REVIEW: Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX authentically recreates a classic, for better or worse
Updated: Feb 8, 2022
Growing up, it was easy to watch Alex Kidd pass me by. You see, as a kid, I inexplicably preferred playing as a middle-aged Italian plumber who shot fire out of his hands rather than a character my age who knew martial arts. What was so cool about riding a motorcycle and flying a helicopter as Alex when you could... go down pipes and squish people with your feet as Mario?
Okay. I admit it. I should have played Alex Kidd, the original power fantasy for eight-year-old kids everywhere. Thankfully, our friends at Jankenteam and Merge Games remade the SEGA classic for the deprived kids like me who are ready to step into the red jumpsuit for the first time ever.
Every screenshot of gameplay shown in this article will feature a look at both the remake's art-style and the original's, for comparison.
Just the Facts
Publisher: Merge Games
Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 via backwards compatibility*, Nintendo Switch, Xbox Series S and X *platform reviewed on
Release Date: June 22, 2021
Key provided by Evolve PR.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX takes you on a surprisingly punishing platforming adventure that stands out for its unique gameplay mechanics, particularly when compared to its contemporaries. The remake of the Sega Master System classic Alex Kidd in Miracle World, DX released on June 22, 2021 for every major platform.
The original game, released in 1986, was lauded for its colorful graphics, vehicle sections that stood out compared to other platformers, and strange rock paper scissors boss fights. Fans of the original will be happy to hear that not only does the remake keep ALL of these things, it even finds ways to modernize the whole affair, making it accessible for new fans and enough of a new experience for those who played it back in the day.
With a feature that allows players to switch back and forth between the new and original art with just the push of a button, it's easy to see just how far the game has come.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is clearly a labor of love for the developers, a true showcase of a classic game with a hardcore base of fans.
The first and most obvious bit of work that Jankenteam has done here is a complete overhaul of the graphical fidelity and art style. We're not just talking about beautiful pixel art, but a complete recontextualization of each level's design.
What was once a flat green background becomes a lush jungle full of life. The city of Radaxia goes from a few tiny huts lined along a crude two-toned grassy field to a full-fledged village withstanding a storm.
Even items get reworks that honor their origins, like the Psychic Wand. When used in the original, Alex would simply start floating. No animation, no identifier for the change or item. He'd just zip up into the sky. In DX, Alex hops onto the wand itself, grown out to become more of a cane, and rides it through the sky.
It's amazing to see the work put in to give this game new life. With a feature that allows players to switch back and forth between the new and original art with just the push of a button, it's easy to see just how far the game has come.
The soundtrack received major enhancements too, following the lead of the graphical overhaul by keeping a chiptune sound and sticking to the original arrangements, but filling out the space with a more complete sound overall.
As a result of the fuller and livelier world, Alex Kidd's story gets a bit of a polish up too. Coming from an era where story had to be told primarily through the pages of the game's manual, there's a lot more going on here than you'd expect.
On the planet of Aries, Alex Kidd, a young master of a martial art known as Shellcore, is on the trail of the evil king Janken the Great. He's frozen a majority of the country's villagers in stone and Alex is the only one who can save them. There are long lost brothers, ancient medallions that unlock crowns, and a planet-wide obsession with the game of rock paper scissors.
It's clearly not a narrative masterpiece, but Jankenteam commits to looping in the story as much as possible via newly added NPC interactions. This weird world stands as a testament to a time when even the most basic of games had pages and pages of lore.
Last, and most importantly, are the changes and modifications Jankenteam have given the classic platformer's gameplay, the part of the game that stands out as the most familiar to fans of the original release.
Alex Kidd feels like it's painful on purpose. Born out of the transitionary period between the coin-operated arcade gaming and household gaming eras, it features some brutally hard systems.
Purposefully obtuse level objectives. One hit deaths. Three lives lost and it's a game over. It's all there, for better or for worse.
Jankenteam has implemented a few key changes to try and offset those frustrations here.
For one, Alex controls tighter than he did in the original — a little less wobbly and generally more responsive. Additionally, Alex now has the ability to use any of the game's varied items (weapons, tools and defensive items like shields) in the game world without having to break up the action by accessing the pause screen.
But despite these augmentations, it still stands as one of the harder platformers I've played in a while.
The rest of the game stands as folks likely remember it, with the hard-as-nails platforming action intact. As a first-time player, the most surprising gameplay element though is the rock paper scissors action I've mentioned several times throughout the review.
If you've been confused up until this point: Alex Kidd features a never-before-seen take on the end-of-level boss fight. Rather than engaging in a back and forth battle, learning patterns and sneaking hits in where you can, a majority of the boss fights start with a round of the classic game of psychology. Win the best two out of three and you move on. Lose and you instantly lose a life.
It's a bit strange that you could end up hitting a game-over state because of a game of chance, but the innovation and commitment to a non-violent design choice is appreciated. (Though you do eventually fight and destroy these guys, and if you lose at the game of RPS, you get zapped by lightning so... not the most non-violent thing in the end).
They've also added a few new levels that slot in perfectly with the overall design, so much so that I didn't even notice until later watching playthroughs of the original.
Playing Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is fairly enjoyable, even with the sometimes frustrating difficulty level that requires persevering through a few game-over screens.
My true frustration comes in the larger multi-objective levels that represent the game's biggest difficulty spikes. While some levels slide by in what feels like less than a minute, levels like the Radaxian Castle and Janken's Fortress stand out as lengthier than usual and particularly punishing. They have the game's most precise platforming requirements, a few obtuse and unexplained objectives, and rooms that could kill you in seconds if you don't know what traps are waiting on the other side.
One room in particular at the end of Janken's Fortress feels impossible until you learn the quirk you need to beat it — something that could have been resolved with better teaching in the game's earlier levels. (It should be noted that I also experienced a save-corrupting bug in this room that forced me to replay the game a second time, but it's a bug that promises to be patched out with a Day 1 patch).
Arguably the biggest addition, in a move towards accessibility, is an option for Unlimited Lives. While it drastically changes the game's overall design, essentially removing any need to go after the bags of cash in each stage because your money never resets, it makes each death less frustrating and allows you to simply take each screen as it comes.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is a special release. Although the game's original design may not have aged well in a world where platformers like Celeste and Super Meat Boy have shown how to balance steep difficulty with generally good design, this rare remake of a nearly 40 year old game not only recaptures the feel of the original completely, but also does what it can to modernize it appropriately for new audiences.
video games are good and Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is... GOOD. (7/10)
+ an exceptional overhaul of a unique 40-year-old platformer with true care put into nearly every remade element
- incredibly difficult, made worse by a few obtuse design decisions brought over from the 80s
Post-credits scene here to shoutout two other extra additions by Jankenteam: the Boss Rush mode that lets you run through a gauntlet of rock paper scissors matches and the subsequent "regular" boss battles, plus a Classic Mode that lets you hop into the original game presented in its original aspect ratio and all.
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