Game: Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX
Release Date: July 22, 2021
Platform: Switch, Playstation, Xbox, Windows
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title.
Growing up in a Nintendo household meant that a lot of Sega franchises were mysterious enigmas to me. From when I was a kid up to a few weeks ago I've been mystified by the weird box art for Alex Kidd in Miracle World, but have never sat down to actually check it out before. The new remake, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX, seemed like the perfect way to introduce myself to the franchise. While the updated visuals look absolutely phenomenal, the commitment to maintaining the original gameplay makes it a tough entry point for newcomers.
Miracle World is a surprisingly developed world
One of my favorite things about video games is the way that they can tell a sophisticated story that drops the player into an active role. At least, that's why I love some video games. When you give me a game where my primary interaction is jumping, I don't expect the storytelling to be more involved than “our princess is in another castle.” Alex Kidd definitely starts with that level of simplicity, but it develops a fair bit as it goes.
This game has hidden siblings, a hostile takeover, and a hidden underwater cave whose entrance is locked by ancient runes. There's a ton more story development than I would expect from a platformer of this era. Ultimately, most of that storytelling still doesn't feel terribly consequential. Each level still boils down to “run from one side of the screen to the other while avoiding enemies.” Still, having some narrative push was a nice surprise.
The one place where the writing in this game really worked for me was in the first several boss fights. The big-bad has a series of lieutenants with hands for faces (for reasons unknown), who challenge you to Janken Pon each time you face them. Janken Pon is, quite simply, Rock-Paper-Scissors. Yep, the first several boss-fights in this game come down to a best of three matches of Rock-Paper-Scissors. I'm assuming that losing these leads to a traditional boss fight, but as a world-renowned Rock-Paper-Scissors Champ  I wouldn't know.
Alex Kidd has never looked better
I'm a huge fan of pixel art, and absolutely love how modern artists utilize classic techniques to come up with a look that is both breathtaking and nostalgic. The visual redesign of this game is absolutely stunning. It's still utilizing pixel art designs, but in a style that looks like a hand-drawn cartoon if you squint even a little bit. From the character designs to the backgrounds and the way that everything moves, this art is perfect.
For old-school fans, you can swap between the updated visuals and the classic look at any time with the press of a button. I love when remakes give this option to the players. Even though I didn't grow up with this game, it was a lot of fun bouncing back and forth between the new and old stylings as I played. The retro look comes complete with chip-tune sound effects and music. Having these included is delightful and fun to check out. Really though, if you are picking up this version of this game you'll probably spend the majority of it with the modern visuals.
Classic Gameplay, for better or worse
As is the case with a lot of remakes, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX maintains the gameplay of the original in just about every way. Sadly, the gameplay is where this game really let me down. Being an early platformer, the gameplay comes down to a few simple actions. As Alex, you run, jump, and punch your way through baddies. There are some levels that give you a vehicle to use, but I usually ended up crashing those and reverting to standard platforming. The controls for Alex all feel pretty good, but I ultimately didn't actually like playing the game very much.
My problem came entirely down to this being an older game built with older videogame sensibilities. Alex dies in one hit. Always. There's no Super Mushroom to give you a bit of durability like in the Mario games, or an option to have three hearts like in Save Me Mr Tako: Definitive Edition. This is just a game where touching any enemy or obstacle at all will kill you immediately. As a concession to modern sensibilities, there's an option to play with infinite lives instead of the three the game starts you with. I turned that on after I got a game over on the very first level.
One Hit KO
There are two reasons the one-hit kills felt so brutal in this game. As a kid who grew up on Mario, I'm used to my character's feet being more or less indestructible. I have a deep, gnawing desire to jump into the air and come crashing down on top of my foes. (In video games. Not in real life. Mostly). In Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX, your feet are just as vulnerable as the rest of you. I died countless times from touching my toes to the tips of my foes.
Instead, enemies only go down when you punch them. There's an upgrade that causes a projectile to fire out of your fists which helps, but you won't have it for most of the game. Instead, you have to get up close and personal with every enemy you face. Since Alex is so fragile, mistiming an attack means death. I died a lot in this game. A whole heck of a lot.
The second issue is that there are sections of this game that are ridiculously hard. Most levels are straightforward and short and have generous checkpoints. Even with the three lives most of these are not too tough. With infinite lives, they become a breeze. However, there are a few sprawling castles that are much tougher. Not only are these chock-full of enemies, but they often have ridiculously difficult platforming challenges.
I didn't finish Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX, even with infinite lives. The game was challenging and tough, but I was making good process until I got to the room in the screenshot above. It broke me. Even with infinite tries, I couldn't do it.
I cannot possibly tell a fan of the Alex Kidd franchise how much they will like Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX. I'd imagine they'd find it delightful, because it seems to be a lovingly crafted recreation of the original game. The old school sound effects and art are perfectly nostalgic for a bygone era of gaming. On the other side, the updated look is absolutely breathtaking.
What I can do is review this game as someone who has been playing games for decades but is new to this series. From that perspective, I had mixed feelings about this game. The platforming was all pretty fun, even if the level design was mostly straightforward. The castles were super cool, even though they were stupidly hard. I can see that this game would have been a wonderful platformer in its time, but I wish the remake had gone another route in making a gameplay experience more geared towards modern audiences.