The cult classic SEGA platformer is back and isn't kidding around.
It's the year 1985 and videogame consoles have begun to infiltrate living rooms across the globe, marking the beginning of what many now refer to as the "Console Wars". Nintendo was at the forefront of the industry and Super Mario was quickly becoming a common household name thanks to its simple yet addictive platforming gameplay. So what was rival SEGA to do? Give up entirely, or create an iconic platforming game of their own as competition? It wasn't until 1991 when the Blue Blur first raced onto our screens, so who was responsible for keeping SEGA and their Master System relevant during this highly competitive period?
It was just some Kidd. But not just any Kidd, Alex Kidd.
His debut was in 1986 with Alex Kidd in Miracle World, a side-scrolling 2D platformer featuring an expansive world, brutal difficulty, and neat upgrades like motorbikes and helicopters. Did Mario have a motorbike? No? Didn't think so. Thanks to the popularity of this initial game, 5 further Alex Kidd games were released for SEGA systems during the following 5 years. However, 1991 marked the birth of Sonic the Hedgehog and thus the death of Alex Kidd. SEGA had essentially killed off their own character by turning their focus to another.
Alex Kidd had sadly faded into obscurity. And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. Gaming history became legend. Legend became myth. And for 30 years, Alex Kidd passed out of all knowledge...
...until, when chance came, the Kidd ensnared a new developer.
Thanks to Merge Games and JanKenTeam, this classic platformer has been revived, revitalised, and re-released on almost every console currently available! But how does a 35 year old platformer hold up by today's standards? Is it as thrilling as it was decades ago, or has your fondness for the game been clouded by nostalgia? I've never played the original, no kidding, so it's about time I get stuck into Alex Kidd in Miracle World for the very first time!
Many centuries ago, on the planet Aries, there lived a boy named Alex Kidd. For seven years he lived on Mt. Eternal studying Shellcore, an ancient art that makes one strong enough to break rocks into pieces. Kidd would even put Mike Tyson to shame with his punches! One day, as he was leaving the mountain for his spiritual homeland, he encountered a dying man who told him that the peaceful city of Radaxian was in grave danger. Before taking his last breath, the man gave Alex a piece of a map and a medallion made of Sun Stone.
Alex soon learns of an evil villain by the name of Janken the Great who has overthrown the king and captured the king's son, Egle, and his fiancé, Princess Lora. The task of rescuing the kingdom from the wrath of Janken rests upon Alex's fists, and so he ventures toward Radaxian to defeat the three Generals and overthrow Janken to end his tirade on the Kingdom.
There are plenty of interesting characters throughout Alex's journey, and for an 80s platforming game, Alex Kidd has far more plot than I would expect - even more than most modern games in the genre!
You've played a platforming game, right? Surely you have by now, it's been like 40 years. Well, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is quintessential retro platforming almost unchanged, and those who have played the original game will feel as if they've travelled through time.
The game is split into 17 separate levels, each with a distinct theme, environmental hazards, plenty of enemies, and even some puzzles to help keep Alex's brain as big as his fists. Each level will see Alex running, jumping, and pummelling his way towards a delicious item of food at the end of the level (you can choose between Onigiri, Burger, Fish & Chips, or a Spanish Omelette). Alex is armed with a deadly punch, numerous upgrades, and added abilities which can be purchased along the way. He's gonna need all the upgrades you can get too, because Alex can only take a single hit!
Certain levels also feature special vehicles like a helicopter, motorbike, and plane, during which the game briefly turns into a basic side-scrolling shooter. Most levels also feature a traditional boss fight at the end, and others instead end in a best-of-3 match of Jan Ken Pon (that's scissors paper rock for all you non-weebs out there). It's simple and fun platforming gameplay for the most part, but with a major criticism...
Alex moves like he's been coated in detergent. He's slippery, floaty, and just all around awkward to control. Like a well-oiled machine that's been oiled just a bit too much.
I've played many platformers in my time, hundreds even, from the most iconic like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Donkey Kong Country to the difficult and obscure like VVVVVV or Syobon Action. Never before have I encountered a platformer whose controls I loathed quite like Alex Kidd. When trying to make precise jumps over a chasm, or even just walk up to an enemy so you can wail on it, the sheer slipperiness of the controls can make this an unnecessarily frustrating ordeal. It's just blatantly unenjoyable at times, and I couldn't help but blame the game for many of my failed attempts.
But I did persist through the controls, and eventually became slightly accustomed to their awkwardness. Inevitably the game became more enjoyable, and by the very end I found myself overall happy and satisfied with the experience despite these drawbacks. However, many players who do not persist through the first few levels may find themselves quitting entirely out of sheer frustration.
While I found myself at war with the gameplay on numerous occasions, it was the visuals that kept me coming back time and time again. Some players might fondly remember the basic 8-bit graphics of the original some 35 years ago. Well guess what? They look like complete trash now. So what have Merge Games done instead? Created a brand new, gorgeous, highly-detailed pixel art style that perfectly captures the charm of every single level, character, and detail throughout the entire game. It's without a doubt one of the most attractive platformers you'll ever encounter. This becomes even more apparent when swapping back and forth between the DX and original visuals, which can be done as easily as pressing a single button!
Hmm, I'm not sure I can see the difference...
Having played both in handheld mode and on a big ol' 4K OLED TV, I can confidently say every single aspect of the game looks brilliant on either. Even the simple, vibrant cartoony design of the characters really pops and seems to suit the rest of the visuals perfectly. Honestly, I would recommend playing this simply based on visuals alone.
Like 8-bit visuals, chiptunes too are a thing of the past. While Alex Kidd DX has not done away with them entirely, the majority of the iconic tunes have been rearranged, recomposed, and performed acoustically by a freelance composer and sound designer by the name of Bibiki Garcia. His arrangements of the old chiptunes sound refreshing, vibrant, and incredibly upbeat. Using mostly acoustic instruments like guitar, ukelele and mandolin, as well as melodica and simple vocals to convey a pleasant, childish and carefree style, the soundtrack has been completely modernised and is an absolute pleasure to listen to.
Interestingly, some parts of the game retain the chiptune audio aesthetic. Most boss fights and intense moments revert to traditional chiptunes with a modern touch of drum and bass added. It's a nice homage to the original music, and contrasts with the lighter, more upbeat sound of the overworld.
So what's new?
Of course some quality of life changes are needed for a 35 year old game - we've all become accustomed to things like save files, extra options, and accessibility over the last few decades. Thankfully there have been a number of changes in DX to bring Alex Kidd into the modern era.
Firstly, the option of infinite lives is available from the very beginning, a necessary feature for the vast majority of those wanting to complete the game. I tried several times to play without this turned on, but found myself needing to resort to it in order to progress through many difficult areas. It's a lifeline that makes the game overall much more enjoyable. Each level also has numerous checkpoints and a save system whereby you can easily drop back in to the level where you'd left off, a luxury that was not available in the original for obvious reasons.
As mentioned above, the graphics can be reverted back to the original at any time with the press of a button, and though there's no real gameplay advantage to this, it's a nice touch for those who might have grown up playing the original. Once completing the game in full too, you'll also unlock Classic Mode which is as close to playing the game on a Master System as you'll get without blowing the dust off an old cartridge. Though strangely I feel like the controls in classic mode are more precise than DX.
There's no denying that Merge Games have done a truly brilliant job in modernising this classic SEGA game and bringing it into the hands of a new generation of gamers. While those who played it all those years ago are bound to get a nostalgia kick out of DX, the decades I've spent playing polished platformers have spoiled me and as such there were many aspects of Alex Kidd's gameplay that felt imprecise and tedious. Luckily, other aspects of the game such as its beautiful pixel art visuals and upbeat, rearranged soundtrack kept me hooked until the very end. While it's not a perfect game, it's a passion project that's clearly been made with love for a game that is near and dear to those who grew up playing it.
So, why should you play it?
You've played the original and have nostalgia for it.
Gorgeous pixel art makes your eyes happy.
You're always up for a challenge.
Need some upbeat music? Kidd's got you covered.
But why shouldn't you play it?
Slippery, imprecise controls often become frustrating.
Feels unfairly difficult at times.
Many other better side-scrolling platformers available.
A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided for the purpose of this review.
Ben 'Qualbert' Schuster
Ben is a game reviewer and collector with a passion for the Australian games industry. His favourite game is Ōkami and he spends most of his time playing JRPGs and indie games. You can read more of his reviews and retrospective articles at qualbert.com