Characters like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and even the aliens from Space Invaders have become synonymous with early video games and if Sega had stuck with its original mascot, Alex Kidd might be as recognizable as the rest today. In the mid ‘80s, Sega struck a deal with the immensely successful Dragon Ball franchise and began development on a game adaptation. Unfortunately, after failing to deliver a title before the licensing deal expired, then CEO Hayao Nakayama ordered the game to be reworked.
The resulting Alex Kidd in Miracle World was released in 1986 for the Sega Mark III/Master System with the eponymous Alex retaining much of his Sun Wukong inspiration for the character design. The game was so well received that Alex Kidd became the de facto Sega mascot for the remainder of the decade and was even bundled with later Master System consoles as a built-in game, no cartridge necessary. Hailed as Sega’s answer to Nintendo’s Mario, the mascot rivalry between these two video game juggernauts has a history that was quickly superseded by the eventual creation of Sonic the Hedgehog.
After Sonic led the way to Sega’s brief moment on top of the industry, Alex Kidd was quickly forgotten by its progenitor, left to live on in the nostalgia-filled memories of Sega fans the world over. Merge Games and Jankenteam have joined forces to bring Alex Kidd into the modern age and back into the hearts of gamers everywhere. Does Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX have what it takes to rekindle the fire of a thirty-five year old franchise?
New look, same great taste
Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is a simple action-adventure platformer. Alex has three inputs which consist of moving, jumping, and punching. Mastering this input is more difficult than it sounds however with Alex Kidd in Miracle World containing some of the slipperiest controls I’ve ever experienced in a game, be it a brand new title or one from the past. Its roughly 20 levels are short and consist of colorful if not simple layouts featuring smooth scrolling with basic obstacles, underwater escapades, dungeons with single screen puzzles, and even a small dose of side-scrolling shoot-’em-up action.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX straddles the line between the modern and the primitive by only touching up the art and music. The game is presented as the original was with the ability to swap between the authentically re-created yet archaic pixel-art or the gorgeously re-worked and enhanced art style. A few levels have been added to pad the story of Alex Kidd but are extremely faithful to the limitations and presentation of the Master System classic. The new art is arguably the most valuable addition to this remake, with charm, polish, and care put into every asset. The new Alex Kidd is gorgeous to behold, especially when compared to the crude 8-bit version.
The music is fantastically rearranged with the same familiarity and attention that was given to updating the graphics. By swapping between the two styles, I could hear the expansion of the chiptunes into full and robust arrangements but the identity of the songs is not lost. Alex Kidd in Miracle World had some truly fantastic pieces in its soundtrack and that is held in the utmost respect with the DX remake. Some later levels—like Janken’s Castle in particular—have themes that stand toe-to-toe with greats like Mario, Zelda, Mega Man, and Castlevania. Merge Games and Jankenteam understand what made Alex Kidd stand out on the Master System and it shows with the consideration given to this remake’s presentation.
From fiddly to frustrating
Unfortunately, those looking to Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX to provide an updated take on the very dated gameplay of the original game will be immensely let down. The original Alex Kidd is not a tight and precise platformer. If I had to sum the feeling of playing Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX down to one word, it would be ‘loose’. The input and control in this game feels incredibly loose, to the point of frustration. What would be a simple matter of bounding off a couple of platforms in any of Alex Kidd’s competitors in the video game space becomes a fiddly affair of sliding to your unintended death. Alex Kidd was often described as Sega’s answer to Mario and if this feeling of control is Sega’s idea of an answer, I shudder to imagine what would be considered wrong.
The issue for me when playing through the entire game, as short as it may be, is that the controls and level design never once meld together in a way that feels like more than the sum of its parts. Unlike Mario or Sonic, which would eventually replace Alex Kidd, the game never has a moment when a level flows effortlessly with intuitive ease. Rather than becoming one with the game and getting into a Zen-like flow, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX makes every movement one of careful manipulation out of fear of the overly touchy and slippery feel. Compounding on the unsatisfying controls is the reliance on extremely dated gameplay mechanics, like Alex Kidd’s infamous “Jan-Ken-Pon” or Rock-Paper-Scissors boss fights.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World tasks the player with a round of Rock-Paper-Scissors before every boss encounter. In the beginning of the game, these boss fights are only Rock-Paper-Scissors and nothing more. Failing to pick the correct counter results in a lost life in a game with limited lives. Thankfully an option to play the game with unlimited lives exists in Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX, because losing to RNG is never fun. It wasn’t fun in 1986 and it’s not fun in 2021. Later boss fights do have an actual fight in them, but even the final boss requires a round of Rock-Paper-Scissors before getting down to business. I commend Merge Games and Jankenteam for sticking with authenticity, but this is one area where some modernization would help the game appeal to unfamiliar players.
A mascot for the masses?
Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is sure to delight anyone that played the original game on the Sega Master System decades ago. Sega’s mid-’80s mascot might not have ever achieved the pop-culture phenomenon that Mario enjoyed, but Alex Kidd left an indelible impression on anyone who experienced it. I don’t see how anyone unfamiliar with the franchise or spoiled by modern platformers would find a lot of value here, however. The game feels like the original game to its benefit and its detriment. If you absolutely loved Alex Kidd in Miracle World, there’s a very good chance you’ll love the DX remake.
If you didn’t care for it the first time around, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is not going to change your mind at all, it might only reinforce your position. If you’ve never played Alex Kidd in Miracle World before, there’s not much in this package to sway newcomers. A Boss Rush mode and Classic mode are available after beating the game, but they offer very little in additional content or value.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX from Merge Games and Jankenteam is a very niche product with very niche marketability. I imagine the game will be received well in territories where the Sega Master System held on to a longer life-span, such as Brazil and Europe. For the rest of the world though, there just isn’t enough here to bring Alex Kidd into the modern age.
This review is based on a digital Nintendo Switch code provided by the publisher. Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is available now on Nintendo Switch, PS4, Xbox One, and Steam for Windows PC for $19.99.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX
- Beautifully updated art
- Excellently rearranged soundtrack
- Truly made for Alex Kidd fans
- Simple and short level design
- Dated gameplay mechanics
- Extremely loose controls
- Multiple deaths that result from sloppy feeling gameplay
- Not much content on offer other than the very short campaign