His origins might stretch back almost as far as Nintendo's mustachioed posterboy, but Alex Kidd's legacy is a much more tragic one. In the late 1980s, the character served as SEGA's platforming mascot, but his lifespan was cut short due to failed expectations and a certain blue-coloured hedgehog stepping onto the scene. Following the spin-off Alex Kidd in Shinobi World in 1990, the character hadn't been seen in over three decades and many fans had abandoned hope of ever seeing him make a return. That all changed in June last year though, as indie studio Jankenteam announced that it would be picking up the pieces and recreating the series' very first outing, Alex Kidd in Miracle World for modern-day platforms.
As a platformer, Miracle World is very comparable in style to the original Super Mario Bros., which is hardly surprising considering it was in direct competition with it at the time. The levels here, whilst sometimes switching to a more vertical style, are pretty linear and the goal is to reach a food item placed at the very end (a clear replacement for the flagpole in Mario). The core platforming demands almost pixel-perfect precision though and Alex can easily be sent toppling into a pit of spikes if you are too heavy-handed with the analogue stick. Having to jump from one narrow platform to the next was often painfully intense, as I never shook the lingering fear of losing control of the titular character at any given moment.
These levels also contain many boxes that Alex can smash open with his oversized fists and their contents aren't always advantageous. Occasionally you'll come across boxes marked with a question mark and these can either aid you by providing you with another life or they can prove to be fatal. Occasionally, a hooded figure will surface out of them and it will proceed to chase you down until you are dead, so you really need to weigh up the risks involved. There are also sacks of money that you'll find scattered throughout and these can be used to purchase temporary items and vehicles at shops found at the start of new levels.
Instead of throwing fireballs or stomping on enemy's heads, Alex uses his fists as his primary method of attack. This can only be done, however, at close range and there's always a major risk involved, as enemies aren't stationary and Alex can die from taking just one hit. I lost count of how many times I was killed by walking too close to an enemy, and during the game's later stretches, I decided it was too risky and ended up avoiding combat when I could. As I mentioned though, you can obtain items such as a ring that enable you to fire projectiles and these make encounters much easier even if their use is only temporary.
The core gameplay here might have been completely left intact, but the visuals and the soundtrack have received a complete overhaul and the result is stunning. The levels that were once charactirised by static blue backgrounds have been brought to life with a new cartoonish aesthetic and the environments and enemy designs have been reworked to give them a greater sense of personality. Something that I loved is that there's the option to quickly flick between the classic and remade visuals, so it almost feels like you have two games in one. I found myself toggling between these styles frequently, as I was in awe of just how fresh and new the game felt without compromises being made to its fundamentals.
Along with the revamped presentation, there's also a handful of fun additional modes that players can sink their teeth into once the credits roll. There's a Boss Rush Mode, that tasks you with taking on each of the game's bosses as part of one long punishing gauntlet and there's a Classic Mode too that enables you to play the game exactly how it was in 1986. Hilariously, there's also the option to change Alex's "diet" within the menu, and this changes what food he consumes at the end of a level. What is impressive is that this even changes the consumables found within the classic version of the game as well as the remade levels.
Being a faithful remake to the original has its drawbacks too, as Miracle World DX feels brutally difficult compared to other contemporary platformers. Here Alex kicks the bucket even if an enemy so much as breathes on him and you only have three lives to spare before it's game over. This coupled with the precise platforming meant that I wasn't even able to get through the first level without going into the menu and cowardly tuning on the new infinite lives mode. The game is also lacking when it comes to length, as it only contains 17 levels and I was able to finish it in three hours, despite dying a truly obscene amount of times. I get the developers had a limited amount of material to work with due to it being a very primitive game, but that doesn't prevent it from feeling short-lived compared to recent genre outings.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is a stunningly crafted remake that stays faithful to the original even though it hasn't aged the best in many places. When toggling between the remake and the original the difference is truly night and day, and the two new modes: Boss Rush and Classic Mode are fun additions that returning fans will surely appreciate. That said, the difficulty feels particularly punishing compared to newer platformers, and its length is awfully short with it taking me and my limited talents only three hours to complete. If you are a die-hard fan of the original then I can see this being a no-brainer, but anybody else who falls outside of that demographic should be wary about what they are getting themselves into.