “BOW WOW“, evil Alice In Wonderland-style playing cards march forth, and the landscape is built of bright play blocks.
The rest of the levels include a robotics factory, an odd horror-themed level, a prehistoric area, an outer space stage, and the innards of some gigantic creature. It’s a creative bunch of levels, to say the least. The single genuine pitfall is that the game is really only seven stages long. You have to play through each of these levels twice to beat the game entirely, although the second time things are a bit more difficult. Compared to the 17 stages of its predecessor though, it’s kind of a bummer.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World had some crazy enemies, especially with the bad guys shaped like hands, but Lost Stars actually one-ups it. One of the bosses is a disembodied bear head with a party hat, who attacks you with musical notes from his trumpet. In the Halloween level there’s a punk rocker who shoots skulls out of his ass. If these things weren’t creepy enough, Alex lets out a terrible blood-curdling digitized scream whenever he gets hit. There’s other bits of neat digitized speech too, like the disembodied voice that starts off each stage saying “FIND THE MIRACLE BALL“ (one of the Miracle Balls is actually Opa-Opa from Fantasy Zone). The arcade version even welcomes players with “THE CUSTOMER IS KING!“ when a credit is entered.
The Lost Stars gets a bad rap because it’s such a huge step back from the ambitious Miracle World, but consider it in its original arcade setting, and its being positioned as a straight-up platformer makes perfect sense. The Lost Stars is full of enough weird enemies and memorable landscapes to be quite likeable.