I’m more than happy to admit that my feelings for Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX are mixed. The original game passed me by in my youth. Alex Kidd came out on Sega’s Master System, back when my attention was split between an Atari 2600 and the NES. A remake, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is absolutely geared toward fans of the 1986 action platformer. It’s a snapshot of old-school gaming with limited lives, linear levels, and lots of death. However, the game came from a time in which developers would ape popular formulas, but also try and be more creative with their ideas. As I played through Alex Kidd for the first time in my life, I was struck by the ’80s-game nostalgia — along with ’80s-game frustration. And, honestly, some justified bewilderment.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is what one would call a labor of love. What began as two Alex Kidd fans recreating their favorite game, the project eventually got the attention and blessing from Sega. Developer Jankenteam, along with publisher Merge Games, is bringing the classic to life with completely revamped visuals and music.
More than a coat of paint
A lot of care has been placed in the game’s fresh design. Solid blue skies and flat mountains are gone, replaced by vibrant backdrops with colorization based on time of day, parallax scrolling, and dancing shafts of light. The village of Namui looked cheerful in the original game, despite being under attack. In Alex Kidd DX, the bright skies are replaced by dark, rolling clouds — more appropriate for the siege. The game includes visual effects too, such as leaves gently falling from the trees. Rain drops falling from the sky over Namui splash against solid objects, such as Alex, leaving a shaft of untouched air. All the sound effects and music have been remade. It all comes together well; Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is a beautiful game, overflowing with charm.
Of course, at the press of a button you can go back to retro graphics and audio. Thankfully, you’re not stuck with a 4:3 aspect ratio. The game’s retro mode is widescreen, with UI elements all in the right places.
Despite the modern presentation, however, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is still an 8-bit game from the long, long ago. You run, jump, platform, and deck little scorpions in the face. But like many games of the arcade era, Alex Kidd DX pulls no punches in its difficulty. And it’s more than happy to remind you every time you watch Alex’s sad, little ghost escape to the void. Got too close to that frog? Dead. Mistime that jump? Dead. You didn’t see that flying lizard below you? Well, guess what, my monkey friend? You’re dead. I’ve played many games like this in my youth. The constant dying was nostalgic, bringing both comfort and frustration in equal measure.
If the gorgeous new look pulls you into a trance, the gameplay will snap you back to reality. The game offers you a handful of lives to get from A to B, and losing them all means starting the entire level over. Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX isn’t terribly cruel, however. Even with my slower reflexes, I managed to get through the 30-minute demo fine. The game also offers some help. Each level is covered with bags of cash you can grab or discover in destructible boxes. You can spend it on extra lives, power ups, or vehicles in mid-level shops. There are also boxes with question marks, which sometimes hid power-ups such as a ring that lets you fire a projectile. That is, unless the box is hiding an old witch who chases after you and kills Alex in one hit. Yeah, this game.
No amount of practice, though, will prepare you for some battles. Well, I say ‘battles,’ but they’re really not. In most games, an end-level boss is a test of the skills you obtained along the way. Some of the bosses in Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX, however, will test your luck — and sometimes your patience. In a bizarre move, you challenge some bosses with a game of jankenpon — or, as it’s known in the West, rock, paper, scissors.
Yes, you read that right. At the end of a tough level, now covered in corpses and despair, you square up in a game of chance. The first boss in the game is a guy whose face is a giant fist. I’m not making it up. The match is played best of three, and if you lose, a lightning bolt tears through the sky and kills your monkey ass. If you’re on your last life, you start the level over. This is what I was referring to earlier when I mentioned developers being creative during these times. It was undoubtedly unique and experimental for its time, but kind of baffling. And also frustrating, especially if you’re attempting to make it through the fight on a single life and a dream. To be fair, you don’t play jankenpon for every boss. You will be able to punch an enraged bull in the butt.
A world of miracles
Regardless of any frustration and occasional bafflement, I still enjoyed my time with Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX. I’m pretty sure. The gameplay is smooth at least, and the optimization on point. I didn’t run into any odd bugs or glitches. However, there are some quirks brought about by its new art. Switching back and forth between graphics modes shows that Alex’s new model is shorter than his 8-bit form. However, I believe the hitbox remains the same. I think I got killed once by something flying just above my head once. Also, due to the more detailed art, the reach of his arm when punching appears shorter. It’s not, but you can better judge his attack distance in retro mode. I found the game to be easier in 8-bit, simply because I was no longer getting too close to enemies.
Practice, however, should alleviate those issues. We’re still looking forward to giving the game an actual go when it launches later on June 24.