Obviously inspired by the success of the Nintendo Entertainment System’s landmark title Super Mario Bros., Alex Kidd in Miracle World brought with it more than enough personality to easily warrant its own credibility. Not only was the soundtrack hopelessly catchy and iconic, but the sprites were bold, beautiful and so wonderfully vibrant for the time.
The game was challengingly addictive and packed full of fantastic ideas as the little monkey boy prince of Radaxian would punch, swim, pilot his peticopter and even attempt to blast over the ocean in a speedboat. Rather than scrolling horizontally as most traditional platformers would, Alex Kidd in Miracle World changed the opening formula by vertically descending a rocky mountain top until traversing seamlessly into a whole new stage under the sea.
The punchy platformer demanded nothing less from the player than to master its slippy movement and floaty jump mechanics with meticulous timing. The opening stage alone would teach the player everything they needed to know the hard way, such as how a mere graze from an enemy would cause poor Alex to keel over and float to the heavens, or find out that not every block with a question mark printed on them contains a pleasant surprise.
Most fans of Alex Kidd in Miracle World will likely remember it more as the secret game stashed away within the circuit board of the SEGA Master System like a cool little easter egg. It’s a game that will always be a wonderful and important slice of platforming history that undoubtedly burned fond memories into the minds of those who grew up playing it.
Unfortunately, that was about as good as the Alex Kidd series ever got. Besides a decent stint in Shinobi Land, the other four games released in between were pretty awful, to say the least. None of the sequels and spin-offs ever got close to replicating the sheer magic of Alex Kidd in Miracle World, nor did they ever attempt to try and do so either.
It’s no surprise then, that for the last thirty years, Alex Kidd has been abandoned like a child star of an ’80s sitcom. That was until a small Spanish developer – who appropriately named themselves Jankenteam – plucked the redundant SEGA mascot from his cashier daytime job after making a strong impression with their fan project.
Thankfully, Jankenteam does try to do more than simply give Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX a pretty 60-minute makeover. They have gone to great lengths to create something that’s lovely to look at while maintaining that faithful charm of the original. A handful of new levels and boss fight variants have been seamlessly sewn in, and the way the many animated frames of modern Alex Kidd sit over the restricted blueprint of the old sprites squirrelled away underneath deserves appreciation. Furthermore, with a quick pull of the ZR Button, those vanilla 8-bit pixels and sounds are instantly unearthed as a necessary nod to the series’ fantastic one-hit-wonder.
The original was known for sending the player right back to the beginning of the adventure when all your lives were spent. Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX does the right thing by saving progress between chapters automatically, as even now the game is still challenging in digestible pockets. There’s also the optional unlimited life feature for those with a little less patience, and the chapter saving alone can still provide a small insight to understand why the game was built with a sense of such difficulty.
Yet despite the quality of life conveniences, I could still see some heads shaking nonetheless while mistaking them as cheap tactics and bad game development. It’s for this reason why I utterly respect Jankenteam’s direction here. While they have made gameplay adjustments, they haven’t completely improved the core mechanics to the point of refined precision. Alex Kidd in Miracle World was always intended to take a long time to memorise and master. After all, games back then just weren’t nearly as abundant or affordable as they are today, and tightening the slippery controls too much now would murder the authenticity.
However, the controls have been improved to some degree according to Jankenteam, but, as someone who has the original gameplay physics etched into my brain, I found that the adjustments disrupted my timing quite substantially. I even went as far as firing up the excellent SEGA AGES port of the original game to see if it was just rust and old age setting in. However, this old dog still managed to get as far as Janken’s Castle under the sacrifice of only two lives.
Probably the biggest change besides a few extra levels thrown in are the boss fights. The Boar has a slightly new approach to beating it rather than just spamming jabs to its face. The Janken guardians infamous rock, paper, scissors showdown follows the same sequence pattern in which to beat them as before, only now supplying a more traditional boss fight during the inevitable rematch. I wouldn’t go as far as to say the boss fights are fun confrontations, but they are slightly more imaginative than to just have their head pop off and float around the screen as they did in the 1986 classic.
Releasing an updated Alex Kidd into the modern world feels like something that should have been done ages ago. With that said, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is unlikely ever going to provide that same lasting sensation to either new players or fans of the original. This is not Jankenteam’s fault, it’s more the case of being in the right place at the right time. If anything, it felt to me that this would have been better off shaped as a brand new adventure altogether. Something that Alex Kidd certainly deserves.
In an age where there’s an abundance of polished 2D indie platformers, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX may not reach the same impact that the original once did. Nonetheless, this game is an adoring love letter by a team who undoubtedly shared a similar nostalgic childhood memory that I will always personally share and cherish. While a fancy lick of paint and some quality of life features will unlikely ever quite capture the magic that once made the original experience so special, Jankenteam has done its absolute best to beautifully repaint a classic that deserves to be remembered and retold.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Merge Games