Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX

Alex Kidd in Miracle World came out way back in 1986. While Super Mario Bros. predates it, Alex Kidd was well into production before Mario ever came out. So it’s in the weird position of releasing in a time period when game developers were trying to figure out what a side-scrolling platformer should even be.

Now, 35 years later, Jankenteam and Merge Games have worked to give this dusty old game a complete overhaul. Yes, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX isn’t just a fresh coat of paint on a rusty old platformer; it’s a from-the-ground-up, tile-by-tile rebuild of the original game.

I was provided with an early copy of the game for this article, and I played through the whole thing twice. I also played around in Retro Mode and Classic Mode, and I attempted Boss Rush briefly (but I quickly gave up on that part). On top of that, I went back and played the Sega Master System original. Was that necessary? Probably not, but it did plunge me extremely deep into the inner workings of this game, and I’m now emerging from that deep dive to share my perspective on that experience.

Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX

First off, the controls feel really good. The original is clunky and slow, while DX feels smooth and fast. Even punches, which used to halt Alex’s movements, feel fast and fluid now. However, jump trajectories still feel a bit weird — unlike Mario, Alex Kidd can’t jump forward and course-correct in midair to land back in the same spot he started from. He’s also kind of slippery, which means his added speed can occasionally become a liability.

All things considered, this is an enormous step up, and despite his slippery feet and odd jump trajectories, controlling Alex Kidd has never felt this good. Not even close.

This remake is also gorgeous. While most studios would have been tempted to do this in a crisp, hand-drawn style (think DuckTales Remastered or the later Shantae games), this takes the 8-bit art of the original and upgrades it to a higher resolution pixel-art style. While there’s nothing wrong with the hand-drawn look, Alex Kidd looks absolutely stunning with detailed, colorful pixel art.

And this was more than a visual upscale; it’s a complete redesign. Jut check out the original Grizzly Bear boss compared to the redesigned DX version to see what I mean:

Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX

The art direction here is insanely good.

And the music is incredible. The opening level music almost sounds like a Hawaiian tune, while some of the later stages have a Spanish flair to them. There are still hints of chiptune, even in the updated version of the soundtrack, to really round this out. These are some great interpretations of the game’s original soundtrack, and it’s fun to swap into Retro Mode to compare them with the originals.

I did encounter a few bugs throughout my two playthroughs. The worst bug I encountered in my entire time with the game was on the Swamp level (it’s just called Swamp, and you spend the whole level piloting the peticopter). If I died on that level, I would start at the most recent checkpoint, but the character would be invisible. It’s wasn’t a huge deal because I could exit out and reload the save, but it did mean I had to get through the entire level within a single life or be doomed to an invisible playthrough.

That said, the game performed exactly as intended for the vast majority of my time with it.

Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX

So all of this sounds really great, right?

It is, but…

Okay, so I feel bad about pointing this out, but for all the intense amounts of work that went into this, it’s still very faithfully built upon the original Alex Kidd in Miracle World. The level layouts are exactly the same, and the original game’s biggest flaw — the fact that Alex dies after taking just a single hit — is still intact. Sure, the game’s generous and frequent checkpoints mitigate this a little bit, but only if you play with the Infinite Lives option ticked. If you try to play this as intended, with a limited pool of lives… well, welcome to an absolute hell of cheap deaths and straight-up evil level design.

There are places where blocks are intentionally placed in your jump path. There are enemies that chuck projectiles at the exact places where you naturally feel like you should be safe from them. The monsters feel like they have an invisible force field surrounding them — you can be a couple pixels away from connecting with an enemy and still end up being killed by it.

There’s one segment of Janken’s Castle (one of the final stages in the game) where green slime is falling as soon as you enter the room, and unless you can be lightning-quick to get to the other side, the goop is going to kill you. And I’m not talking like, hold the stick as far to the right as possible before this section of the level loads, because even that isn’t fast enough. And then there are blocks in your way. This part of the game was a massive roadblock on both of my playthroughs — and I’m still not entirely sure how I managed to get past this. It almost feels like a bug, like perhaps the goo wasn’t supposed to start out already halfway down the side of the wall. Perhaps it was intended that you’d have an extra quarter of a second here to make this dash. I don’t know.

There’s one boss fight (the second Parplin encounter) that should be pretty easy but ends up being stupidly brutal. You have to wait in between bolts of lightning, which is certainly not a unique boss attack (but who did it first?). This isn’t difficult in and of itself, but Alex almost controls like Mario on ice, meaning you’re constantly overcorrecting straight into a lightning bolt. What feels intuitively like it should be the right amount of momentum is always too much.

Alex Kidd - Parplin

Oh, and while Alex feels like he’s a single tile high, he can’t fit through single-tile spaces. There are so many openings in this game that Alex should be able to fit through but can’t.

While all of this could be worked to the game’s advantage if it were handled cleverly, it never was. Like I said in the opening of this article, the original version of this game came out before the art of making great side-scrolling platformers had truly been mastered. The original dev team made a lot of rookie mistakes that a modern team never would have. And I have to imagine that the devs on the remake had to restrain themselves from fixing some of the places where the game just feels fundamentally broken.

In my opinion, Alex Kidd in Miracle World didn’t deserve this much love. This was clearly a labor-intensive project, and I stand behind every creative decision that was made on its behalf. (Well, I wish Classic Mode were an authentic recreation rather than an approximate one, but that’s my one gripe about the changes to the game. Oh, and I don’t understand why the underwater frogs now take two punches to kill, so that’s a second gripe.) Unfortunately, the base game was never very good, and the poor level design choices that were made back in the 1980s really haven’t aged well.

But I don’t know what could have been done about that. Do you reduce the frustrations of the original game by moving blocks and giving Alex extra health? While DX did get a massive overhaul, rearranging level layouts seems like it would be going too far.

So I get it. The creative team at Jankenteam went into this project with their hands tied. And they did an incredible job. In fact, I would go so far as to say the job they did was too good. But despite all that effort, this chain is only as strong as its weakest link. And that link is the original level design.

Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX

I honestly hope that this does well enough that we can hope to see more Alex Kidd games get full-on remakes like this. It would be especially cool to see Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle get reworked, because I think it might be more recognizable (due to its constant inclusion in anthologies like Sega Genesis Collection and Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection, as well as the Sega Genesis Mini).

But at the same time, we probably don’t need that. For people who have the fondest of memories of this series, perhaps its best to not dig up those old fossils only to find evidence that this fondness might not have been deserved after all.

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