It’s no secret that the Nintendo-led rebirth of the video game market had changed how gaming platforms were marketed, and the success of Super Mario Bros. pretty much established that an important ingredient is a franchise mascot, somebody to be the face of their console. Sega was quick to pick up on this and released thier own Mario-styel platformer, one that introduced gamers to a big-eared jumpsit-earing lad named Alex Kidd. Alex was quickly established as Sega’s spokesman and would star in a somewhat uneven series of games on the Master System and Genesis (until a certain blue hedgehog permanently replaced him in four years), but while he never acheieved the fame Mario did (or Sonic for that matter), Alex still holds a place in the hearts of long time Sega gamers. But this entry focuses on Alex’s debut game which is considered one of the better platformers on the Master System, with some rather interesting features for its time.
As mentioned abvove you take control of Alex who’s out to rescue his brother Egle from the clutches of the evil Janken the Great. Egle is being held in the city of Radactian and Alex has to journey through 17 levels of varying terrain, which is helpfully tracked on a map screen before each level. The game is pretty much your standard platformer for the most part as Alex runs and jumps his way through the different stages, some horizontally or vertically-scrolling, and of course a number of baddies try to impede your progress. Alex’s main weapon of offense is his special ‘Shellcore’ punch, which is basically his oversized fist that can knock foes out. Alex can also break blocks to clear a path and star boxes to uncover bags of money as well as question boxes to find important items such as a bracelet that let’s you shoot fireballs from your fist. Beware, sometimes a phantom emerges from the boxes and will chase you down unless you somehow escape from it. Some of the levels also have shops Alex can visit and use the money he’s collected to purchase some useful items to aid him on his quest, including a flight cane, a ball unleashing a small army of mini-Alexs against baddies, a protective barrier and others. You can equip these items on the inventory screen which has accessed with the Pause button on the console. The shops also have vehicles you can buy such as motorcycles, speedboats and pedalcopters, which you also pilot during certain levels. The vehicles definitely make your life easier, especially the motorcycle that lets you plow through enemies and rocks, but your transport will explode if you run into an obstacle, forcing you to walk or swim the rest of the way. The stages aren’t anything special but they all look good with some bright, vibrant colors throughout while the sprites are nicely done with some good detail. As far as the audio goes, the cutesy background music fits the setting and is pretty catchy as well. The sound effects aren’t anything special but they do their job adequetly.
Naturally any platformer has its share of boss encounters and Miracle World is no different, as at the end of certain stages Alex has to confront one of Janken’s three henchmen: Scissor-head, Paper-head and Stone-head, each of which have heads shaped like hands. However there’s a twist: you must first defeat each of them in a game of paper-rock-scissors (in fact each guy’s fist/head is shaped like one of the game’s signs) and you have to take two out of three matches before you can proceed, otherwise you lose a life. However when you meet them a second time and beat them they attack you, forcing you to battle them one-on-one before you can advance. Plus toward the end of your quest you have to contend with two castles that each have puzzles to solve before the final battle with Janken himself.
While the game is an enjoyable romp with quite a bit to do, the one sticking point is the difficulty is somewhat high, even extreme at times. Alex can only take one hit before dying and his normal attack has too short of a range, meaning you have to get in close to foes and hope you get in the first shot, and a few issues with collision detecion don’t help any either. You’ll be constantly hoping to find that bracelet to give yourself a fighting chance. Many of the later stages have some seriously brutal platforming challenges that give you almost no room for error, and the difficulty is also bumped up with a few issues with the controls; Alex seems to have shoddy footwear as he often has a hard time stopping when he lands after a jump which is especially troubling on narrow ledges. And once again you got that reverse NES standard here where Button 1 jumps and Button 2 attacks, which takes some getting used to. The paper-rock-scissors idea does add a different twist to the standard boss battles, and there are patterns at first to your foes’ choices, but if you mess up it becomes random and your success mainly depends on luck unless you have the telepathy ball to read the other guys’ mind. Once all your lives are exhausted that’s it, and you do get a secret continue mode but it only works if you’ve accumulated enough money. There’s no save function either, so you have to beat it in one setting.
So Miracle World isn’t quite the Mario-killer Sega was hoping for, and its high difficulty level may scare away gamers looking for a more ‘pick up and play’ style platformer, but it’s still a great game and one of the better entries in the series. There’s still plenty of fun, charming action to be found here and the game is beatable with enough practice, plus its place in Sega lore makes it an essential part of any Master System library. It’s a shame none of the follow-ups were able to match how good this game is, but then again none of them save the Genesis entry would follow the formula used here.