It’s complicated having nearly the same name as a video gaming mascot. Not that I think there are too many people out there actually called “Sonic The Hodgehog” or “Maryo Maryo” to speak of.
Still, with a name like mine, the years when Alex Kidd was Sega’s primary mascot – essentially the years when it was selling the 8-bit Master System and especially the Master System II, where it was the bundled game for ages – weren’t a whole barrel of laughs.
So to get the jokes out of the way early, I don’t eat massive hamburgers or onigiri, and I can’t punch my way through rocks on the way to play another round of rock-scissors-paper, OK? Although if any distant lands do want to hand me a throne and a few big fat sacks of cash, get in touch.
If you want to get technically pedantic about it, Alex Kidd was originally meant to be Dragonball’s Goku way back in the day until Sega’s licence for Dragonball expired. Sega then pivoted to a character who drew inevitable comparisons to Mario, although he’s got more influence from Son Goku/Monkey than anyone else. By the time the Mega Drive rolled around, Alex Kidd was rapidly discarded in favour of Sonic, and outside a few cameo appearances, he largely faded into nostalgic obscurity.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX started its life as a fan-made labour of love following in the footsteps of some of the more remarkable remakes such as Lizardcube’s excellent Wonder Boy Dragon’s Trap remake, before being officially taken into the Sega fold as an official remake title.
It’s an unusual game to have chosen for the remake treatment, however. It’s beloved amongst the retrogaming community as much for its ubiquity as anything else, but it’s so very solidly mired in mid-1980s platforming game style. Levels are quite short and boss fights are either centred around games of Janken (the Japanese name for what English speakers would call Rock Paper Scissors) or very basic attacks, jumps and punches.
What’s new here is the visual style, which is (mostly) stunning. Alex Kidd has gone from a very 8-bit pixel look to some gorgeous hand-drawn art for every level, block, enemy and pit. You can really tell how much the Jankenteam responsible for the remake love the original game in the way that they’ve improved on its visuals while leaving the actual game mostly alone.
Like Lizardcube’s Dragon Trap remake, you can jump between a classic “look” and the new visuals at will, although I’m going to be that pedantic jerk and point out that the classic look is actually all kinds of wrong.
The classic switched look is mostly in 16:9 format. TV screens back in the day were 4:3, and that’s the way we liked it! Thankfully, once you’ve beaten the game you unlock a proper 4:3 classic version of the game with a quite nice cartridge-style bezel to fill in the blank space on a modern TV.
It’s great to have updated visual assets, but there are times when the classic look is preferable, because the screen is simply less busy. More than once I died because an onscreen element obscured my view, or what I assumed were background details were in fact enemies coming to send Alex to an early grave. Call me biased if you must, but I’m generally opposed to the killing of people called Alex, and this is something that Alex Kidd in Miracle World will do with glee and surprising frequency.
The remake does also take steps to change things up a little. Some boss fight arrangements have changed from their classic style, and you can access infinite continues from the very start. There’s even an infinite lives option, although this is a strictly-on-once-it’s-on affair. You can’t just opt for infinite lives for one section and then go back to limited lives later on without starting all over again.
Sega put a lot of variety into Alex Kidd in Miracle World back in 1986, and not just straight platforming and punching all the way, with vehicle sections and a few hidden secrets along the way if you care to explore – or in my case, already know where to look. Still, most of what you’ll be doing is working your way around the game’s classic floaty controls and specific hitboxes for punching enemies.
The Janken gimmick is a cute one, but it’s fundamentally limited the moment you realise that there’s no AI at play here at all. Once you’ve sussed the pattern of your foes, which will only cost you a single life at worst, you can win every time, at which point they just become a slog to work through. While expecting proper AI out of a game back in 1986 was too much to ask, it’s one area where I wish JankenTeam had made a change of some sort.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX isn’t a game that everyone will enjoy. If you’ve never played an 80s platformer outside Nintendo’s endless recycling of Mario games, you’ll probably wonder what the fuss was all about.
Now, the argument over game length is one that’s endlessly debated, and I’m firmly in the camp that says that fun is fun, and I certainly had fun revisiting the world of my onigiri-chomping namesake for a brief while.
I could certainly see plenty of others finding it less compelling, however, because beyond the visuals, so very little has changed in 35 years. Yikes. 35 years. Presumably, Prince Alex is now King Alex of Radaxian by now. I’d better get back to my throne.
Dammit, did I just say that out loud?
– Matt S.
Find me on Twitter: @mattsainsb