Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX Review (Nintendo Switch)

The cult classic SEGA platformer is back and isn’t kidding around.

It’s the year 1985 and videogame consoles have begun to infiltrate living rooms across the globe, marking the beginning of what many now refer to as the “Console Wars“. Nintendo was at the forefront of the industry and Super Mario was quickly becoming a common household name thanks to its simple yet addictive platforming gameplay. So what was rival SEGA to do? Give up entirely, or create an iconic platforming game of their own as competition? It wasn’t until 1991 when the Blue Blur first raced onto our screens, so who was responsible for keeping SEGA and their Master System relevant during this highly competitive period?

It was just some Kidd.
But not just any Kidd, Alex Kidd.

Whoever did the box art really must have a passion for graphic design.

His debut was in 1986 with Alex Kidd in Miracle World, a side-scrolling 2D platformer featuring an expansive world, brutal difficulty, and neat upgrades like motorbikes and helicopters. Did Mario have a motorbike? No? Didn’t think so. Thanks to the popularity of this initial game, 5 further Alex Kidd games were released for SEGA systems during the following 5 years. However, 1991 marked the birth of Sonic the Hedgehog and thus the death of Alex Kidd. SEGA had essentially killed off their own character by turning their focus to another.

Alex Kidd briefly appeared in a Sonic comic

Alex Kidd had sadly faded into obscurity. And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. Gaming history became legend. Legend became myth. And for 30 years, Alex Kidd passed out of all knowledge…

…until, when chance came, the Kidd ensnared a new developer.

Thanks to Merge Games and JanKenTeam, this classic platformer has been revived, revitalised, and re-released on almost every console currently available! But how does a 35 year old platformer hold up by today’s standards? Is it as thrilling as it was decades ago, or has your fondness for the game been clouded by nostalgia? I’ve never played the original, no kidding, so it’s about time I get stuck into Alex Kidd in Miracle World for the very first time!

Plot

Many centuries ago, on the planet Aries, there lived a boy named Alex Kidd. For seven years he lived on Mt. Eternal studying Shellcore, an ancient art that makes one strong enough to break rocks into pieces. Kidd would even put Mike Tyson to shame with his punches! One day, as he was leaving the mountain for his spiritual homeland, he encountered a dying man who told him that the peaceful city of Radaxian was in grave danger. Before taking his last breath, the man gave Alex a piece of a map and a medallion made of Sun Stone.

What is it about old men in caves sending little kids on quests?

Alex soon learns of an evil villain by the name of Janken the Great who has overthrown the king and captured the king’s son, Egle, and his fiancé, Princess Lora. The task of rescuing the kingdom from the wrath of Janken rests upon Alex’s fists, and so he ventures toward Radaxian to defeat the three Generals and overthrow Janken to end his tirade on the Kingdom.

There are plenty of interesting characters throughout Alex’s journey, and for an 80s platforming game, Alex Kidd has far more plot than I would expect – even more than most modern games in the genre!

Gameplay

You’ve played a platforming game, right? Surely you have by now, it’s been like 40 years. Well, Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is quintessential retro platforming almost unchanged, and those who have played the original game will feel as if they’ve travelled through time.

The game is split into 17 separate levels, each with a distinct theme, environmental hazards, plenty of enemies, and even some puzzles to help keep Alex’s brain as big as his fists. Each level will see Alex running, jumping, and pummelling his way towards a delicious item of food at the end of the level (you can choose between Onigiri, Burger, Fish & Chips, or a Spanish Omelette). Alex is armed with a deadly punch, numerous upgrades, and added abilities which can be purchased along the way. He’s gonna need all the upgrades you can get too, because Alex can only take a single hit!

Scissors paper rock is the only way to settle a score.

Certain levels also feature special vehicles like a helicopter, motorbike, and plane, during which the game briefly turns into a basic side-scrolling shooter. Most levels also feature a traditional boss fight at the end, and others instead end in a best-of-3 match of Jan Ken Pon (that’s scissors paper rock for all you non-weebs out there). It’s simple and fun platforming gameplay for the most part, but with a major criticism…

Alex moves like he’s been coated in detergent.
He’s slippery, floaty, and just all around awkward to control.
Like a well-oiled machine that’s been oiled just a bit too much.

I’ve played many platformers in my time, hundreds even, from the most iconic like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Donkey Kong Country to the difficult and obscure like VVVVVV or Syobon Action. Never before have I encountered a platformer whose controls I loathed quite like Alex Kidd. When trying to make precise jumps over a chasm, or even just walk up to an enemy so you can wail on it, the sheer slipperiness of the controls can make this an unnecessarily frustrating ordeal. It’s just blatantly unenjoyable at times, and I couldn’t help but blame the game for many of my failed attempts.

You’re going to make Alex die. A lot.

But I did persist through the controls, and eventually became slightly accustomed to their awkwardness. Inevitably the game became more enjoyable, and by the very end I found myself overall happy and satisfied with the experience despite these drawbacks. However, many players who do not persist through the first few levels may find themselves quitting entirely out of sheer frustration.

Visuals

While I found myself at war with the gameplay on numerous occasions, it was the visuals that kept me coming back time and time again. Some players might fondly remember the basic 8-bit graphics of the original some 35 years ago. Well guess what? They look like complete trash now. So what have Merge Games done instead? Created a brand new, gorgeous, highly-detailed pixel art style that perfectly captures the charm of every single level, character, and detail throughout the entire game. It’s without a doubt one of the most attractive platformers you’ll ever encounter. This becomes even more apparent when swapping back and forth between the DX and original visuals, which can be done as easily as pressing a single button!

Hmm, I’m not sure I can see the difference…

Having played both in handheld mode and on a big ol’ 4K OLED TV, I can confidently say every single aspect of the game looks brilliant on either. Even the simple, vibrant cartoony design of the characters really pops and seems to suit the rest of the visuals perfectly. Honestly, I would recommend playing this simply based on visuals alone.

Audio

Like 8-bit visuals, chiptunes too are a thing of the past. While Alex Kidd DX has not done away with them entirely, the majority of the iconic tunes have been rearranged, recomposed, and performed acoustically by a freelance composer and sound designer by the name of Bibiki Garcia. His arrangements of the old chiptunes sound refreshing, vibrant, and incredibly upbeat. Using mostly acoustic instruments like guitar, ukelele and mandolin, as well as melodica and simple vocals to convey a pleasant, childish and carefree style, the soundtrack has been completely modernised and is an absolute pleasure to listen to.

The music for the first level, Mt. Eternal.

Interestingly, some parts of the game retain the chiptune audio aesthetic. Most boss fights and intense moments revert to traditional chiptunes with a modern touch of drum and bass added. It’s a nice homage to the original music, and contrasts with the lighter, more upbeat sound of the overworld.

So what’s new?

Of course some quality of life changes are needed for a 35 year old game – we’ve all become accustomed to things like save files, extra options, and accessibility over the last few decades. Thankfully there have been a number of changes in DX to bring Alex Kidd into the modern era.

Firstly, the option of infinite lives is available from the very beginning, a necessary feature for the vast majority of those wanting to complete the game. I tried several times to play without this turned on, but found myself needing to resort to it in order to progress through many difficult areas. It’s a lifeline that makes the game overall much more enjoyable. Each level also has numerous checkpoints and a save system whereby you can easily drop back in to the level where you’d left off, a luxury that was not available in the original for obvious reasons.

As mentioned above, the graphics can be reverted back to the original at any time with the press of a button, and though there’s no real gameplay advantage to this, it’s a nice touch for those who might have grown up playing the original. Once completing the game in full too, you’ll also unlock Classic Mode which is as close to playing the game on a Master System as you’ll get without blowing the dust off an old cartridge. Though strangely I feel like the controls in classic mode are more precise than DX.

Conclusion

There’s no denying that Merge Games have done a truly brilliant job in modernising this classic SEGA game and bringing it into the hands of a new generation of gamers. While those who played it all those years ago are bound to get a nostalgia kick out of DX, the decades I’ve spent playing polished platformers have spoiled me and as such there were many aspects of Alex Kidd’s gameplay that felt imprecise and tedious. Luckily, other aspects of the game such as its beautiful pixel art visuals and upbeat, rearranged soundtrack kept me hooked until the very end. While it’s not a perfect game, it’s a passion project that’s clearly been made with love for a game that is near and dear to those who grew up playing it.

So, why should you play it?

  • You’ve played the original and have nostalgia for it.
  • Gorgeous pixel art makes your eyes happy.
  • You’re always up for a challenge.
  • Need some upbeat music? Kidd’s got you covered.

But why shouldn’t you play it?

  • Slippery, imprecise controls often become frustrating.
  • Feels unfairly difficult at times.
  • Many other better side-scrolling platformers available.

A review code on Nintendo Switch was provided for the purpose of this review.

Diablo II: Resurrected Technical Alpha Impressions

Evil has resurrected. But after 20 years, has Diablo II aged like a fine potion, or has is it dated and shrivelled up like a wrinkly Deckard Cain?

Over the last four days I have been almost non-stop bingeing the Diablo II: Resurrected Technical Alpha on PC, which ran from the 10th – 14th of April and gave select individuals the chance to try out this revamped version of Blizzard’s classic dungeon-crawler RPG. Players were given the chance to participate by signing up, however I managed to score a code through fellow gaming website, IGN Australia, who I had the opportunity to play on behalf of.

Remember the South Park WoW guy? That was me over the last few days.

Much to my delight, I soon discovered that Resurrected is truly the definitive version of Diablo II that fans have always wanted. In sticking with the original gameplay Diablo II has become so well-known for, Resurrected adds unmatched graphical detail, finesse, and multiple quality-of-life changes to truly bring this cult classic into the realm of modern gaming.

But what’s so good about Resurrected anyway?
If it’s the same gameplay as it was 20 years ago, is it worth playing again?
Well you might find out if you’d…


What did the Alpha involve?

Though I was hoping for the chance to once again venture all the way from the Rogue Encampment through Hell and into the fearsome Frigid Highlands, the Alpha included only Acts I and II of the game without any option of choosing difficulty. This gave a short snippet of the game: enough to keep me occupied for the few days while the Alpha was active, but certainly left me wanting more. It felt quite jarring to finish Act II without the ability to leave Lut Gholein and sail East towards to Kurast.

Choice of class too was limited. All seven familiar faces stand in front of you around the campfire at the “Select Hero Class” screen, however you only have the option to choose from three: Amazon, Barbarian, and Sorceress. Having played primarily as Paladin and Druid in the past, this came as a bit of a shock, but it forced me instead to step outside of my comfort zone and pick a class I normally would not. Eventually I picked Barbarian, not because of his well-defined rock hard quads that you get to admire each time you boot up the game, but because his emphasis on dual-wielding and melee abilities was more suited to my style of play.

After completing Act II with a Barbarian and dying against Duriel multiple times, I decided to play through the game again choosing the Sorceress class. This came as a massive shock after playing such a resilient melee character. Replayability of the alpha was limited to playing through these same two acts as the three different classes, but still kept me entertained and occupied.

What has changed?

You’d have to have a light radius of 0 not to see the biggest change of all in Resurrected: the visuals. A game that once ran in 4:3 at an impressive resolution of 640 x 480 (and increased to 800 x 600 in Lord of Destruction), now has been brought into the realms of modern gaming in full 3D. Finally you can experience Diablo II in glorious 16:9 without the need for a mod! Graphical options are plenty and can be adjusted to suit your PC – I ran the game at 2560 x 1440 at maximum settings and had a consistent framerate of >60fps, though the game can be run at higher resolutions if you have the capacity.

Plenty of graphical options available to cater to different systems.

What impressed me most about this 3D visual upgrade was the game’s ability to retain the dark, gothic aesthetic of the original’s environment and enemy designs, all while adding a level of detail as if it were a game created only recently. You’ll immediately be able to recognise every single character, item, enemy and small environmental detail from the original game despite the graphical overhaul. Even the game’s UI and menu’s are significantly more detailed while retaining the feel of the original. As an added feature, at any point in the game by pressing “G”, you’ll be able to swap between Resurrected and Legacy graphics, which is a nice touch even through it likely has little functionality.

Press G to travel back 20 years.

Aside from the graphical changes, there are a few other improvements to the interface, options and gameplay that help to update this now 20-year-old game. The character selection screen now feels like logging into World of Warcraft or Diablo III, instead providing a detailed view of your character, their equipment, and an intricate backdrop of whichever area you most recently saved in.

I don’t remember those quads being in the original.

There are also several new settings compared to the original, including accessibility options for those with low vision or colour blindness. One of the most satisfying changes is “Auto Collect Gold” which is set to default, meaning that you won’t have to spend time frantically clicking on coins after they fling out of a chest. Simply walk over the gold and your character will pick it up. A game-changer!

What hasn’t changed?

Literally everything else. This is Diablo II: LoD gameplay almost completely untouched. Every movement, attack, spell and interaction feels 100% as it did all those years ago, and fans of the original will appreciate this far more than newcomers to the series. Every dungeon and encounter has been lovingly recreated in the updated art style, blending traditional gameplay with an attractive modern aesthetic. Most notably, the boss fights still feel exactly as they used to, as I especially noted while facing off against Duriel, trapped in the tiny arena chugging potions rapidly.

The worst boss in the game has not changed one bit. He’ll still mess ya up.

Through my time playing the alpha there were several other elements that had not been changed – the audio including sound effects and soundtrack, while having been remastered, is almost identical, though now sounds crisp and clean. As a massive fan of Matt Uelmen’s atmospheric and ambient score, I’m glad there have been no significant changes made. The inventory system also is identical – same number of slots, ability to swap between two sets of weapons, and the use of your character’s stash (both personal and shared).

More inventory space for all your gems. And Wirt’s Leg, of course.

Reportedly cutscenes have been completely remastered, though in the technical alpha you’re presented with the original cutscenes (which now appear incredibly pixelated!) along with a VISUAL PLACEHOLDER stamp in the bottom right to give you the impression that these are not being kept.

Were there many bugs?

After playing for approximately 20 hours, bugs I encountered were few and far between. In fact, the most common bug I encountered tried to kill me and shot electricity when I attacked it (damn you, Death Beetles!). Though in all seriousness, the game played almost flawlessly. There was the occasional graphical glitch, such as a model popping in or the odd enemy clipping through a closed door. One of the more amusing bugs I encountered was after breaking down the door to Duriel in Tal Rasha’s tomb. After assembling the Horadric Staff, a beam of energy shatters the wall leading to the boss fight. Upon exiting this area there wall would return intact as if to say, “Don’t go in there, Duriel will f*ck you up.

Chamber’s closed, better go home.

Though my experience was mostly uneventful, other players found more interesting bugs, such as one that gave the ability to easily duplicate items. This is the purpose of an alpha test, after all.

Final Thoughts

Although changes are minimal, Resurrected will make you happy to double-dip into what is essentially the same game with a fresh coat of paint. Those who spent hundreds of hours in slashing away in single player or online attempting to climb the ladder will undoubtedly feel right at home. Having played through Diablo II: Lord of Destruction only months ago, booting up Resurrected was as simple as jumping back into the game I already knew so well.

Newcomers to the series may be surprised by Resurrected’s simple, looping gameplay, as in the last couple decades RPGs have become increasingly complex. By today’s standards the game is easily approachable and does well to ease you into a challenge. Hopefully this will also expose a new generation of gamers to an experience often considered as one of the most iconic, influential PC games ever made.

In conclusion, Diablo II: Resurrected is without a doubt the game Diablo fanatics have dreamed of for years. While Resurrected has revitalised the game’s visuals tremendously, it manages to do so while retaining the most important aspects that fans have grown to love: traditional RPG gameplay, and a dark, gothic aesthetic. So, will it be it worth playing? Yes, without a doubt.

The game launches later this year. You can find more info via the official website:
https://diablo2.blizzard.com/en-us/

Diablo II Returns!

After months of speculation and rumours, Blizzard have finally officially announced the release of Diablo II: Resurrected for PC, PS4/PS5, Nintendo Switch, and Xbox Series S|X. The gameplay looks like it stays true to the original, while offering updated graphics and widescreen gameplay. It will have an RRP of $69.90 aud on launch, or $80 bundled with a copy of Diablo III.

Will you be playing through Diablo II again? It’s easily one of my favourite games of all-time, and I only just did another playthrough last year, but I’m still pretty keen to get my hands on this! Pre-registration is open now:
https://diablo2.blizzard.com/