For many Sega fans, when you ask them what is their favourite platformer they’re going to answer Sonic the Hedgehog. But ask them again and they may just answer with Alex Kidd. For many this little monkey-like character may have been their first introduction to Sega’s Master System console. With the title included with many consoles during the late 80s and early 90s.
Sega never included Alex’s first adventure with your new console out of the goodness of their heart. Just as they would do some years later with Sonic the Hedgehog, this colourful adventure was included to demonstrate the capabilities of Sega’s console.
Powering up Alex Kidd in Miracle World, which often required simply turning on your Master System without a game cartridge installed, presents you with a colourful comic panel style titles screen. This screen is also accompanied by it’s iconic theme music that is still living rent-free in your head to this very day.
This screen immediately sets the scene for what’s ahead. From exploring exotic new lands, to swimming in the ocean and piloting a variety of vehicles. It helps to build the excitement before you’ve even set foot in the Miracle World.
Setting off on your adventure you see a variety of vivid locations. The first stage starts off as a decent Mt. Eternal and it’s sheer cliffs. During this vertical scrolling stage you will come across plenty of chances to smash open item boxes using Alex’s powerful Shellcore martial arts. Once you’ve defeated dragons and avoided spooky spectres you’ll reach the bottom of the cliff and dive into the sea below.
It’s at this point that the stage transitions from a vertical scrolling stage to a horizontal one, something that is uncommon for the time. In these watery depths you will fight a new selection of enemies including killer fish and even a menacing merman. Thankfully Alex doesn’t need to come up for air, so carefully defeating your foes sees you nicely into the next part of this stage.
In contrast to the previous colourful mountainous stage, you’re greeted with a flat grey cobble street with a small shop ahead of you. Entering this shop will allow you to spend some of the money, called baums, that you have just collected in the previous stage. On sale are three items, but the one you really want is the Sukopako motorcycle for the low, low price of only 200 baums.
Exiting the shop will immediately place you on the motorcycle, ready to speed down the streets running through any enemies in your way. The way in which this stage is designed means that many of the stage hazards such as pits of acid are placed in such a way that the motorcycle can safely drive across them. This allows you to safely speed through the stage occasionally jumping to avoid the red blocks, as crashing into one of these will send your newly acquired vehicle to the scrap heap.
Beyond the motorcycle stages, you’ll also come across opportunities to fly through the sky in the Peticoptor, a pedal powered petite helicopter with a cannon that can be used to attack enemies and break blocks, and speed through the ocean on the SuiSui boat.
It’s these vehicle stages, along with the occasional underwater stages, that are scattered throughout the game that gives Alex Kidd in Miracle World a great sense of variety that was sorely missed from other games of the time.
For many, this initial stage is permanently burnt into their mind, for reasons that I will discuss later, and is a fantastic introduction to ease you into the game and discover it’s essential mechanics. Although, you will be forgiven if you fail to see the end of the first stage on your your initial attempt. This isn’t because the game is difficult per say, but more to do with one of the games biggest issues – the slippery nature of Alex’s movement.
This movement makes it feel as if you’re perpetually playing on one of those ice stages everyone loves to hate. The decreased friction often sending our hapless protagonist on his way to the pearly gates. Often you will make a tricky jump, only to slide off the opposite side into an enemy/lava/spikes. Couple this with one-hit deaths and you could be using up your entire stock of lives very quickly.
During the first half of the game this feels like a challenge to overcome. However, by the back half of the game you will routinely be asked to make death defying jumps onto single blocks floating precariously above certain death. All while being attacked by enemies that have nothing better to do than ruin your day. This is made even worse by the lack of a password feature, so a game over will result in being unceremoniously booted back to the title screen.
This is certainly frustrating, I still remember the feelings of disappointment and on some occasions, bursting into floods of tears at my failure. However, I also still remember the sense of accomplishment from progressing that little bit further than in my previous attempts. My hands becoming clammy as I finally manage to make that jump I had failed dozens of times in the past. My chest pounding as I knew death, and a game over, could come for me at any time.
It’s moments like these that make my time in the Miracle World some of the strongest gaming memories I have to this day. Despite the sudden mid-game difficulty spike, and some questionable collision detection issues, Alex Kidd in Miracle World still has me coming back to it again and again.
It’s also worth mentioning that Miracle World was the first title in a series of Alex Kidd titles that ran up until the early 1990s, and is arguably the best of the bunch with only the fantastic Alex Kidd in Shinobi World even being a consideration. It’s shame that the following tiles did not build upon the strong, if flawed, foundation this tile had laid. Instead Sega would make mis-step after mis-step before moving their attention on to Sonic the Hedgehog during the 16bit generation.