Tuesday, 4 February 2014

SMS review #2: Alex Kidd in Miracle World!

Greetings!Welcome to the ball-bouncingly exciting second installment of my Sega Master System collection reviews: Alex Kidd In Miracle World!

I neglected to mention in my last post that Master System consoles were also interesting because some versions included a pre-loaded game. In the most common Master System model, the game 'snail race' could be activated by starting the machine with no cartridge, and pressing a combination of buttons. This was a very basic game in which you just had to get a snail from one side of a maze to the other in a time limit. Other models of the original Master System included Missile Command, Hang On or Safari Hunt.

On the Master System II some of the later models had Sonic the Hedgehog built in. Mine however is an earlier model, as it has Alex Kidd in Miracle World built in. Released on cartridge in 1987 and built-in in 1990, Miracle World is the first in the Alex Kidd series, and of those I've played, probably the best.

Alex Kidd in Miracle World is a colourful and cartoony platformer with certain somewhat whacky and bizarre elements thrown in. I can't say I particularly liked Miracle World at first. It might have been the slightly 'floaty' physics or the tiny range of your attack, but it took quite a while of getting frustrated before I really got to grips with the game's control system. Once you get the hang of it, it actually works fairly well although your character, the titular Alex, does suffer from 'one-hit-death' syndrome which can be quite annoying. For instance, using your aforementioned tiny  punch attack it can be fairly hard to hit some enemies, but seemingly very easy for them to hit you. This is all the more annoying because you are only given three lives, and no continues. Hardcore. However there is a cheat mode which makes things considerably easier. Pressing up and button 2 eight times at the game over screen allows you to continue from the beginning of the level with three lives again, as long as you have collected enough money. This makes picking up as much money as possible imperative to get anywhere in the game, otherwise you just get stuck going over the same few first levels.

Knob head more like.

Speaking of which, at the end of each stage you have to face a henchman who challenges you to a game of Janken (that's rock, paper, scissors to me and you) and you must defeat him best two out of three. If you fail, you lose a life. Lose all three lives, go back to the start menu. Ugh. It took me a few play-throughs up to the first henchman to realise that they always choose the same thing (I'm an idiot, y'see). So I had spent an hour or so playing over the first stage for no good reason. Harrumph. I'll admit, I had to look up the Janken choices to avoid the same thing happening again. As much fun as Alex Kidd is once you're into it, not progressing is not fun, nobody wants to play the same few levels for hours on end.

Once I got past this wall of dying, I actually started having real fun in the game. There's still plenty of frustrating deaths, and even without the Janken matches getting in the way I still got a bunch of Game Overs. Frustration aside, Miracle World becomes quite addictive once you've played for a while. It's quite hard, and especially with the aforementioned control problems there are a few platforming segments that are really quite tricky, but nothing that seems impossible. It's also quite gratifying in the way you get a sense of progression. You move through an overworld map through island, jungle, cave and castle, and the levels and enemies (mostly) reflect this in a very colourful and inviting way. Sure, there's a few out of place enemies, like the little lettuce-looking monsters in the caves, or the fires inexplicably covering half of the castle, but they help give the game a bit more of its bizarro character. Just by the graphics of Miracle World you'd think it would be a kids game, but the difficulty says otherwise. Maybe I'm just really bad at it though.

The variation of transport also help keep Miracle World from becoming stale. Alex can not only run, jump and swim like any other platforming hero, but also ride a motorbike, sail a canoe or fly a helicopter. You can buy these in certain shops throughout the game but they aren't essential, adding a bit of replayability. One area traversed in a helicopter is far different to the same level by foot.

I'm aware that these tales of helicopters and lettuce men and rock, paper scissors matches seem pretty nonsensical, but it all makes sense when you hear the story. You have to save your brother from this castle because he's been kidnapped (or, KIDD-napped HAUAHUAAHAHAUAHA!) by the evil Janken, who wants to force everyone to play rock, paper, scissors or something. Somehow beating up loads of fish, birds and frogs is going to help you get him back. Oh, and you have to eat a burger at the end of each level. Story telling genius. I really don't know what the story is, and I don't really care. Alex Kidd in Miracle World is an immensely frustrating but beautifully colorful jump n' punch (I'm totally coining that phrase, btw.)  If you can exercise extreme patience, its an odd but interesting experience. If you can't, you're missing out, but there are plenty of better 8-bit platformers out there. Alex Kidd in Miracle World is good, but it ain't no Mario.

Cheers for Reading,
Dusty Old Games.


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