Alex Kidd in Miracle World
  • Genre:
    • Platformer
  • Platform:
    • Master System
  • Developer:
    • Sega
  • Publisher:
    • Sega
  • Released:
    • JP 11/01/1986
    • US UK 1987
Score: 65%

This review was published on 09/21/2017.

Years before the company created its famous 16-bit Sega Genesis hardware, Sega had a much lesser known 8-bit console called the Sega Master System. While the Genesis was in fierce competition with Nintendo's Super Nintendo Entertainment System in the 1990s, the Master System tried to compete with the Nintendo Entertainment System in the mid-to-late 1980s. "Tried" is the main keyword here, because despite having more advanced hardware, the Master System was highly unsuccessful in challenging the supreme dominance of the NES in Japan and North America. Part of this was due to Nintendo's licensing practices at the time, which forbade third-party publishers from putting their games on other platforms. However, the Master System fared much better in Europe and some parts of South America, most notably Brazil. To that end, a company called Tec Toy published many of the Master System's greatest games in Brazil throughout the 1990s, even after the console had been discontinued in most other parts of the world.

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Prior to the release of Sega's popular Sonic the Hedgehog in 1991, the company had another mascot platformer called Alex Kidd. Sega created Alex Kidd specifically to compete with Nintendo's highly successful Super Mario Bros. on the NES. Unsurprisingly, Alex Kidd was no match for the genre defining Super Mario Bros. That didn't stop Sega from releasing a few more Alex Kidd games, though. The first game in the Alex Kidd series is Alex Kidd in Miracle World, which is a side-scrolling platform video game developed by Sega for the Master System. It was originally released in Japan on November 1, 1986, and internationally in 1987. Sega published the game in Japan, North America, and Europe, while Tec Toy published it in South America. Initially, the game was only available in cartridge form, but was later built into many versions of the Master System hardware. Due to that, Alex Kidd in Miracle World is arguably the most widely known game in the series. It's also one of the better titles in the Master System's rather anemic library of games.

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As the title suggests, the titular Alex Kidd is the protagonist of this game. He's a young boy with big ears, giant sideburns, and a red jumpsuit. It's fitting attire, because he'll be doing a lot of jumping in that suit. According to the North American instruction manual, the game is set many centuries ago on a planet called Aries. There, Alex lived on Mt. Eternal for seven years, studying an ancient martial art known as Shellcore, which allows an individual to break rocks with their bare hands. One day, the peaceful city of Radaxian, ruled by King Thunder, got attacked by a villain named Janken the Great, who's the emperor of planet Janbarik. During the assault, Janken kidnapped King Thunder's son, Prince Egle, and Egle's bride-to-be, Princess Lora. Alex learns that he is the long lost son of King Thunder and, by extension, Egle's twin brother. After discovering this startling information, Alex sets out on a quest to rescue the kingdom from Janken.

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In this game, you control Alex Kidd in his quest to defeat Janken. On the standard Master System controller, left and right on the d-pad moves Alex in those directions, down has him duck, the 1 button makes him jump, and the 2 button causes him to attack. The two main buttons are located on the right side of the Master System controller, with the 1 button being a fraction to the left of the 2 button. In other words, you press the left button to jump, and the right button to attack. This flies in the face of the standard set by most console games at the time, which had you attack with the left button and jump with the right one. Because this standard is embedded into many people's brains, you'll likely have some trouble getting used to the game's controls. Some versions of the game do swap the buttons around, though.

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Alex's primary means of attack is punching things with his big fist. Thanks to his training, he's also able to break rocks, blocks, and boxes with his punches. Every stage is filled to the brim with breakable objects that often bar your path, and the boxes tend to have stuff in them. The boxes with stars on them contain money bags, while the question mark boxes hide extra lives and power-ups. Some boxes are harmful, however, such as the skull marked ones that temporarily stun Alex if he breaks them, and the pink versions of those same boxes cause evil ghosts to appear when touched. These ghosts will chase Alex around for a bit, and they're also occasionally found within question mark boxes. Aside from that, breaking stuff is generally beneficial, plus it's fun to do.

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Throughout his adventure, Alex will sometimes encounter shops. This is where all the money he's gathered comes into play, as he can use it at shops to purchase helpful items. These items include a mysterious powder that temporarily renders Alex impervious to enemy attacks, a mystical cane that allows him to fly for a short period of time, a bracelet that allows him to shoot projectiles out of his fists, extra lives, and some other oddball stuff. Once purchased, most items are stored into an inventory you can access from the pause menu, allowing you to use them at a later time. Additionally, some shops sell vehicles for Alex, such as a speedy motorcycle that plows right through rocks, and a helicopter that allows him to fly around and fire missiles. One stage also has a speedboat that travels across water. The vehicles get completely destroyed if Alex runs into certain obstacles or enemies while using them, though, so they're temporary luxuries. Nonetheless, all of this stuff is pretty neat.

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Before tackling each stage, a map screen is shown to let you know how far you've come on your adventure, and you can also see it from the pause menu. Anyway, despite being a Super Mario Bros. styled platformer, Alex Kidd's first game is pretty different. Unlike the first Super Mario, the stages don't simply go from left to right. In fact, the very first stage has you going from up to down! Certain stages also take place within trap laden castles with ladders that connect to rooms from all four edges of the screen, almost like a Zelda dungeon. Thankfully, there are no time limits like in the Mario games. Backtracking is strictly prohibited outside of these castle mazes, however, as you're unable to scroll the screen backwards in most stages. There's even a puzzle to solve at the end of the game, too. The obligatory water stages are also here, which allow Alex to swim in all eight directions with the d-pad. For a game made in 1986, the stages in Miracle World have a good bit of variety to them.

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Janken the Great got his name from his expertise at the game of Janken, which is known outside of Japan as rock-paper-scissors. His major henchmen are also highly adept at rock-paper-scissors, so much so that their heads are literally giant hands forming the shapes of rock, paper, and scissors. You see, the way people settle their differences in the world of Alex Kidd is through a game of rock-paper-scissors, and that's precisely what you'll be doing against Janken's top brass. If you win, you get to pass, but if you lose, you die. Unless you know the set pattern for all of the rock-paper-scissors matches, this is merely a game of chance. The pattern does change if you lose even once, though. There's a hidden item you can get at certain points that essentially guarantees your victory at rock-paper-scissors by revealing your opponent's thoughts, but if you miss it, you'll be boned for the rest of the game. While certainly a unique idea, it's not a particularly good one due to the luck factor.

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Video games in the 1980s were often insanely difficult, but Super Mario Bros. was more approachable than most titles back then. The same can't be said for Alex Kidd in Miracle World, which better reflects that era's general level of difficulty. Unless he's in a vehicle, Alex dies in one hit in this game. His default attack also has a short reach, making it rather difficult to hit enemies without dying. On top of that, the stage design gets quite devious later on, forcing you to do some extremely precise jumps with the game's extremely imprecise controls. Your movement in the air and on the ground is very slippery, so landing on tiny platforms is awfully finicky. A common occurrence is that you'll overshoot a platform and land headfirst into an enemy or hazard, killing Alex immediately. If you get a Game Over, there's a cheat code that lets you continue in exchange for some of your money. To execute the code, you hold up on the d-pad and press the 2 button a bunch of times. The game is still incredibly frustrating even with the code, however.

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Besides the controls, there are a couple of small differences between some versions of the game. Instead of grabbing onto a flagpole at the end of every stage like Mario does, Alex gets to eat a rice ball. In case you aren't familiar with this Japanese food, these are basically balls of sticky rice that are wrapped in seaweed. This is common knowledge nowadays, but not too many people outside of Japan knew what rice bells were back in the 1980s. Because of that, some later versions of the game released in non-Japanese territories changed the rice balls into hamburgers. Also, the currency used in Alex Kidd's world is called Baum, and it looks rather similar to the Japanese yen.

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Compared to Super Mario Bros. on the NES, Alex Kidd in Miracle World has a lot more things in it. It's a fairly ambitious game for the time, featuring multidirectional scrolling, shops, an inventory system, vehicles, puzzles, and other sophisticated stuff. However, the core mechanics, controls, and design aren't as refined as anything seen in a Mario title. As a result of that, it's not hard to see why Alex Kidd didn't quite catch on with as many people as Super Mario Bros. did.

Word Count: 1,719

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