In an alternate timeline, Alex Kidd could have remained Sega’s mascot, instead of being unceremoniously dumped by Sega in favour of the much cooler Sonic the Hedgehog and forced into early retirement (a retirement that’s now lasted nearly three decades).
Just think: if things had been different and Sonic had never been created, we could instead have enjoyed a whole bunch of Alex Kidd games on the Mega Drive, been treated to Alex Kidd Adventure on the Dreamcast, tolerated a bunch of ropey 3D Alex Kidd platformers and could now be morbidly curious about an upcoming Alex Kidd live-action movie.
Actually, in hindsight, that’s probably for the best. One of the reasons Alex Kidd was probably ditched in favour of a cooler, bluer alternative was that the quality of his games decreased with each entry: fans of the Liam Gallagher lookalike generally agree that the first in the series, Alex Kidd In Miracle World, was the best of the bunch.
It’s this high point in the series that Sega and the emulation masters at M2 have decided to grant the Sega Ages treatment, meaning what we have here is – like the other Sega Ages titles – the most definitive version of the game by a country mile.
For those too young to remember it (or too American; the Master System was huge in Europe and Brazil but was destroyed by the NES in North America), Alex Kidd’s debut adventure has the big-eared lad heading out to defeat the evil Janken the Great, rescue the prince and princess of the city of Radaxian and bring peace to the land. But don’t worry about that; nobody remembers the story.
What everyone who played it does remember is how difficult it is. Alex Kidd In Miracle World is unrepentant in its trickiness; part of this is down to the game’s slightly loose controls which, even back in the ‘80s, never felt quite as tight as those of the moustachioed brothers across the shopping aisle. The other part, though, is clearly deliberate: enemies are placed in awkward locations designed to annoy you, and some apparent power-ups instead trigger the appearance of Death, who mercilessly pursues you until he catches and kills you.
Add to that the numerous Janken (Rock, Paper, Scissors) games you’ll encounter along the way – adding a seemingly random element to whether you’ll lose lives for the sake of it – and it’s fair to say that Miracle World doesn’t so much hold the player’s hand as thrust it into a tiger cage.
Thankfully for some, the Sega Ages version of the game on Switch introduces a short rewind function, which allows you to undo any errors and pretend they never happened. It only goes back five seconds, though, meaning you’ll need to trigger it almost immediately after your mistake or it may be too late to do anything about it.
This rewind function is one of many little tweaks and additions M2 has bestowed upon Miracle World. Most of these are found in the new 'Ages' version of the game (there’s still the option to play the untouched classic version, for grumpy old purists who don’t like change).
The most notable new feature in the Ages version is a reworked soundtrack that makes use of the Master System’s FM sound unit: this was an add-on that was released exclusively in Japan, and greatly improved the quality of the music in some games. The interesting twist here is that Alex Kidd In Miracle World didn’t actually have FM support back in the day – the FM unit was released later – so the FM soundtrack you get in the Sega Ages version is a brand new one, designed to give fans an idea of how one would have sounded back then.
Also new to Ages mode are lovely little illustrations that appear between stages, and – more importantly – the ability to continue as often as you like without jumping through hoops. The original game had a little-known Continue feature, where players who died with at least $400 collected could hold Up on the D-Pad, press the second button eight times and sacrifice a goat to trigger the secret ‘Continue’ option. Well, everything except the goat bit. This time, though, you can continue over and over, regardless of whether you’ve collected enough gold.
Attention to detail just permeates every nook and cranny of this re-release, as is the Sega Ages way. In the options screen, you can choose between three versions of the game: the Japanese release (complete with Sega Mark III intro logo), the western re-release and even the ‘Hamburger’ version. Long story short, when Alex Kidd was built into the Master System II consoles, the game was tweaked slightly: the jump and punch buttons were swapped over to the more widely-accepted standard, and in between each stage Alex was seen eating a hamburger instead of a rice ball. It's the little things.
In an even better touch, the game’s default border contains a little secret of its own: along the top of the screen, you’ll see a series of icons from the Rock, Paper, Scissors mini-games. These aren’t just dumped on there for the hell of it: they’re actually the solutions to each of the Janken battles in the game (the bosses don’t actually select a random option, you see). This means you no longer have to memorise a sequence of 14 Janken solutions; you can just refer to your handy border and get on with your life.
All this combines to make the ultimate version of an important retro game, one that many gamers – especially those in Europe and Brazil – may associate more with their childhoods than the Mario series. Modern players discovering it for the first time may take a while to get used to its slippery controls, which don’t really hold up well these days (hell, they didn’t really hold up back then). Overcome this clunkiness, though, and you’ll happy to see that Alex Kidd’s debut outing remains as charming as it was back when he was still the main man, and sneaker-wearing hedgehogs didn’t exist.
Alex Kidd’s floaty, slippery platforming may not be for everyone, especially those who didn’t get to grips with it the first time around. Long-time fans and newer gamers willing to see past its niggles, though, will be treated to the definitive version of an iconic Sega game, one whose new additions are both genuinely useful (adding a Janken walkthrough to the border is genius) and transformative (you may have played the game hundreds of times, but you’ve never played it with FM sound). A must-have for fans, but merely recommended for newcomers.