Alex Kidd in Miracle World returns with shinier visuals and an updated soundtrack, but is it a worthy upgrade? The Finger Guns Review;
Nostalgia is a funny thing. Regardless of our age, to be reminded of something that was so prominent and important to us when we were kids is, if anything, a powerful marketing tool. Whilst being a ‘grown-up’, longing for an escape that would put life on pause for just a moment, companies can throw us superheroes, cartoons, stickers and Lego to ensure that little spark of memories can always be unlocked, and they sure as hell know the effect it will have.
I bring this up purely because this is Alex Kidd in Miracle World to me in a nutshell. It is, for as best as my memory serves, the very first video game I ever played. Built into my shiny Master System II – an addition to the console that so very delighted my parents, ensuring they wouldn’t ever feel the need to buy more games for the thing -, every level and piece of music is a hit of nostalgia for me that’s somewhat unparalleled. Whilst my other gaming childhood memories – Sonic, Mario etc.. – carry on in some form and will be milked to an inch of their life, Alex Kidd for the longest time was left lingering in the memory, existing only as a reminder that games had a power that was unlike anything else. I couldn’t name a single cartoon I watched as a kid, but video games? I could rattle off every single one I owned. Alex Kidd in Miracle World is a testament to a childhood full of games, and how I remember every single inch of that game purely because for the longest time, it was the only one I had.
And now, miraculously, it’s back. And I get to review a version of a video game I played for the first time damn near thirty years ago, released the year I was born. What a time to be alive.
If you’re sensing a tone of sadness, longing or perhaps genuine emotion in this review, it’s intentional. Perhaps unexpected. I knew this would be a personal kind of game to get back into, and with a single hit of the R2 trigger on my PS5 DualSense I’m immediately transported back to the days I played this game utterly relentlessly, yet never completing it because it was so damn difficult. Similar to 2018’s Monster Boy remaster, being able to flip between modern and classic visuals is a real treat that I took full advantage of throughout my playthrough, even using it at times to get me through sticky situations.
You see, the modern lick of paint for Miracle World is gorgeous. The lighting and the character models bring the world I remember of having only five or six colours to life in a way I couldn’t have imagined when I was a kid. There’s a real sense of magic that pours through, lovingly crafted by developers Jankenteam. It’s clear they have a real love for the original, and there’s little else you can ask for from a developer recreating your most prominent childhood memory before your eyes.
As I stated above, I never completed Miracle World as a kid. Lord, I tried. To beat the game now as an adult felt like a thirty year weight had been lifted off my shoulders, and I audibly screamed. Unbeknownst to me for the longest time, the original Alex Kidd in Miracle World was on PlayStation Now to stream whenever the hell I wanted to, but I never got around to signing up so the past ten days have mostly been me turning off the world and finally, finally finishing this goddamn game and there’s no denying it’s still an absolute bastard to power through with very little modern graces to help you through.
The pain of powering through a ‘retro’ game is the punishing difficulty. Yes, we’re utterly spoiled these days with our checkpoints and save spots and the ‘you can never die’ mechanic that we just take for granted nowadays in platformers. Playing Miracle World again in the week where I was jumping back and forth between this and Ratchet and Clank Rift Apart was a bit of a trip, and whilst that beast is Platinumed, 100%’d and done and dusted, I’m still struggling to fully complete Miracle World DX purely because Alex Kidd dies the second he hits something he’s not supposed to, and there’s absolutely no let up.
The one saving grace is when you use up all of your lives, instead of being booted back to the beginning of the game you’ll start at the level you died on, so there’s a very small window of ‘ah, go on, you’ve got this far’ about this particular mechanic and it’s incredibly welcome, considering how utterly batshit later levels get in terms of difficulty. Some of which I’m playing for the first time because my reflexes just weren’t good enough when I was five.
If you’re really, really struggling? Never fear, you can play through the entire game with Infinite Lives. Now, some of you may be reading this and considering such an idea sacrilegious, as I did when I discovered the option in the menus. This will come at a cost of certain trophies, but if you just want to power through the game like it’s a shiny brand new 2021 release then the option is there for you.
(fair warning; if you do this, and I understand because the game is so bloody hard, let it be known that I whilst I get it, I will judge you. If you don’t want the pain you shouldn’t be playing Alex Kidd in Miracle World).
Now, there’s every change you may have already scrolled immediately to the bottom of this review to see the score, perhaps be somewhat surprised and then bothered to read the review that attempts to justify it. Now yes, I love Alex Kidd and there’s a genuine sense of joy in my heart whenever I remember I have a gloriously shiny version of the game to play whenever I like in this, the year of 2021. Sadly, this from the ground-up remake isn’t all nostalgia and motorbikes.
One thing that can be said for including the original-ish version of the game with a quick flick of the R2 – or your corresponding button – is that Alex Kidd controls very differently depending on which version you’re choosing to power through with. Whilst Alex Kidd in the ‘retro’ style is very stiff and somewhat easy to navigate, the modern Alex Kidd feels floaty, and at times even weightless. I have straight-up murdered the poor guy countless times in my playthroughs because he really likes to not stop when I want him to.
Bizarrely, I had the same issue with the aforementioned Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom remake, and there are certain sections where I just had to kick it back to the ‘retro’ visuals in order to feel like I had control at all. It’s a strange oversight, as whilst Alex Kidd is difficult enough as it is, that we now have a version of the game where Alex feels too light to land exactly where you require him too, leading him to either fall or hit an enemy because you weren’t quick enough to stop him just feels unfair.
I can’t imagine the intention was the flip back between visual options in order to complete certain levels but that’s what I found myself doing more times than I wanted to. And that Alex controls so differently depending on which style you’re choosing is a decision I can’t quite get my head around. Perhaps it’s the nostalgia kicking in again? Maybe I’m so used to the way Alex Kidd controls that for that to be ‘modernised’ or fiddled with in any way was never going to work for me. It got to a point where I beat most of the game whilst my Master System II memories were staring back at me, granted super surprised at what I was looking at because I had never reached that far in the game before.
Then there’s the new levels, which are included to pad out the ‘lore’ of Miracle World. You know, because we all played the original for the intuitive story, right? Safe to say they add very little to the overall experience and serve only to ensure you won’t beat the new version of the game in less than an hour.
Still, the joyous moments of Alex Kidd in Miracle World remain. Buying a bike for the first time and tearing it through the second level is still an absolute delight, culminating in the brilliantly odd ‘Rock, Paper, Scissors’ boss fights (or to give its actual title the game shouts at you every single time you play it, Jan Ken Pon), which were always only fun until you could unlock being able to read your opponents mind and see exactly what they were going to throw up next. The feeling of completing a level in this bloody game still feels hugely rewarding, and the absolutely brilliant remastering of the soundtrack is a genuine treat for those have the music soldered into their frontal cortex. The fresh lick of paint the games iconic theme tune has been given is glorious, and is worth playing through the first level to listen to over and over.
It’s a shame then that for this old man, the remake of such a pivotal video game didn’t quite come together as expected. Whilst it looks wonderful and the soundtrack is a nostalgia riddled dream, the remake just doesn’t ‘feel’ like Alex Kidd. The smile on my face throughout came from the music cues, the hit of the R2 trigger to relive some long-buried childhood memories and that I felt more comfortable and more at home in that style gave me pause to think there is something missing from the new version that doesn’t quite tug at my heartstrings that way I was hoping it would.
Being able to look at Miracle World objectively, and review it for the first time since I first played it in 1990 is quite the reward after gaming for so long. It felt like my serving of this hobby had come full circle. There I was playing Alex Kidd in Miracle World on a PlayStation 5, on my 4K TV with a DualSense in my hand that has more buttons on its right-hand side than the Master System II controller had at all like I was four years old again. The enormous smile on my face when loading it up was genuine. Then something didn’t quite feel right, and it carried on throughout and unfortunately, makes it tough to recommend to anyone but the most hardcore of retro fans. The Alex Kidd you know is still there, you just have to hit R2 to find it.
Controlling Alex in this crisp, lovely looking new world felt almost hollow, and there’s a real sense of disappointment in that.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World is a good upgrade, with a loving nod to the Master System classic upgraded with terrific visuals and a wonderful soundtrack, but not much else has changed. It’s oddly easier to control when played in the original visuals mode, whilst new Alex feels somewhat floaty. Regardless, the ruthless difficulty – when not using infinite lives – will polarise modern gamers, and the padding to extend the game time feels like exactly that and little else.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is available now for Xbox, Nintendo Switch, PS4 (reviewed on PS5) and PC.
Publisher: Merge Games
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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