We talk a lot about nostalgia when it comes to video games, especially in this age of remasters/reboots where it seems like just about any old IP could be resurrected in some form at any moment. If you’re lucky, you might be able to look back at your very first video game and find something like Super Mario Bros or Final Fantasy VII, games that seem to consistently return to the zeitgeist even decades later. Or, you’re like me, and your introduction to gaming was a semi-obscure platformer that you could only access by switching your SEGA Master System on without a cartridge in it. And yet, somehow, here we are with a remaster of that very game in Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX. Go figure.
What started life as a fan remake from indie developer Jankenteam became something more when the greenlight from SEGA and a partnership with Merge Games came along, spinning it into a full release. Miracle World DX’s beginnings as a passion project are evident from the outset, with its creators rebuilding the original game from scratch in Unity as the basis for the ‘remaker’. The end result is a very handsome visual overhaul that successfully reinterprets the comparatively primitive look of the original game into a more modern and lush pixel art aesthetic bursting with extra detail and life. Best of all, it’s possible to switch between the new and old looks at the tap of a button, making it easy to see at any time just how stark of a difference it all is and to get a glimpse at how the studio took inspiration from those early forms to craft their take on the game.
There are a couple of key distinctions that come of this new version of Alex Kidd having been recreated anew, as opposed to being built on top of original source code. For one, Jankenteam has been able to rework many of the game’s rock-paper-scissors boss battles to be more dynamic and less frustrating, as well as add in entirely new levels and story elements to flesh out the (admittedly still slight) narrative. Thankfully almost none of the original’s strange and esoteric concepts have been axed, but that fact also highlights this remake’s biggest issue – if you’ve never played Miracle World before you’re going to be a little confused. As far ahead of its time this game was in 1986 with shops, vehicles and huge, multi-screen environments, it’s also a devious and oblique thing. As a child I’d finish school and go home to complete Alex Kidd in its entirety nearly every day, so going in I believed that I knew the game like the back of my hand. Cue the egg on my face when I still struggled to figure out that beating a falling-spike puzzle in a later level required punching an indistinguishable section of wall.
Thankfully, unlike the game in its original form, Miracle World DX doesn’t send players back to the title screen on a game over. This is a punishing game, always has been, with Alex ascending as an angel to the heavens with even the slightest touch of a baddie or environmental hazard. This time, when his three lives are up, he’s only sent back to the beginning of the current level. It’s an almost essential change for a title like this to be played in a modern setting, but it also comes with a caveat. When it’s game over and the level resets, so does Alex’s inventory of items and money, starting him over with nothing. This can seriously throw later levels out of balance, where previously players would have tackled them with cash in hand to buy vehicles and power-ups they now have to surmount these late-game obstacles without any assistance. Sure, originally the challenge was to even reach the later stages, but at least when you did you’d have the right tools for the job. An optional Infinite Lives mode exists that can help mitigate these, but in typical patronising fashion it disables trophies/achievements.
Still, what this really is is a chance for anyone with a fondness for the original game to experience it again on just about any platform and in a beautifully redone form. It’s a little easier to forgive the still-punishing format, the slightly slippery jumping physics and mismatched hitboxes when you’re playing such an artful reinterpretation of a cherished memory. It’d be remiss of me not to give special mention to the soundtrack as well, which is full of wonderful re-imaginings of some of the Master System’s most recognisable themes. Gentle, breezy guitars roll over the classic melodies and everything feels like it’s in its right place, even when it goes quite far off-book.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is a very handsome remaster of a game that will no doubt hold a special place in certain people’s hearts. For those people, it’s a chance to revisit an old favourite with a great new look and enough new twists to keep things interesting. For everyone else, this offbeat, unforgiving and often bewildering platformer might seem like it should’ve stayed in the 80s. Jankenteam clearly has a love for the title though, and for just north of $25 there’s definite value for anyone who owned and loved a Master System back in the day.
Reviewed on PS5 // Review code supplied by publisher
- Merge Games
- PS5 / PS4 / Xbox Series X|S / Xbox One / Switch / PC
- June 22, 2021