Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX (PC) - ReviewCraig Snow , posted on 22 June 2021 / 1,402 Views
As it was built into the first video game console I owned (the Sega Master System II), Alex Kidd in Miracle World was also the first game I ever owned and played, earning it a special place in even my jaded heart. Now, almost 35 years since it originally released, the game has been lovingly remade by Merge Games & Jankenteam in the form of Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX. Revamped visuals, quality of life improvements, new modes, and even additional levels have been added, but can the 35 year old core really satisfy a modern audience?
The new visuals are the most drastic change in Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX (hereafter simply DX); Miracle World has been given a fresh count of paint, objects are significantly more detailed, lighting has been introduced to give environments more depth, additional effects give combat a bit more punch, and new animations make characters appear more living. Some neat little touches have also been added which give the game more personality. Take, for example, the new storm clouds – they now have cute facial expressions. They’re still as obnoxious as hell in one particular boss fight, but being zapped and killed by lightning for the 8th time in a row is slightly more bearable when done by a cute little cloud.
You can switch between these new visuals and old ones at the flick of a button (or the RT/R2 triggers on a controller). It’s fun to do so, especially when entering a new area and finding out what the new environment or enemy designs look like in contrast with the original designs. The soundtrack also switches between old and new when pressing this button, adding to the sense of discovery that comes with exploring each new level.
I wasn’t initially a fan of the new soundtrack - although it’s heavily influenced by the original soundtrack, it’s a bit too heavy on twangy acoustic strings for my tastes. That’s especially the case in the first level, where the new track contrasts poorly against the extremely memorable and catchy original. But after about the halfway point of the game I started to prefer the new score; it evolves beyond fairly simple acoustic tunes and introduces some cool synth and electronic sounds, elevating it above the original, which was naturally technologically limited.
While a lot of elements have clearly been changed there’s one thing that hasn’t: the core gameplay. The platforming and combat feel almost identical to the original, which means they're naturally limited by age, but at the same time push the limits of their confines. And yes the reach of Alex’s punch is still pathetically puny, so it’s incredibly easy to accidentally touch an enemy (and instantly die) while trying to run-and-punch. With some minor exceptions the level design is the same too, so you still need to think ahead and decide which blocks to destroy without screwing yourself over, just like you did back in the day. All of this means the original title’s deceptively steep initial difficulty curve remains in-tact.
Elsewhere, though, the difficulty level has been reduced via the inclusion of certain quality-of-life features. For starters you can now save your progress, which wasn’t possible on the SMS II. On top of that, if you run out of lives you’re no longer presented with a Game Over screen and sent back to the start of the game. Instead you’re sent back to the start of your current level and given three fresh lives but zero currency. And if you’re still struggling (don’t scoff just yet – the final castle level is a killer) then there’s a tickbox option in the menu to activate infinite lives. With infinite lives, instead of being sent back to the start of the level when you’ve died three times, you get to attempt the area you’re currently in over and over again until you get it right.
The net effect of these changes is to lessen the incredibly steep difficulty curve towards the end of the game. That, for me, is a plus; as a kid I never came close to completing the game (anyone who genuinely did has my utmost respect), and even with no Game Overs it’s still a challenge to finish that final castle level. For the purists out there who bemoan modern gaming’s descent into hand-holding and easy modes? Well, that’s where Classic Mode comes in…
Classic Mode and Boss Rush Mode are bonus modes that unlock when you complete the game for the first time. Classic Mode seems to be a port of the original game, warts and all, although the development team describes it as “a recreation inspired by the Sega Master System classic”, perhaps for legal reasons. Regardless, if you want the classic Alex Kidd in Miracle World experience without any quality-of-life changes or reduced difficulty curve then this is the option for you.
Boss Rush Mode is fairly self-explanatory and not particularly engaging, but it leads me smoothly into also detailing how the boss fights have been changed for DX. In the original Alex Kidd boss fights consisted of a best-of-three game of rock-paper-scissors and then, in later boss fights, brief combat segments where the boss’ head will detach from its body and launch itself at you (the weird things we gamers take for granted, eh?). The combat segments in DX now consist of more fleshed out and challenging boss fights, which is a plus, although it might not feel that way in the heat of the moment.
There’s also a new area, complete with brand new enemies that force you to approach platforming and combat slightly differently. It’s expertly woven into the fabric of the game, to such an extent that I had to watch a walkthrough of the original release just to double check it was actually new. A secondary upside to this new area is that it helps pad out Miracle World’s length a little, which is quite important given that DX’s quality-of-life changes make it significantly easier and quicker to get through.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World was always a very short game - if you watch walkthroughs of the original you’ll see it only takes around half an hour or so to complete… if you’re good enough at the game or save scum. But like many games from its era a harsh difficulty level and brutal Game Over system meant that what can take an expert speedrunner less than half an hour to complete would take your average gamer hundreds of hours, if not be altogether impossible. That’s no longer the case if you play the DX version, which I’d estimate will take most people four hours to complete (and maybe half that if you use the infinite lives option).
So its length becomes a major issue. One that’s only partially addressed by a new area and other additions like collectibles and achievements. I enjoyed my time revisiting Alex Kidd in Miracle World; I got a nostalgia fix, appreciated the additions the developers clearly worked hard to add into this DX release, and finally (30 odd years later) completed a game that had always defeated me as a kid. However, I don’t see myself ever returning to it, and I doubt I'll be alone in having a 'one and done' reaction to this particular game.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is an accomplished remake built around a core that's admittedly creaking with age. It’s difficult to brainstorm anything extra that I wish the development team had added, beyond perhaps more new levels, although at that point the line between remake and sequel would surely begin to blur. Some of the quality-of-life changes will probably prove contentious, but the kid in me from 30 years ago just wishes they’d been there from the start. And that’s probably as good a sign as any that the developers handled this remake well.
This review is based on a digital copy of Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX for the PC, provided by the publisher.