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Before Sonic, there was Alex Kidd, SEGA's de facto mascot and the Japanese giant's best platforming hope in the face of the competition from Nintendo and (Super) Mario. But there's a very important, very clear reason why Alex was moved along to make room for the spiky blue blur - his games were a bit rubbish. Originally made for the Master System in 1986, Alex Kidd In Miracle World is actually one of the better titles in its series - but as this new DX release shows in spades, it's not an experience that's worth revisiting in 2021.
Merge Games and Jankenteam have given Miracle World an undeniably attractive coat of paint and freshened up the original tunes (nice birdsong touches, too) to a standard that feels suitably contemporary. But beneath the surface, even with the promise of "tighter, more fluid controls", lurk the creaks and cracks of the '86 title. That means the awful collision detection of the original - where you can defeat an enemy and die yourself in the same action, often - is intact across both the updated version and its throwback-style Retro Mode (note: this isn't the original game, but a widescreen reinterpretation of it). Also present is the exceptionally inconsistent jumping that dogged the Master System release, which can veer from too darn stiff to go anywhere easily to frustratingly, potentially fatally floaty - a problem, indeed, in a game where precision platforming is essential.
Watch the release date trailer for Alex Kidd In Miracle World DX, below...
I'm very familiar with the 8-bit Alex Kidd In Miracle World - my first console was a SEGA Master System (original model, none of that Master System II silliness) with this game built-in. So it's hugely disappointing to me that more's not been done with DX to fix the dodgier design quirks of SEGA's release, especially as this is more than just a new skin atop the old game. As far as the gameplay goes, it's as barebones as it ever was, as basic as it ever was, and that really feels like a concession to authenticity that didn't need to be made. As for the content, all of the old levels are here albeit in far prettier forms, with the usual rock-paper-scissors boss fights peppered along the way. They seem to be easier to win here, at least - but lose, through chance rather than (a lack of) skill, and it's still a life gone.
But this is not exclusively the game you knew before. There's a handful of new levels, new vehicles to explode seconds after buying them, and the game's campaign progress is laid out across a very attractive world map with Alex munching away in one corner (he seems far too happy for someone whose countrymen have largely been turned to stone). Beat the game and there's Classic Mode to dig into - that's the Master System game in all its questionable glory, albeit with a few kinks we're not sure are quite accurate - and a Boss Rush option, if you just can't get enough of humanoid hand creatures murdering you with gestures. Paper beats rock, you're a ghost now, see ya.
The game's one-hit kills are a constant whatever the mode you select, with no option for an alternative, which is why newcomers will curse at their inability to get past even the first stage given Alex's propensity to instantly perish with the merest sniff of a baddie's BO. Merge knows that Miracle World could throw off beginners within minutes, however, and alongside the above-mentioned extras they've added the option of having infinite lives. You may balk at such a feature, if you're the weirdo gatekeeping type - but newbies, please, do not feel embarrassed to switch it on. After an hour or so of cursing, I did.
A little while longer, and a decision is made: this write-up's not going to be a review 'proper'. No score, no pros or cons, because I just cannot be bothered chipping away any further at a bad game. And that's a crushing pity, because when I first saw that Alex Kidd was being revived by an indie publisher, I had hopes that it might go in a similar way to the recent Sonic Mania, Streets of Rage 4 or Wonder Boy: The Dragon's Trap - exemplary original entries and remakes that have breathed fiery new life into old SEGA franchises. But this is not that game, and it's with some regret that I simply can't give any more of my time to it. (Glances at the to-do list... regret immediately lifts.)
Alex Kidd In Miracle World DX is a very pretty, very faithful, and I'm sure very well-intentioned remake that simply cannot polish what was always something of a stinker. If, for whatever reason, you have a passion for the '86 game, you'll enjoy some of what's on offer here. But a reality check later, and we can mostly agree that time has not been kind. The addition of an optional sweet spot between instant death and infinite lives (something like Sonic's ring collection attached to all the money bags you pick up, or a health bar that could be replenished with a restorative item) could have made this a lot more fun, and way more interesting of risk-versus-reward moment-to-moment play. More modernising was needed, and applied more deeply than a surface level. Instead, you either creep through with the greatest caution or stumble embarrassingly into scorpions and bats that you simply didn't see because you were already busy running away from a ghost.
Just like you did - like I did - in the 1980s, then. And if this remake proves anything, it's that some games of our childhood really do need to stay there, whatever our rose-tinted memories might try to tell us otherwise. Released in the same week as Sonic's 30th anniversary, Alex Kidd In Miracle World DX had the chance to argue a compelling case for the Hedgehog's predecessor, SEGA's first attempt at a Mario rival - but all it does is drive another wonky nail into the character's already rotten coffin.
Alex Kidd In Miracle World DX is out now on Nintendo Switch (version tested), PC, PlayStation 4 and 5, and Xbox One and Series X/S. Code for this coverage was provided by the publisher.
Featured Image Credit: Merge Games
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