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Retro Review: Alex Kidd in Miracle World

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If you look at the back of your vintage Alex Kidd in Miracle World cartridge, you will find this line at the end of the summary: "It takes a Kidd like you to handle a challenge like this." It's hokey yet oddly resonant, calling to the kid - or inner kid - in all of us. It also sums the game up in a nutshell. Alex Kidd is a surprisingly challenging game wherein you must submit to your inner child to see it through.

A general point about retro games: they are, in my opinion, more satisfying to master than current gen titles. Why? Because not just anyone can beat them. Oh, put that sour lemon expression away, new generation games - you know that literally anyone with enough time can beat games like Resident Evil because of that magical "continue" button that lets you keep starting over, even after you die, from your last "save" point.

Cheat codes aside, when you played early generation games, you had to execute them with very little margin for error or you had to start over. From the beginning. Level 1, zone 1, original 3 lives. It was painful, but exhilarating - the highest highs and the lowest lows. Alex Kidd is a perfect example of this formula. While you could pick up extra lives along the way, your durability was still finite, and if you screwed up too many times in a row, you'd never reach the final level.

In 1986, Alex Kidd debuted in Japan; by 1987, it was available for sale in the United States on the Sega Master System. Alex Kidd was to SMS as Super Mario was to the original NES - Sega went so far as to build the game directly into the second generation SMS. The graphics are basic, but surprisingly durable, given the technology available at the time. The level design is surprisingly sophisticated for a 2D game and even now, over twenty years later, it remains one of the most challenging, fun games I've ever played.

Like Mario, Alex's world is not "open" - there's no turning back if you go too far. Alex's comically oversized fist packs a mean punch, as it is his only means of defense (aside from running away). The story of the game is that Alex and his fist have just returned from learning to break rocks only to learn that the kingdom has been overrun with bad guys - a collection of assorted animals and the occasional hand-shaped human to serve as a level boss. Being the plucky hero he is, Alex sets out to discover what's gone wrong, and save the day.

In between levels, Alex apparently enjoys a libation; don't judge him, his hand's probably killing him by now.

Certain levels allow Alex to enter a shop and purchase goods and transportation - a little motorcycle, a single rider helicopter, etc. - that make navigating the level much faster and easier. However, there are red balls you have to avoid or else - bye-bye speed-craft, and hello much more difficult goings on.

This is the likely scenario that comes out of losing your mode of transportation - your almost immediate demise.

What is most amusing to me is that the things I found most challenging playing Miracle World as a child I now find laughably easy - jumping to hard to reach platforms, navigating the vehicles without hitting a red ball - and the things that eight-year-old me breezed through, I give up on in total frustration - playing rock, paper, scissors against a henchman of the evil Janken the Great.

These henchmen were end of zone "bosses" that represented the third, second, and first henchmen of Janken the great. They each had the head of a hand - in either the "rock," "paper," or "scissors" position - and challenged you to beat them in best of three "Janken" matches - the aforementioned game of "Rock, Paper, Scissors." Such basic concepts might sound boring or silly, but the world of the game flourishes with their every detail.

One of the most rage-filled moments in the entire universe - the thing that could make anyone throw their controller to the ground in utter disgust - is the underwater battle with an octopus guarding its pot of gold. It is not a boss. You could even skip it - but the gold. ALL THAT GOLD! Underwater battles are tedious enough as it is, but in this case, you must punch the tentacles one by one, never allowing yourself to be hit by the flailing arm - it took skill and patience to collect your reward, and usually, many, many deaths.

The journey to Janken's castle - the final level - takes you through land, air, and sea, and culminates in a dangerous, speedy-race through a spooky forest the Blair Witch wouldn't even build a gingerbread house in. It may be 2D, but it scared the crap out of me when I was a kid. And maybe a little last night when it was dark.

It was one of the greatest moments of my childhood when I was finally able to beat the last level. If you don't have a SMS lying around, and you don't like playing retro games on the computer (I'm with you - I needs me a controller with an a and b button) Nintendo struck a deal to bring Alex Kidd to the Wii as part of their virtual console offerings, causing retro game lovers of the world to rejoice.


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Updated 19-11-10 at 01:24 by Angelica

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  1. GameGavel's Avatar
    As many know I was always a SMS guy, not an NES guy so agree this was a great game and even better when Enchanted Castle came out on the Genesis.
  2. Angelica's Avatar
    Quote Originally Posted by GameGavel
    As many know I was always a SMS guy, not an NES guy so agree this was a great game and even better when Enchanted Castle came out on the Genesis.
    I never finished Enchanted Castle - my Genesis at the time died and then the game failed once I got a new/old one. I did, however, end up playing "Alex Kidd and the Lost Stars" which was not nearly as good of a game, but almost endearingly messed up.

    I should see if I can download Enchanted Castle on the Wii.

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