The first new Alex Kidd title since 1990's Alex Kidd in Shinobi World is coming to the Switch in 2021, and it's a fresh coat of paint for a franchise-defining Sega classic, in the form of Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX.
Remaking a game as widely-played and beloved as Miracle World raises all manner of challenges; how will it retain the quirky gameplay that makes the original so memorable, while also polishing up the experience to appeal to contemporary gamers?
We caught up with developers Jankenteam and grilled them for answers.
Nintendo Life: Alex Kidd has been something of a fading memory for a long time, with only re-releases and cameos in the likes of Sonic and Sega All-Stars Transformed keeping him in any kind of limelight. How did this remake initially come about?
Ramon Nafria (Producer): As a Sega fan, I always wanted to play new games with classic characters like Alex Kidd, Opa Opa, Joe Musashi, and so on. After I had spent some time in the video game industry I wanted to realize my dream of making new games with these characters. When I saw Jose and Hector’s project, I thought it was the perfect moment to make this dream true!
Jose Sanz (Designer): I find it a very funny game, and we wanted to bring back Alex Kidd after so many years.
Nintendo Life: Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX was originally an extremely impressive fan remake; besides becoming "official", what did Sega bring to the table that allowed the game to be further enhanced?
Ramon Nafria: Their feedback is super valuable in all terms, and to be honest, my dream at least was to work with the “parents” of Alex Kidd. We work together with them to make the best possible Alex Kidd, and that means that they are involved in the development process from the beginning until the launch of the game.
Nintendo Life: What is the team's history with Alex Kidd?
Ramon Nafria: In Spain, the SEGA Master System 2 was a success, and the console came with the Alex Kidd built-in, so it is a character really well known in the society; there is even a musician named after him. Jose and Hector had Master Systems as their first console, while mine was a Game Gear (with Master Gear Converter). Until Sonic appeared, Alex was the most important mascot for Master System (and to be honest, some of us prefer Alex Kidd to Sonic!).
Jose Sanz: It's one of the first games I played in my life (along with Master System Sonic 1).
Nintendo Life: How was Alex Kidd in Miracle DX made? Which software was used?
Daniel Parrado (Coder): The software has a component-based architecture, and the levels are made using a tilemap system with custom tools I coded for the team. The whole game is developed in Unity 2019 LWRP.
Nintendo Life: How many hours would you estimate have gone into this project?
Daniel Parrado: Around 800-900, for now.
Nintendo Life: There are several Alex Kidd titles, but what do you think makes Miracle World, in particular, such an enduring game?
Ramon Nafria: The original Alex Kidd in Miracle World is an impressive game even today; one that takes creative influence from Dragon Ball, Super Mario Bros., Star Wars and a lot of other personal ideas. The game lets the player buy things, drive vehicles, and use super powers. All these things in a 1986 game!
Nintendo Life: It's a beloved, brilliant title, but it is laced with unusual and idiosyncratic design; how closely does the remake adhere to the strangeness of the original?
Jose Sanz: It was very unusual, but I think it still works today and it's fun. It's true that there are some mechanics that are obsolete or not seen so frequently anymore, but these are also things that make Alex Kidd unique! If we improve that, we still have a very good game on our hands.
Nintendo Life: Was it challenging to modernise Miracle World without losing the esoteric flavour that makes it such a memorable game?
Jose Sanz: Actually, yes; to do the remake you have to start from the base of the whole original game. We are adding some improvements to make the experience better, such as improving the control system, adding more visual aids, deepening the narration and story...
Nintendo Life: Alex has undergone a fair few makeovers in his lifetime; how did his modern look come about?
Hector Toro (Artist): This artistic change resembles the way I remembered the characters, or at least how they were in my imagination. That mixed with my cartoon style made me feel really comfortable with the whole Radaxian world.
Nintendo Life: Have any elements in the new game been taken from any of the other titles in the Alex Kidd series - Lost Stars, Shinobi World, etc?
Jose Sanz: Yes, we have taken some references from games related to this Alex Kidd, mainly to connect the story well. Did you know that Egle (Alex's brother) had his own game on Master System? It's called Pit Pot. He wore a knight's armour and had a magic hammer!
Nintendo Life: How do the promised new levels fit into the remake's structure?
Jose Sanz: The new levels that we are working on fit perfectly during the course of Alex's adventure; they are in the context of the narrative and complement it - let's just say they're not all tight at the end of the game!
Nintendo Life: The trailer promises "alternative boss fights"; is this replacing the "Janken" matches from the original? Rock, paper, scissors still has a presence in the trailer, how will it be implemented?
Jose Sanz: Jankenpon is one of the emblems of the game, so we have kept it, but made it more eye-catching. As for the boss battles, we're reworking them. Apart from the 2 minibosses in the game, do you remember that the second time you faced the Janken minions there was a small action phase...?
Nintendo Life: Instantly switching between modern and classic graphics is always impressive. How was the "Retro mode" achieved?
Daniel Parrado: This was probably the most challenging feature on the technical side. When the player presses the Mode Swap button, a delegate method is being called. Then, all the objects in the level swap their sprites, animators, states, SFX, music, etc, while keeping their behaviour and physical properties. All this is achieved in an efficient way so the player doesn't notice any frame-rate drop.
Nintendo Life: Did you have any access to the original Master System game's building blocks, so to speak, when working on Miracle World DX?
Daniel Parrado: The original code can be reverse-engineered using emulators but I usually just played the game and achieved a similar result by imitation.
Nintendo Life: As good as Miracle World's music is, there isn't a whole lot of it. Could you explain the process of expanding the game's soundtrack?
Jose Ramon Garcia "Bibiki" (Musician): As you have just said, the original game didn’t have a track for each biome, so many of them repeated along the different levels. However, in this remake, as the audio composer of the team, I believe that we can be more ambitious about this and bring more unique themes to the different areas of the game, creating new feelings that the player will discover.
Nintendo Life: Miracle World's theme is an iconic Master System tune, used again in the Mega Drive follow-up Enchanted Castle. How have you approached reworking such a well-known piece?
Jose Ramon Garcia "Bibiki": It has been a truly difficult work. Nostalgia is very powerful in terms of feelings, so the approach has been a middle point between keeping the essence of the original and using a different, fresh and personal style that fits – I hope – within the actual standards.
Nintendo Life: Did you have any major musical influences when working on this project?
Jose Ramon Garcia "Bibiki": As a composer, I believe that our influence resides mostly on what we listen to, even if we are not aware of it. Nevertheless, if I have to pick a major musical influence, it would be the original Alex Kidd in Miracle World soundtrack itself, since it’s where the material of the rest of the soundtrack comes from.
Nintendo Life: What would you define as the "Alex Kidd sound"?
Jose Ramon Garcia "Bibiki": In a nutshell, I think that some of the most noticeable characteristics of Alex Kidd sound are how cheerful and enjoyable the melodies are, the joyful rhythms and the tonal harmonies that are beneath them.
Nintendo Life: Miracle World DX has a very different visual "feel" to the original game, while still clearly of its lineage. How were the visuals of the Master System game evolved for DX?
Hector Toro: I'm a big fan of the original Alex Kidd game and it was my first video game, so I've always tried to respect the essence of the original. As a fan, if someone made a new Alex Kidd game I would want everything to be the same as I remember it.
Nintendo Life: How are the art and animation produced?
Hector Toro: I've had all the concept art and colour palette established for a long time. Usually, for my concepts I use Animate and for pixel art and animation the fantastic Aseprite. Sometimes when I have problems visualising how something would look animated inside the engine, I go back to Animate and with "placeholder" objects I make some previous animations. Something that I use a lot and take into account are Ollie Johnson and Frank Thomas' twelve basic principles of animation. I come from the world of animation and it is something that I think many times game artists forget to do in pixel art. These techniques are very simple to apply but very hard to master. It's not that I'm a great pixel artist but I try to give my characters a natural look using the principles I've mentioned. In this way, above all, the characters have the charisma they deserve and show that they have life.
Nintendo Life: How do you balance the improved animation in DX with the responsive gameplay of the original game?
Hector Toro: At first we had problems about this but now (I hope!) it is solved. We are lucky that Daniel programmed the option to swap between the original game and the remake and we have been adding some exceptions in code so that it doesn't affect the original animations. For example, when he ducks in the original game only it uses one frame, but the remake version uses four. There have been some challenges with the collisions of characters and backgrounds, as we are working at different resolutions and personally I sometimes do not match the sizes set by the sprites of the original game (laughs). Now seriously, there are characters that in the original Miracle World had one size and I have made them a little bigger or smaller, depending on the necessity.
Nintendo Life: What's your personal favourite sprite in the game so far?
Hector Toro: Alex, obviously! It's the first sprite I did, where it all started and the character I've spent the most hours on. I love his fluid animations and his style. I wouldn't change anything about him now, he's my little son.
Nintendo Life: Was there anything intended for inclusion in the game that didn't make the cut for whatever reason?
Daniel Parrado: As a developer who enjoyed working on this game, I would always like to extend the game over and over with more content and features but every development needs an end. I'm pretty satisfied with all we included in the game and I think players will love it as much as I do.
Nintendo Life: Any more secrets about the game you would be prepared to tell us?
Jose Sanz: I don't want to reveal any surprises, but I'm sure the fans will enjoy all the references and Easter eggs.
Nintendo Life: Are there any other Sega franchises you'd particularly like to get your hands on?