Greatest Levels in Gaming: “Alex Kidd in Miracle World” (SEGA Master System, Attack Helicopter Week Special)
Since Alex Kidd is oddly relevant this year, today we’re going back to an Attack Helicopter Week of years past to look at one of the most innovative stages from SEGA’ flagship title for the Master System, Alex Kidd in Miracle World.
In the mid to late 80s, the SEGA Master System was the underdog in a sales race with the Nintendo Entertainment System juggernaut. Despite starting development as a Dragon Ball license, SEGA eventually tapped Alex Kidd in Miracle World‘s titular hero to replace Opa-Opa as the company’s mascot and compete more directly with Nintendo’s Mario. The game was released in 1986, and was well-received by press and fans, alike.
Alex himself was Prince of the planet Radaxian on a quest to rescue his older brother and solve the mystery of his father’s disappearance. Alex’s primary attack was his rock-shattering punch ability, but there were several items and upgrades to collect throughout the game to assist the young prince on his journey. Among these are several vehicles, including a motorcycle, a motorboat, and a helicopter – well, a pedicopter, to be precise.
While all three vehicles were fun, we’re of course going to focus on the first pedicopter stage for our Attack Helicopter Week purposes. The player rapidly pressed the jump button to continually “peddle” the copter along, while you are equipped with a small gun mapped to your attack button. The movement of the pedicopter took a lot of patience and finesse to master, and there are a few enemies to contend with, but they’re not much trouble. The fun of the stage comes from skillfully piloting your pedicopter to collect as many moneybags as you can. It’s almost like a bonus stage, in that sense, but it’s not without danger.
The challenge mostly comes from the number of indestructible red orbs placed throughout the stage. They are frequently placed near the moneybags, and you have to decide if going for the extra cash is worth the risk. If your propeller touches one of these orbs, it’s off to the depths of the ocean with you!
But that is part of the game’s innovation. Despite being rudimentary now, in 1986, a platforming character jumping into a vehicle and changing the gameplay was a new concept. It would be two years before Mega Man would do it in Mega Man II, and three years before Mario would do it in Super Mario Land. There weren’t many games at the time that offered a seamless transition between completely different types of gameplay, either. Once you got knocked out of your pedicopter, you splashed into the sea and the flying stage instantly becomes an underwater swimming stage (the latter of which being far more challenging, putting even more pressure on the player to succeed in piloting the pedicopter).
There were a few other areas later in the game where Alex can grab (or purchase) another pedicopter, and these stages aren’t always set up like bonus stages. In some of those levels, the pedicopter will help you avoid giant quicksand pits and quick-firing thunder clouds. It definitely comes in handy, and you’re (hopefully) well-trained thanks to the earlier “bonus” stage set over the open ocean.
The pedicopter became such an iconic part of Alex Kidd in Miracle World, that not only would it return in Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, but it would also be featured as Alex’s “all-star” move in Sonic and SEGA All-Stars Racing.
Though SEGA’s Master System was never able to topple the mighty NES, and subsequent Alex Kidd titles never reached the level of success of Miracle World, the first Alex Kidd outing truly was a pioneering game. You can pick up Alex Kidd in Miracle World as part of several SEGA collections, or individually via digital stores such as the Nintendo eShop. There is also a remake coming sometime in 2021 titled Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX, which is headed to both Steam and consoles.