Alex Kidd in Miracle World (1986, Master System)
"Overall, Alex Kidd in Miracle World has strong visuals for a Master System title, it’s colourful, the sprites are varied and well crafted, and it still has its own identity, despite looking a bit like Super Mario Bros!"
"So, as we have discussed throughout this review, Alex Kidd in Miracle World was a solid Master System game, featuring Sega’s original mascot before that blue edgelord (and rule 34 legend) Sonic stole the show."
The year was 1992, and one cold November, on my eighth birthday, old papa Winst0lf revealed to me the greatest present I will ever receive, unless somebody ever buys me that 1965 Shelby Cobra I always wanted… you know, the blue one with the white stripes like in Age Of Empires 2…
Anyway, the present in question was a Sega Master System 2, the Japanese arcade giant’s 8bit powerhouse (which was already outdated when I got it, the Mega Drive having been released already), and the revised edition at that! Gone was that angular, black, and red box that looked like something from a dystopian cyberpunk future, and I got the replacement… a curvy black box with a funky cartridge slot lid.
Now, the Master System 2 was famous for one thing, it came with a built-in game! Some folk got lucky and had Sonic the Hedgehog built-in, the others, myself included, got Sega’s attempt on Nintendo’s gang-busting Super Mario Bros, Alex Kidd in Miracle World.
Yes, there are two Ds in Kidd. Do not get this wrong in front of Real Gamers ™, they will not let you live!
Anyway, Alex Kidd. He was supposed to be Sega’s mascot, in the beginning, some little git that had adventures and ate onigiri, or cheeseburgers in the west, for some reason. Naturally, that Italian plumber bloke and his brother turned out to be far more popular than Mr. Kidd, and so Sega ended up replacing him with a certain blue hedgehog, the one with an impressive amount of rule 34 fanfiction. Sadly, it kind of sounded the death knell for Alex and friends.
But, thanks to emulation, and sometimes even retro consoles themselves if you’re blessed enough to have them, this history-steeped series can still be played today. So, did Alex Kidd in Miracle World deserve to disappear into Sonic’s dark shadow, or does it deserve having a look into, in the year of our Lord, annus domini 2021?
Let’s have a look…
Alex Kidd in Miracle World is an 8-bit game, my dear readers, so anybody waltzing into this expecting high fidelity sprites, parallax scrolling backgrounds, and top-end chiptune music might be a little disappointed.
But that’s the point: you’ll only be a little disappointed! You see, Miracle World really uses that humble Master System hardware well; the game is colourful, the sprites are nicely animated and the action scrolls from screen to screen nicely. Alex himself is very nicely detailed, much more so than the obvious comparison here, Mario “Mario” Mario. His face has plenty of (slightly gormless) expression and his threads are nicely detailed too! This also extends to the boss characters, the Jankens (more on these maniacs later), who also have pretty well-detailed sprites!
One common complaint leveled at Miracle World is that, well, it can look a lot like Mario Bros, and yes, there are some very obvious comparisons to that slice of classic Nintendo platformery. This all looks very suspect too, seeing as this Alex Kidd adventure came out in 1986, just one year after Super Mario Bros. The hue and cries of plagiarism have all been heard before though, and I would like to offer an alternative point of view: whilst it cannot be denied that Miracle World certainly looks similar, it still has plenty of visual touches that set it apart. If you’d like enemies that aren’t turtles or… er… brown mushroom things with little feet, this game has got you sorted! Scorpions, little dragons, big scary fish lads, and a spooky ghost that lives in a box, poor Alex has to fight off a much bigger range of nasties!
Overall, Alex Kidd in Miracle World has strong visuals for a Master System title, it’s colourful, the sprites are varied and well crafted, and it still has its own identity, despite looking a bit like Super Mario Bros!
Anybody who’s ever played Alex Kidd is probably hearing that theme tune in their head right now, it’s one of the Master System’s stone-cold classics, alongside that sweet-ass rendition of Scrap Brain Zone from Sonic the Hedgehog of course. And it isn’t just that catchy intro/level one music that holds up well either, Whether Alex is swimming underwater through a lake, checking out the rolling fields in a little helicopter, or engaging in rock/paper/scissors games with weird headed baddies, the music is always well done, utilizes the Master System’s hardware well and gets stuck in your head for days on end.
The sound effects are equally well done. A common issue with these venerable 8-bit games is that the sounds can be a little… weird, often not sounding anything at all like what they’re supposed to, but instead a dying robot that’s crashed into a synthesizer. Alex Kidd, however, has you covered, for the sound effects are evocative of the action on screen, in a basic kind of way. Jumps elicit a nice boing, the Janken gang’s dramatic rock/paper/scissoring (stop laughing!) elicits a nice whoop whoop sound, and that fireball slinging ring makes a noise like a tiny, chiptune jet fighter flying past, which is still cool as hell almost thirty years after I first played it.
I mean sure, the Italian bloke has those instantly recognizable tunes and sound effects, but if the full power of the USA’s buyer base and the power of nostalgia got behind Sega instead…
Well, we’d be gushing about Alex Kidd instead, wouldn’t we?
So we now know that Alex Kidd looks pretty hecking good, for a game of the 8-bit era, and has some instantly recognizable tunes and sound effects to go with it… but how does it play?
Well, the answer there is “not bad at all”. Alex Kidd is a strong example of a well-crafted platformer from the days of yore, not just walking to the right and jumping over gaps or onto enemies. See, this game has some nice little touches to set it apart from Nintendo’s golden boy and his first NES adventure. I mean sure, the fire ring isn’t a million years out from the fire flower, but does Mario have a motorcycle, helicopter or pogo stick thing to power through the levels, adding extra layers of strategy and mixing up the gameplay? I believe the answer is no, my dear friends!
Then we have the really weird stuff, like the aforementioned Janken Brothers, the game’s big baddies. Most bosses through the venerable history of platforming can be best tackled by jumping on them with correct timing, or running under them and cutting down a bridge, in that one famous case, but Alex Kidd likes to do things differently. So, when facing off against these weird-headed maniacs, you must beat them at their own game - Janken! (rock/paper/scissors, remember?) And so you have until the end of the massively catchy song to choose which hand shape you’re going with, after which you and your freakish enemy reveal your hand (literally). If Alex wins, then it is off to the next level. If they win… then you die. Talk about high stakes.
It’s true that, as a snotty eight-year-old, I never really got into this game, instead seduced by the radical, gotta-go-fast adventures of Sonic, but playing again for this review I have really enjoyed it! Sure, it’s derivative in places of That Nintendo Game, but it has enough changes to the formula to give it its own identity, and it’s worth giving it a try just for that, even if you are a Nintendo die-hard, who still sees Sega as the enemy from a long ended war.
Among people of my own generation, Alex Kidd in Miracle World is pretty well known. The Master System 2 was a familiar console during my childhood, as the Mega Drive was still quite new at the time and considerably more expensive (according to my parents at least). The sad thing is, those comparisons to Mario Bros will always be there, and will always mean that people will overlook this little gem of a game.
Whilst I can’t speak for younger gamers, it is very apparent in 2021 that Sega isn’t the powerhouse it used to be, their golden years coming to a sad end with the commercial failure of the Dreamcast, even if they have published some excellent titles since then (like the crazy Yakuza series), and somehow the blue rodent is making something of a comeback.
And, even better, Alex Kidd in Miracle World itself is making something of a comeback too. See, developer Janken team is getting in there with a straight-up remake of the game, with shiny, modern graphics, recreations of the music, and even new bosses and content. There has never been a better time to give this classic gem a try, why not try the new version when it drops, then the old one to see what inspired it?
Personal Score: 7/10
So, as we have discussed throughout this review, Alex Kidd in Miracle World was a solid Master System game, featuring Sega’s original mascot before that blue edgelord (and rule 34 legend) Sonic stole the show. Sure, there are some obvious comparisons to Super Mario Bros to draw here, but these similarities are skin-deep, and Sega added a lot of variety into Alex Kidd to keep it fresh, for example, vehicles, shops, and weird janken bosses.
It looks really pretty, making the most of the limitations of 8 bit, and sounds even better, with solid sound effects and really memorable music. But it is the gameplay that shines brightest of all, with the big-eared martial artist being able to swim, fly, bike, and pogo his way to victory, giving the guy a wide range of things to do between Sega logo and end credits.
Honestly, whilst this game doesn’t quite reach the lofty heights of Sonic, it’s still a really fantastic game, and makes it worth dusting off your old Master System for, or playing on whichever virtual console it's available on, in order to experience it. That, or grab the remake when it drops!
Oh, and yeah, it’s better than the Nintendo one… come at me, bruh.
Written by Craig Rathbone (@winstolf).
Find more writing at www.winst0lfportal.blog