Updating a fondly remembered ’80s classic with a new look, but doing nothing about its long list of problems, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX it’s kind of a missed opportunity.
From punching through blocks full of cash to accidentally releasing deadly ghosts, and from renting motorcycles to chewing on an onigiri (or hamburger) at the end of each level, Miraculous world it was an innovative game that is still talked about today. And having been integrated with many models of the popular Sega Master System in the early 1990s, it will have been one of the first video games that many Australian gamers remember.
But while it is imaginative and influential, it has always had many flaws and would have benefited greatly from a mechanical redesign. Unfortunately, almost all the criticisms you could make of the original Miraculous world also apply here in Miracle World DX.
It’s too easy to die and it’s cruelly designed in some parts, for example. It can be difficult to tell if you are in line to collide with enemies or not, making Alex’s two main actions (jumping and striking) extremely tense. Fighting bosses through battles of paper, rock, or scissors, in which you die if you lose, is particularly eye-catching for how tedious and unfair it is in 2021.
You can reduce frustration a bit with the option of having infinite lives. But since the game’s design remains unchanged (including reappearing very close when it dies), that option also exposes the fact that the game’s tension stems entirely from how arbitrarily petty it is.
Aesthetically it’s a different story, as the game has been fundamentally revamped. The new high-resolution pixel art is absolutely stunning and the visual presentation is impressive and varied. One level now takes place in the rain, for example, where raindrops are blocked by objects and splash Alex’s petcopter with unnecessary but appreciated detail.
Sonically, the old tunes have received a modern acoustic treatment and sound tremendous, while the lack of variety from the original game in this area has been addressed with some new tracks. But as much as the game now looks and sounds like a contemporary indie experience, the fact that it still sits and plays like a mediocre one from 1986 is jarring. In fact, having gone back and reproduced the original for comparison, I notice that they feel quite different. The new Alex is more fluid and a bit more cumbersome. So the developers changed the way the game is played, but not in a particularly positive way.
You can switch the graphics and sound to classic mode at any time, which makes it look like the original but in widescreen, and you even get chiptune versions of the new songs. But the fact that there is still a lot of weirdness in the way Alex moves in this mode would indicate that the fundamental balance between recreation and modernization has been skewed here.