Review: Alex Kidd in Miracle World (Sony Playstation 3)

Alex Kidd in Miracle World
Genre: Plarformer
Developer: Sega
Publisher: Sega
Release Date: 05/23/12

Back before Sonic the Hedgehog was Sega’s mascot and primary money maker, in the days of the eight bit console era, the Nintendo Entertainment System was the console most kids grew up with, but it wasn’t the only one on the market. While there were a few other random consoles on the market, like the MSX in Japan and the Commodore 64 in the US, the other “big” competitor to Nintendo’s run of the third console generation was Sega with the Sega Master System. While the battle wasn’t even close for more reasons than I care to go into here, the fact was that the SMS still had a surprisingly large amount of high quality games in its library before it fell to the wayside in the wake of the Genesis, several of which were attached to Sega’s two most prominent mascots of the time, Opa-Opa (of Fantasy Zone fame) and Alex Kidd. While Alex Kidd’s history hasn’t exactly been the brightest, due to some less than stellar sequels and a basic bottoming out of his career post Sonic the Hedgehog, Alex Kidd in Miracle World was one of Sega’s best and brightest attempts to go one on one with Super Mario Bros., and is one of the better games to come from the SMS in general. Twenty six years after its initial US release, Sega has brought the game to the PSN as a downloadable title, and for the price of five dollars, those who missed out on the game when it came out get the chance to see what the fuss was about. As a kid who grew up with the Master System, however, this is more like coming home for me, as Alex Kidd in Miracle World is one of the very first video games I ever beat. Having not played it in years, I was curious as to how well it held up to my memories, and in general… and while there are some rough spots, for the most part, the answer is “pretty well, actually”.

So, as the story goes, Alex Kidd is an orphaned martial artist who is a master of the art of Shellcore, a martial art that based almost entirely around punching through rocks… and most everything else, as it happens. Alex comes into possession of a map and a Sun Medallion one day and is tasked to save the kingdom of Radaxian from the evil Janken the Great. Janken, as it happens, has taken over the kingdom and put his minions in charge of ruining everyone’s day, so it’s up to Alex to punch and Rock-Paper-Scissors his way across the countryside, liberate the kingdom, and beat the heck out of Janken. Alex Kidd in Miracle World has a fairly solid plot for a game of its time, and while there’s a little bit of Engrish going on here, you can fairly easily pick up on what’s going on and how events unfold as you play. The game isn’t going to win any awards for its story or anything, mind you, but there’s actually a plot here, and it’s cute and does its job perfectly fine. As an emulated release of an older game, there’s also a decent amount to do with this release. You can play the game normally, go into Trial Mode to try and rank on the leaderboards for the game, record and view replays of the game, look at the manual and listen to the soundtrack from the main menu, which isn’t bad all in all, and adds some fine content to the core game.

Alex Kidd in Miracle World is by no means a visually amazing game at this point, but relative to the time it came out, it looks pretty good. While there were certainly more impressive games, visually, on the SMS (Phantasy Star for example), this game has a solid visual presentation; everything is very bright and colorful, there aren’t very many repeated stage backgrounds, the animation is solid and Alex himself is very distinctive. The grunt enemies are somewhat generic, especially in comparison to Janken and his henchmen, and there are some visual glitches when too much occupies one section of the screen (breaking a specific block in Janken’s castle makes the visuals blur horizontally for example), though these were in the original game, so if nothing else, the emulation is spot on. The music is also interesting, even at this point, and fits the game very well, from the cheerier compositions that pop up normally to the more tense song that plays during Rock-Paper-Scissors competitions and beyond. The sound effects are also generally solid, and while nothing stands out as being especially exciting, everything fits perfectly fine in its place.

As the SMS was a console with a two button controller, and Alex Kidd in Miracle World is a platformer, it’s likely not a surprise that the controls mostly boil down to “one button jumps and one button attacks”, but there you go. The X button jumps and the Square (and Circle) button punches enemies in normal stages, while you can use the left stick or the D-Pad to move Alex around. The game has a fairly wide variety of gameplay types, however, so you won’t just be running around punching things all day long. Alex has to swim through some sections, and in these stages, movement is the same, but X allows Alex to swim faster, while Square still punches normally. There are also three different vehicles for Alex to drive: the Sukopako Motorcycle, which moves faster or slower by pressing right and left and jumps with X, the Petit-Copter, which manuvers normally, takes flight by repeatedly pressing X, and shoots by pressing Square, and the Suisui Boat, which moves faster or slower by pressing right and left, jumps with X and shoots with Square. The different vehicles pop up a couple times throughout the game, and help to break up the experience nicely, as they’re a lot of fun to play around with and change up the mechanics nicely, so you don’t feel like you’re doing the same thing constantly.

Alex has a few other tricks at his disposal aside from punching things and the odd vehicles, however. As you progress through the game, Alex will find bags of money to collect that, based on their size and where they’re found, add cash to his total. You can buy various different items in shops that pop up in different stages to help Alex along, such as the Power Bracelet, which fires bolts out of his fist, the Teleport Power, which makes you invincible to most damage for a set period, the A Capsule, which summons tiny versions of Alex to attack enemies, the B Capsule, which coats Alex in a shield, and more. You can also find these sorts of items, as well as the cash to buy them, out in the game world, through shattering specific blocks or just by randomly seeing them somewhere, though you’ll end up buying them more often than not, as they’re more likely to show up in the shops. You’ll also find the odd plot-important items as you play if you search around, and while you don’t need them to succeed, as you can get the ending so long as you gain the magic item from the final boss, they’ll make your life significantly easier should you find them. You can access the items in Alex’s possession by pressing Start to bring up the submenu, which will show you what he has on his person at the time, as well as your score, the amount of money you have on hand, and your lives remaining.

The oddest mechanic in Alex Kidd in Miracle World, however, has to be the Rock-Paper-Scissors battles. Basically, Janken’s name comes from the Japanese game “Jan-Ken-Pon”, or, “Rock-Paper-Scissors”, and his henchmen also feature rock, paper, and scissors shaped heads, to drive the point home. Every couple of stages you’ll have to face one of them down, and you’ll have to pick one of the three standard hand gestures as they do the same. Win twice and you beat them, lose twice and you die. The concept is simple, if incredibly weird, especially when you face them later and they actually fight you after losing by making their heads come off to attack you, but it’s novel, and you’ve likely not seen much like it before, even now. The game also has some other odd concepts here and there, like question mark blocks that rotate through a set pattern (Power Bracelet, instant-death ghost, 1UP), skull blocks that freeze you when broken just because, fish blocks that change the environment somehow when punched, and so on. Heck, the final section of the game either requires you to have a strategy guide or all of the plot-important items in order to complete it, because it’s a block puzzle that will instantly kill you if you screw it up. This game is weird sometimes, is what I’m saying here, and a good portion of that weirdness is why it’s so beloved by fans today, because you likely haven’t seen a game quite like it.

Alex Kidd in Miracle World is sixteen stages long, though some are significantly shorter than others, and you can get through the game if you know what you’re doing in about three hours, give or take. The game also offers the option to save your state at any time, so even if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can save before particularly onerous parts, test your luck, and try again if you fail really badly. There is also, as mentioned, the option to take part in a trial run of the game to get yourself on the leaderboards, as well as record replays of your sessions. The game also offers a jukebox to listen to the music from the game, and a full compliment of Trophies to earn for playing through the game and performing various tasks. For the five dollar asking price, this isn’t a bad compliment of additional content to work with, and as the core game is reasonably challenging, you’ll likely get a good few hours out of the game itself, especially if you’ve never played it before. As such, this isn’t a bad package all in all and, for the most part, justifies its asking price.

Which is not to say that the game is for everyone. As you may have gathered from the above, Alex Kidd in Miracle World is a little on the weird side, and even as a kid I had to call Sega for assistance on a few parts, so to say that some of the sections of the game are a little obtuse is fair. It’s also worth noting that the controls are floaty at times, especially when trying to maneuver Alex during jumping. Alex tends to slide a little as he slows down from jumping and running, which can put you in the position of either underestimating a jump or over-correcting a jump, and this can take some getting used to. Also, given that this is the same price as some of the other games Sega is releasing on PSN at an identical price point, while this is a fine game, it’s hard to say that it’s as good as or better than, say, Monster World IV for the price. It’s absolutely worth the price in general, but given the options it’s basically not the first choice one should go for from the releases in the set.

Alex Kidd in Miracle World is, at the end of the day, still an excellent platformer with lots of creative ideas and interesting concepts to spare, and while it isn’t quite the experience it was two and a half decades ago, it’s still a great entry in the genre and worthwhile for fans to check out. The plot attached to the game is surprisingly decent for a game its age, the game generally looks and sounds rather good, and there is a surprising amount of depth to the gameplay all around. The game is challenging, fairly lengthy and offers some amusing options to play around with outside of just jumping into the game, which adds some long term value to the product. The game is a little weird in some respects that may be confusing at first, the movement mechanics can be floaty until you really get used to them, and there are better choices from Sega’s recent release list for the price. That said, however, Alex Kidd in Miracle World is worth picking up if you love platformers, as it’s one of the better games Sega releases on the SMS and it’s still surprisingly fun and engaging. It’s not a bad deal for the price, and if you can adjust to its oddities, new players will find it’s not quite like anything they’ve played before, and returning fans will find it to be mostly as good as it ever was.

The Scores:
Story/Game Modes: ABOVE AVERAGE
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: ABOVE AVERAGE
Replayability: MEDIOCRE
Balance: GOOD
Originality: GREAT
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: GOOD

FINAL SCORE: ENJOYABLE GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Alex Kidd in Miracle World is a solid platformer with some interesting and quirky elements, and while it’s not without its problems, it’s definitely a lot of fun. The plot is surprisingly not bad given the game’s age, and the game looks and sounds solid both for its time period and in general. The gameplay is simple but offers some interesting mechanics and concepts to keep it from feeling rote, as well as some solid variety to keep the game feeling fresh throughout, and there are some novel options included in the emulation that are fun to play around with. Granted, the game is weird conceptually on a few levels, the controls can be floaty when working with tight jumps, and the game doesn’t compare to some of Sega’s other recent releases on a cost-for-value basis. That said, Alex Kidd in Miracle World is still a lot of fun for platformer fans, and whether you’re coming into the game new or you’ve played it previously it’s worth the five dollars, as it’s an interesting platformer with an interesting personality all its own.

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