Before SEGA indeed established a name for themselves in the North American market with the Sega Genesis (and of course the world’s most famous hedgehog- happy belated birthday), they fought to get their foot in the door with the Sega Master System. The 8-bit powerhouse released in 1986 made this console technically superior to the Nintendo Entertainment System. Unfortunately, due to Nintendo having a stranglehold on many of the industry’s finest third-party publishers, its software library wasn’t able to stack up to what the NES had to offer. Before the blue blur set the world on fire in 1991, SEGA’s stab at a mascot was Alex Kidd. However, it has its fans (of which I am one). It is often slated as a game that “didn’t age well” in the eyes of modern critics and even some famous retro gaming enthusiasts.
There is undeniably some merit to this claim (to be discussed later); Alex Kidd in Miracle World had much ambition for a title released just one year after the iconic Super Mario Bros. The game flirted with unique level layouts (which the first stage showcases with its vertical orientation and sudden transition into an underwater segment), exploration. Then add in a bit more storytelling than commonly found in side-scrollers of that generation. One could also argue that an attempt at scaleable difficulty was made thanks in part to the multitude of different powerups that make some of the game’s most challenging platforming sections a cakewalk when used correctly. Some modern sensibilities were woven in, such as a checkpoint system that was far more generous than its contemporaries.
The main point of criticism has always been the boss fights, however. They’re (literally) decided by a game of janken (rock-paper-scissors to Westerners). Sure, there is an item you can find that allows you to peer into the mind of your opponent, but it’s just as tacky now as it was then. And if you didn’t have that item (or the internet), it’s pretty much a coin toss. For many, this can understandably sour the whole experience on a blind playthrough. In retrospect, even series creator Kotaru Hayashida has admitted that this, along with some other design choices made to distinguish the game from Super Mario Bros, was silly.
“At the time we thought we were doing something ‘different’… but we were mistaken. Now when I look back on it, it’s just nonsense.”Kotaru Hayashida
Still, this didn’t stop the character (and the short-lived series he spawned) from garnering a cult following over the years. Fast forward 35 years later, and we now have a remake of Alex Kidd in Miracle World. The game is under the moniker of Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX, courtesy of the appropriately named JankenTeam.
First and foremost, if you were never able to click with the original game, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is unlikely to change your stance. The only modern concessions to be had here are an infinite life mode (which will bar you from getting specific trophies and achievements). The admittedly beautiful fresh coat of paint can be flicked on and off with the push of a button like The Dragon’s Trap. Alex still kicks the bucket in just one hit. In comparison, some of the bosses have new patterns (which were much needed…the non-Janken confrontations were laughably easy in the original). A player still is duking it out through rock-paper-scissors first. (Also, because other reviews have failed to bring this up…the original combinations for a guaranteed victory still work here.)
On the surface, this may seem like a bit of touch. However, bearing in mind that Hayashida’s vision for the original game was in line with what we now expect of Action RPGs, I thought this was pretty clever. In addition to the shiny new 16-bit presentation and tweaks to the traditional boss encounters, there are now NPCs to chat with throughout most of the game’s run time. Heck- you can even pet the dog now…and its accompanying trophy is a blatant nod to another Sega cult classic. One other detail that I noticed is that the color scheme of Alex’s boat is changed to match that of Opa Opa, who belonged to yet another beloved franchise in Sega’s vault. It’s clear JankenTeam not only loves Alex Kidd but the company’s history as a whole.
Developers added a few new stages, seemly because the original Alex Kidd in Miracle World was a relatively short game. Nevertheless, they’re welcome inclusions in my book. There are a handful of desert zones that reminded me of the ones found in Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, as well as a poisonous swamp. However, perhaps the most exciting addition is a stage that occurs right outside of the villain’s fortress. Here, you’re constantly bombarded by the bosses you previously encountered as you make your way to the game’s last dungeon. These new stages didn’t blow my mind, nor did they test me. As someone who’s completed Alex Kidd in Miracle World numerous times, but I enjoyed them nonetheless.
While the “new” presentation is solid and the additional stages are a meaningful way to lengthen the experience, there is one flaw that could break the experience for the hardcore fans. Some reviewers have pointed out some discrepancies in the controls and physics when switching between the modern and retro presentations. I felt some of that N Sane Trilogy syndrome when attempting to rely on my muscle memory when navigating some of the game’s more demanding sections on my first playthrough. So I decided to do my second playthrough with the retro style enabled. That made a (miracle) world of difference as the inertia-based movement of the original game had a more substantial presence. I’m honest here- it bugs me a lot. If the Dragon’s Trap remake handled nearly identical between its two visual styles, why couldn’t this?
One other decision that baffled me was the “Classic Mode” that unlocks upon completing the game once. Anyone would be suitable in suspecting that this would be an emulated version of Alex Kidd in Miracle World. That would indeed be a tangible reward. However, it’s simply “the developer’s recreation inspired by the Sega Master System classic.” I honestly don’t see the purpose of this. The main game already sets out to accomplish this (and mostly succeeds). The only explanation I can think of is that this is done not to cannibalize sales of the beautiful Sega AGES port handled by M2. However, they could have just slipped a ROM in. Not only would that have most likely been more accessible, but it would also be made a lot more sense.
Overall, it is not easy to put a score on a game like this. The source material had some objectively poor design choices even when set against its contemporaries but also had its streaks of brilliance. As a remake, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX gets many things right. The world of Radaxian has never looked better. The new stages/characters are solid complementary features. There are plenty of finer details that longtime Sega fans will appreciate.
I think JankenTeam should’ve tried just a little bit harder to keep the physics uniform between both graphic styles. The game will undoubtedly throw off anyone who grew up with the original. In addition, “Classic Mode” should have been just that instead of misleading us. Those who will get the most out of this package are the hardcore Sega fans and those on the “love” side of the fence regarding the Alex Kidd series, and I’d say it is worth it for them. Other players are better served by checking out the Sega as mentioned above AGES port handled by the folks at M2 as it’s far cheaper and about as dead-on of a port as you can get. (Seriously, those guys don’t get enough credit for the lengths they go in regards to authenticity)
>The updated presentation fires on all cylinders
>The inclusion of NPCs is a subtle, but welcome touch
>Handful of new stages help extend the game’s short run time without feeling artificial
>Switching from modern to retro visuals affects how the game handles
>”Classic Mode” is rather misleading as well as redundant
Overall: 7 onigiris out of 10
Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is out now for all platforms. In addition, you can snag a free demo for PC here.
*At the time of writing, it would appear that Merge/JankenTeam is currently working on a patch that will allow players to choose between “classic” and “modern” controls according to Steam’s user forums.