Stalagmite's Alex Kidd in Miracle World Review
Excellently executed and fun "pick up and play" platforming gameplay with some original elements of its own, vibrant graphics, excellent and catchy soundtrack (especially the upbeat boss battle song), quirky sound effects, incredibly tight controls and a balanced yet challenging difficulty level.
Frustrating at times, lacks a save feature and items in the shops cost too much money.
Released in 1986 by Sega, Alex Kidd in Miracle World takes huge amounts of influence from Super Mario Brothers, but adds a lot of it's own elements to the mix. While it didn't quite have the same impact that Super Mario Brothers did as a whole, it gave the Sega Master System initial life the same way SMB gave the NES some, and became one of the most recognized Alex Kidd, ney, Sega Master System game. It's not perfect, but it's one hell of a game nonetheless.
Alex Kidd, as a series, was the Mario of the Sega Master System, but to many people, he just warms up the mascot spot for Sonic. He was a force to be dealt with on the Sega Master System (and that one game of his on the Genesis was quite good too), however, he only managed 5 or 6 games before dying. When was the last time anybody talked about Alex Kidd? Oh, maybe between retro (like 8-bit era retro) Sega junkies talking about how Sonic sucks and Alex Kidd rules all, or how Sonic The Hedgehog (360/PS3 version) would've kicked so much ass as an Alex Kidd game aka his revival (well, get rid of the glitches and many of the Sonic-related stuff and put Alex Kidd stuff in, there, perfect). He was involved in a fair variety of games, like a few platformers, a Shinobi crossover and even a BMX game (the latter of which was released only in Japan). However, I just want the rest of this review to cover this near-legendary classic beginning to a strong 8-bit series which apparently just warmed up fans for Sonic's arrival.
Much like with Super Mario Brothers, when I first bought this game, I was playing this game often. And by often, I meant a whole lot. I went as far as playing for more than the recommended amount (I played 4 hours a day...this was actually a lot for a 4 year old). Also, this came with the second model Sega Master Systems (in fact, it was built in), so this would be a lot of people's first Sega Master System game. Lastly, I always come back and play this game because it's still a challenging game to play once in a while. Although unlike Super Mario Brothers, this game has a few problems, though these don't break the game, they just prove to be little annoyances. More on them later.
There is a story, but it's just some filler about princes, take-overs, kidnappings and Jan-Ken-Pon which would seem interesting back in 1986...but it feels like a rehash of Super Mario Brothers, with Alex as Mario, Janken as Bowser and Alex's little brother Egle as Peach, just have Bowser sending out 3 henchmen (Rock Head, Scissor Head and Paper Head) as bosses instead of constant rehashes of himself at different levels, while taking out the classic "the princess is in another castle" line and just going to the next level. Again, would seem pretty interesting in 1986, but in 2008, not so much. Ah well, at least Sega tried to incorporate a sort of story and have a Mario of their own.
The basic gist of the gameplay is that you must run, jump and swim your way through 16 stages to get to Janken's Castle and rescue your little brother. As you'd expect with platformers, there's platforms to jump on, a linear path to follow to the finish and enemies to slaughter. Your only means of defense is your fist! Sorry folks, but Alex can't just slam onto his enemies, he'd die if he does that! Instead, you punch your enemies...with your large fist! No, not like Battletoads which EXAGGERATES their large fist sizes, but still, Alex seems to have a fairly large fist to kill enemies with. Some enemies won't die to your fist, so just dodge/avoid them. There's also some form of money to collect, but instead of coins, you get bags with the Yen (Japanese currency's name) sign on it. Unlike the coins, the Yen of this game is actually used to buy items from shops. You do not get free lives from collecting a certain number of these, which could be considered a real bummer, but you can buy free lives from shops, so that adds up I guess. So basically, it's a platformer where you go through levels, buying items when you can.
The items you buy in the game vary from a motorcycle, a helicopter, a free life, and more. There's a fair range to be exact. Here's the catch - you need to figure out what you need to buy to beat the level easier, and what you shouldn't waste your money on. For example, in level 2, you'll need that motorcycle to pass the level more quickly and without dying. However, don't think you can buy a vehicle and just zoom through the level, as there are obstacles which can destroy your vehicle and leave you running through it or even dying. I find this to be a good challenge, because if you buy a vehicle and nothing can destroy it, then the game would be too easy. Among buying items, there are some items you don't even have to buy, as you can find some in boxes or even out in the open. Consider yourself lucky that you find the item. To equip the item, you press start, move your cursor over to the item and press button 1 to equip it (oh btw you automatically use the vehicles), then try it out. Be aware that you can only equip this until you either finish the level or die, so this makes conservation a good idea. My major gripe with the shops is that they charge too much for items. Money is common enough, but at times, it doesn't add up enough. Hardly any enemies, if any, drop money when the are defeated, and bosses don't hand out money either. This makes having to choose items to buy at the shops a huge matter of trial and error - if you buy the wrong item, you die or the level will just take longer. The game is a very hard one partially because of this.
And yes, this game is quite difficult. Aside from a few occasions, this isn't unfairly difficult or anything, it's all legit! Just that you have to actually practise and memorize the levels' patterns, as well as bringing common sense to the table as many areas...well, they simply require it, okay!? Where you'll need this common sense is mostly against the bosses. Boss battles in this game aren't just about punching the hell out of the enemy. Instead, make way for... JAN! KEN! PON! That's right folks, a good old fashioned game of rock, paper, scissors! Except against Janken, you should have a good idea of what will be picked...by just looking at their heads! Rock Head = rock, Paper Head = paper and Scissors Head = scissors. Just remember that rock > scissors, scissors > paper and paper > rock. However, there are some times where they'll change to a different sign and totally destroy you. The only sure-fire way to know what they'll pick is to get a Telepathy Orb and equip it. It works 97% of the time, but there's a 3% chance they'll change at the last second, causing loss. Better sharpen those reflexes...you may need to make snap decisions here! Adding onto that, it's best 2 out of 3, so if you win 2 times, you defeat the boss. However, if they win 2 out of 3, you lose a life. You will meet these bosses again, but in the last level, and alongside the Jan-Ken-Pon game, you'll have to punch their heads when they fly out at you. Geez! Oh by the way, if the heads touch you, you lose a life..but you probably figured that out already.
And when I speak of lives, I'll also speak of this game's biggest flaw - a lack of saving. Starting with the lives system: If you get hit once by an enemy or fall down a pit, you lose a life. There are no magic mushrooms to increase your health, so get used to constantly dodging enemies! Strategic placement is the name of the game - take every little thing you find in this game as if it's a strategy. See an enemy? Punch it! See an enemy in the air and there's a pit? Wait until it moves far enough away from you that you can jump over the pit, and either pray you dodge the enemy or just punch it. Whatever it is, think about every move, and be quick. Enemies don't wait for you to think, you need to be quick with this. If you die because of misplacement of yourself, touching an enemy or falling down a pit, you'll lose a life. You lose all 3 of your lives, and you get game over. There are some extra lives, but they cost a lot of money in the shops which are better used for other items, and they are few and far between. This game will try to challenge you at every corner. This is a game for someone who wants a true challenge, however, no save system is just annoying. There's 16 levels to go through, which is half of what Super Mario Brothers has, but Alex Kidd In Miracle World is at least 4 times harder than Super Mario Brothers, so that should say a lot. And when you get game over, you start from level 1! Yeah, you can get to level 15 and lose all your lives there. Sorry mate, but you're back at level 1. No continues, no password, no nothing. That's harsh! It's like if you play this game, you have to be hardcore! If you're not sure of the difficulty, imagine Super Mario Brothers, but divide the number of stages in half, change bosses around and multiply the difficulty by 4. Again, that's harsh! A few continues or a password would be nice, Sega!
Don't worry folks, as hard as it seems, it's still fair, and (aside from a few instances) if you die, it's your own fault. Sorry to seem harsh, but the controls are tight enough to get used to quickly and respond very well, so there's nobody to blame for losing lives but yourself. Speaking of which, the controls are simple enough; button 1 for jumping and button 2 for punching (this is reversed for the built-in version of this game), while the D-pad moves you left and right. There's no ducking but unlike Megaman, Alex doesn't really need to duck much, as there's a bit of room to jump or just evade projectiles. Also depending on what vehicle you have, controls will be altered slightly. The motorbike will always move forward. Pressing right will speed you up, and pressing left will slow you down, and you can't punch enemies, though you can just run them over. In the helicopter, there's a lot of button mashing to do to stay in the air, and no punching! There are other examples I can write here, but the point is, they're responsive and a little experimenting can go a long way when you're trying to figure out what does what for what.
In terms of audio/visual, expect awesomess at...nearly every corner.
Visually, this game is stunning! As one of the first games for the Sega Master System, this completely destroys Super Mario Brothers's graphics. In fact, I can't think of too many NES games in general with such colorful backgrounds and foregrounds, among platforms and, well, the whole game really! For the audio, you'll be hearing some catchy tunes! This proves that a small quantity can work...somewhat. Yeah, unfortunately, while the soundtrack proves catchy and well done for an 8-bit title, there are hardly any different songs. Unless you're swimming, playing jan-ken-pon with bosses or in the last level, you'll be hearing the same tune over and over again. Now, I like it, I really do, but it does get a bit repetitive after some time. 15, maybe 14 stages of hearing this tune over and over can either prove repetitive and annoying, or reptitive but sweet! Anyway, there's also a tune for swimming, which sounds a fair bit aquatic-like, then a dreary tune for the last level, both of which aren't as good. Then there's my personal favorite of the bunch; the boss battle tunes! Incredibly upbeat and vibrant, just like the graphics! Just brilliant in general! Sound effects are just as well done, while a bit repetitive. However, they are also quite...quirky? Yeah, a bit weird if you ask me, though thankfully it's the good kind of weird. They're your typical 8-bit sound effects, but a bit more glorified as Sega had better access to better sound effect creating tools than Nintendo did. Overall, the audio/visual aspect of this game is full of win!
All in all, Alex Kidd In Miracle World may seem nearly impossible, but it's anything but. It's just quite challenging, that's all. With a lack of passwords or even continues for that matter, you may feel less inclined to play this game a second time after finishing it once to go through with frustration all over again, but if you lust for a challenge or like one, this game will provide you with one hell of it. If you're looking for an easier game, look into this series a bit more, as I find this to be the hardest of the Alex Kidd series. But hey, it also proves to be one hell of a beginning to one of Sega's most powerful, but forgotten, game series. I recommend purchasing this or playing it at least once before you die.
At times, it proves frustrating, but when you're playing a platformer with a fair bit of innovation in the 80's, frustration is inevitable and outweighed by innovation. Plus, it's platforming 101! How can the non-frustration be bad?
Bright, exuberant, vibrant, colorful, call it what you want, these are astoundingly good for 8-bit graphics!
While this has few songs, the soundtrack is quite catchy and well executed. Sound effects are also very noteworthy and weird (in a good way).
A bit hard to control Alex when he's swimming, but outweighed by very tight controls which are very responsive on the land. Depending on what version of this game you have (cartridge or built-in), jumping and punching controls may swap and feel a bit unnatural...at first.