Alex Kidd in Miracle World was developed and published by Sega before being released in 1986 on the Sega Master System. It would eventually prove to be the defining game of the Master System, until and certain blue hedgehog with a disregard for speed limits would hit the scene much later in the 90s. When the Master System 2 was released, Alex Kidd in Miracle world was actually built into the console, with no cartridge needed to play the game. Alex was designed by Reiko Kodama, who would later work on such titles as Sonic the Hedgehog, Phantasy Star, Shinobi and a host of other notable titles.
At first glance, one could be forgiven for thinking it might be a blatant rip off of Super Mario Bros which came out a year earlier, but it takes no less than five minutes of game time to realize that this isn’t the case. It didn’t help that Alex was often advertised as “Sega’s answer to Mario”. It’s a difficult claim to make as the two games are very different. Super Mario Bros is a classic; it holds a special place in most gamers memories and Mario himself is a fully fledged gaming icon. The same probably can’t be said about Alex Kidd. But then again, I’m not here to compare game characters.
Miracle World starts the player off on a downward scrolling platform level. Basically it is made up a of a series of static screens that scroll downward (it takes place in some kind of dormant volcano or something) instead of across. This probably sets the tone for the entire game. There are a number of unconventional levels sprinkled throughout the game. There is almost never any indication of what is in store. In one level you start in a pedal powered helicopter and there is absolutely no build up. You don’t bump into a bunch of characters who tell you that you need to “Use your helicoptering skills to reach the next area”, it’s just starts you straight off in an off-grid flying machine soaring over a lake. Surprise! Try not to drown!
There are a number of NPCs in the game, but I do use that acronym loosely. Most of them are simply sprites that appear in a certain place and spout plot points or game directions. While the story line of the game is coherent, and has a little more substance than “the princess is in another castle”, it still isn’t exactly going to have you on the edge of your seat. Now that I think about it, at one point you have to rescue your brother for a castle, and at another point you have to get something from a king who tells you what you need is in another castle. But I digress.
One thing that surprises most people is the finishing screen; instead of a simple graphic showing Alex jumping for joy in all his 8bit glory, the player is actually greeted with a huge scrolling wall-o’-text which wraps up all the loose ends of the story. So although it’s nothing special, first time players might as well pay attention to the plot because once you get to the end there is a little pay off.
At the end of the day, it’s the gameplay which makes or breaks a game. Don’t get me wrong, Miracle World has bright, colorful graphics and a catchy soundtrack, but it’s the gameplay which really makes this underrated gem shine. While the runnin’ n’ jumpin’ mechanics are pretty much the same as any other platformer, Alex Kidd has the ability to attack in this game, as well as freely use any items that he has managed to collect. The basic attack takes the form of a fist which Alex lets fly forward. Anything that gets in the way of his pint-sized knuckle sandwich is toast. There are also a number of items which can be found or purchased in the stores that appear at the start of some levels. The money used to buy these items can be found by punching open yellow boxes that have a money sign on them. The levels are littered with yellow boxes so it’s pretty easy to build up a decent amount of savings.
There are items which do everything from letting Alex fly to granting him an extra life. The only problem is that Alex can only carry one item of a type at a time. So if you use your cane of flight, you will have to wait until you reach the next shop to buy a new one. And that’s even if they have one. The shops only carry three items at time, and one of them is normally a vehicle (either a motorbike or a helicopter) which is needed to complete that level. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the while the items are powerful, the should be used sparingly. As awesome as they are.
The biggest surprise that awaits most new players are the boss fights. The boss fights in Miracle World are decided by matches of rock, scissors, paper. Yes, seriously. There are items that let you see what the boss is going to choose, allowing you to change your strategy accordingly, but you actually have to take a complete stab in the dark for the first boss. Whoever wins best two out of three is victor. In the latter half of the game, the bosses actually attack you after you have beaten them at rock, scissors, paper, and although they have predictable patterns of attack, they do pose a moderate challenge. Even the final boss gets down for a game of rock, scissors, paper before going at it with Alex.
Alex Kidd in Miracle World is a classic. An off-beat, quirky and underrated classic. While most people think of Sonic the Hedgehog and marketplace failures whenever someone mentions the name Sega, back in the 80’s it was all Alex. There were a few other games that featured Alex and they, with the exception of Alex Kidd in Shinobi World, were all rubbish. If you want to see what defined Sega before Sonic the Hedgehog came along, then look no further.