Before there was Sonic the Hedgehog, SEGA’s first mascot was a tubby Goku knock-off named Alex Kidd. This was during the pre-Genesis/Megadrive era, when there was no blast processing, and graphics were only 8-bits and only 64 colors were available.
At the time, Alex Kidd in Miracle World stood out from Super Mario Bros., for having large and cartoony sprites. Characters were very well defined, and Alex was able to drive vehicles through out his adventure. Even the story was more fleshed out, with more text that gave a better idea what kind of magical place Miracle World was than whatever the Mushroom Kingdom is supposed to be.
If Sonic can be saved by fans with Sonic Mania, than maybe the boys at Janken Team can remind everyone how great Alex Kidd used to be… Or maybe Alex Kidd was a product of its time, and stayed irrelevant for a reason? Is Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX more than just a pretty face-lift, or was its foundation so old that it rotted away decades ago?
Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX
Developer: Merge Games, Janken Team
Publisher: Merge Games
Platforms: Windows PC, Nintendo Switch (reviewed) PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S
Release Date: June 22nd, 2021
Price: $19.99 USD
The story of Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX goes down about as one would expect for a 8-bit cartoon 2D platformer from the 1980s. Alex is a prince of Radaxian, and his little brother gets kidnapped by an invading army that is run by a bloated, Wario-esque fat guy called Janken the Great.
During his invasion, Janken and his fist-faced minions turn many of the citizens into stone, and steale Radaxian’s relics. Alex is pretty much the last hope for all of Miracle World, and he is set loose in an extremely difficult quest that is made harder because of how clumsy he is to control.
The core gameplay of Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is mainly a linear 2D platformer, with an extra emphasis on linearity. Most stages will be very basic with abstract platforms to hop upon, festooned with traps, hazards, and different kinds of monsters that are placed in the most obnoxious locations possible.
What is frustrating is that Alex can’t go backwards as the levels progress. While it is very clear most stages are designed to be one-way routes, it’s frequent that useful money or power-ups get lost as the hero moves forward. This design also makes the world feel less real and more artificial.
This was an old game from the 80s, so it can be understandable that certain things have to carry over into a remake, but this DX version also comes with a unlockable, upscaled version of the original. This was a chance to make Miracle World the best version it possibly could be, and offer ways to play it that would highlight its strengths and its potential. Instead, DX embraces all of the original’s worst aspects.
The problems run deeper than just being a constant shunt forward; Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX has some of the roughest controls for a 2D platformer. Alex’s inertia makes him feel like he’s on ice, and his physics don’t make any sense at all.
Once he gets moving, Alex becomes really unwieldy and hard to stop. Rocking the directional buttons back and forth constantly during tight platforming will prove to be extremely unreliable. Most of the time this results in overcompensating a leap that you might think you overshot, and Alex ends up jumping too short instead.
The general feel of controlling Alex always feels off. His punching attack is ridiculously short and fast, with a slightly longer cooldown than necessary. He has to get extremely close to enemies to knock them out and the timing of a hit has to be perfect, otherwise it can be easy to both kill and be killed at the same time.
Alex is a bit of a wimp. He is a one-hitter-quitter; a weakling who goes down with one hit. He gets no power-up that gives him a bonus hit, and he can’t hop ‘n bop on any enemies. The closest he gets is the few stages that utilize a vehicle that blow up in one hit. For a guy who goes down so easily, his punches can break through tons of bricks… Slowly and tediously.
The other module to Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX, is what can laughingly be referred to as a “boss fight”. At the end of certain stages, one of Janken’s goons show up to kill Alex with a deadly game of rock-paper-scissors, or as the game refers to; Jan-Ken-Po.
These sequences are redundant two-fold; it’s not a game of chance, and when you know what the opponent is going to throw the entire sequence becomes a waste of time. Early on, players will have no choice but to take a shot in the dark and guess, but no matter what the goons always throw the same results. Later Alex finds an item that shows what they are thinking of, completely negating the point of theses battles.
Further into the game, a traditional boss battle ensues after beating these finger-faced guys in their superfluous ro-sham-bo. Why bother with the formality of having to do the rock-paper-scissors at all? If Alex has the item that allows him to see what they are going to throw, just have a goofy cutscene where they are automatically beaten and the real boss fight can begin.
The boss battles are very simple and follow basic patterns. This is to be expected for a straight remake of a game from the 1980s. It’s a shame that the developers chose to not expand on the battles or add new phases. The reason why Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX plays it so safe, is so it can have the gimmick of being able to switch to retro graphics on the fly, at any given moment.
The expansive visual overhaul is impressive and the art direction does go a long way at adding a lot of personality and expression to characters that were barely readable. Certain creative choices are clever, like making sly pop cultural references to media that would have been popular of the time of the original Alex Kidd in Miracle World would have released.
Details like members of the hand gang dressing in costumes of famous characters like Mad Max/Kenshiro, or Majinbuu from Dragon Ball Z are amusing asides in a game that is otherwise bit flat or one-note. Alex himself is very expressive and bouncy, and his cape gives him a sense of weight as it flutters based on the player’s inputs.
The visuals of Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX are top notch as far as 2D pixel art goes. It does an excellent job at capturing how gamers might have imagined Radaxian and its peoples. The nonsensical wackiness of Japanese 2D platformers has been faithfully preserved.
Great care was given to the colors and lighting. Relying on pixel highlights wasn’t enough; a generous bloom effect was applied to specific assets to make Radaxian more otherworldly and magical. The effect is marvelous, and makes this DX version completely unrecognizable from its original game, despite that every enemy and platform is one to one.
The new music is richer and layered with the motifs of the original. The soundtrack, while nothing spectacular, does sound like a Sega game; and the simple melodies are given so much more texture thanks to the various synth samples used. These tracks may loop quickly, but rarely feel repetitive.
What is surprising is just how brutally difficult the game can be. The original was designed back when coin-op arcade games were still a booming market, and at the time game designers were less like how we understand them today. They were more like conmen who were building slot machines that never pay-out.
A vast majority of the games made at the time were frequently designed to be hard over enjoyable. This was mostly done to drive up rentals, and to give artificial value to game to make it seem long.
Fact of the matter is; Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX can be beaten in under an hour if you turn on the new infinite lives feature. Players can keep retrying challenges instead of having to restart everything from square one.
The difficulty is mostly due to the aforementioned controls, unfairly placed obstacles, and that Alex dies in one hit. The bosses will require a few tries to know their patterns, and what they’ll throw in Jan-ken-po. Surprisingly, the final boss is pretty easy considering how hard the rest of the game is.
By far the most challenging parts of the game are the dungeons. These are levels that drop the one-way linearity, and put Alex into a maze of platforms, traps, and tons of spikes. He can explore these areas freely, and it’s shocking when these levels show up because it takes a bit of time before Alex explores one.
These dungeons will require switches and keys to be found in order to progress. It’s a welcoming shock to the system, because the standard levels are boring, and Alex’s gameplay is too simple to have any fun while pressing forward. His controls will still be a sloppy mess in these stages, but at least these parts will activate brains to wake up and pay attention, because there is no map.
If you never played the original game, there would be no way of knowing that Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX actually has some new content in it. The problem is that the designers were stymied from the beginning thanks to the core mechanics of the original. The additions are so minor, that they make no impact at all, and are so consistent with the existing material that nobody will notice.
The sloppy hit detection from a game programmed in the 80s is still present. This should’ve been the first thing addressed, but it highlights the major flaw of Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX, and why it is so unenjoyable. This remake only focused on the superficial aspects of what made people attracted to the game in the 80s- the graphics, not the gameplay.
Why was Alex Kidd remade? The developers did not improve upon the experience by addressing its flaws. Not making this into another Metroidvania must have taken a ton of restraint, and thankfully the developers were not that creatively bankrupt. The problem is that the original game was never that great from the beginning.
This could have been like a Sonic Mania, but for Alex Kidd; instead of a celebration of what made Alex so great, this feels like a eulogy of why he died. The original game is borderline a blank canvas for potential, almost anything could have been done. But other than the beautiful pixel art, it is the same.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a review code provided by Merge Games. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.