Alex Kidd in Miracle Land DX is actually the perfect example of why reviewing a remaster or remake can be tricky. You see, in some ways, the remake portion is separate from the game itself. You can have a crappy remake of an excellent game, and an excellent remake of a crappy game. And unfortunately, Alex Kidd in Miracle Land DX is very much the second one. On my extensive list of classic games I’d love to see remade, Alex Kidd ranks…well, it doesn’t rank. First released in Japan 1986 with hopes of Alex becoming Sega’s mascot the series was overtaken by the blue blur of Sonic the Hedgehog who would become a gaming icon. And while Alex did appear in several more games, he ultimately faded into the background. Why? Well, because he wasn’t all that compelling, but also because Alex Kidd in Miracle Land isn’t that good. Sorry.
I can feel the pain of thousands of gamers who grew up rage-quitting Alex Kidd on the Sega Master System. For some, questioning Alex Kidd is probably close to heresy. I want you to know that I feel your pain because I grew up playing Alex Kidd. In fact, reviewing this DX version made me realise something shocking; my own brain fabricated a lie. For years my earliest gaming memory was playing the Sega Mega Drive and playing Alex Kidd on it . Imagine my surprise, then, when I realised I couldn’t have. No, it was a Sega Master System I must have played it on. I confirmed this when I saw that the Master System packaging has the classic white background with blue lines. I’ve been lying to myself for years. Thanks, brain.
The second thing I learned while playing Alex Kidd in Miracle Land is that like so many other people I’ve been using the wrong name for years. I’ve referred to the series dozens and dozens of times as Alex the Kid. It’s like a tame version of the Mandela effect where large groups of people have a memory of something that never happened, like believing that Darth Vader said, “Luke, I am your father!”
And the third thing I learned is that I’ve gone soft over the years. I used to bounce through this entire game, but it seems that these days I’m just not as good as I used to be. Alex Kidd in Miracle Land DX was a challenge to beat, albeit one I did manage. A single pixel of an enemy or hazard is all it takes to send Alex Kidd to the great graveyard in the sky.
But let’s jump into this remake by Merge Games and Jankenteam, a duowho clearly have a deep love for Alex Kidd. The new visuals successfully manage to evoke the original game while also looking distinctive in their own right. The colour palette is lovely, the backgrounds are pretty and Alex himself has never looked more like a kid than he does now. There’s plenty of detail and life in the animations. I especially love Alex’s ghost’s completely unimpressed face when he dies.
But the show-piece trick is that you can tap a button to almost instantly jump over to the original graphics. We’ve seen this in other games but it never stops being cool. The first time I swapped over it took me a solid minute to accept that this blocky, low-resolution image was what used to blow my little mind. I mean, look at those colours! Look at those sprites! This was state of the art stuff back then.
The soundtrack makes the leap back in time, too, changing back to the electronic beeps and boops that in 2021 are akin to my left ear being raped by a donkey while it hee-haws into the other ear. Good God, that jump sound! No wonder my parents told me to turn the volume down. The new renditions of those old songs are wonderful, too, and the developers even recorded new music to flesh out the very limited soundtrack of the original game. In fact, they also created 8-bit versions of the new work for when you switch over the old-school visuals. Although I did note that when you jump over to the old visuals a lot of the sound effects are actually wrong. Huh.
Alex has been training his entire short life in the martial arts and so he has a substantial arsenal of moves comprising of a jump and…er, punching. That’s it. Maybe he should have been paying more attention to his lessons. Almost every enemy outside of bosses can be defeated by a single punch, and likewise, Alex will die immediately if he touches a foe. It’s harsh when you consider that you only have three lives and if you lose those you have to restart the whole level. And be assured, you’re going to die a lot, sometimes because of the precision platforming and sometimes because of the awful hitboxes which are more like suggestion boxes. You’ll leap over a bird and clearly pass over it, yet the game will register a touch. It’s annoying, but you can learn to work around it.
The interesting thing Alex Kidd in Miracle Land does is place a lot of emphasis on blocks that you can punch through. Sometimes you need to break them in a specific order so you can access a path, but you can also use them to bypass enemies, and I do love how skipping fights entirely is encouraged, rather than just punching everything. In fact, Miracle Land is a more methodical game than you might expect, hinting toward a slow and steady pace because if you go too fast you end up jumping straight into enemies. A lot of what you do is timing jumps so that you can land in a tiny patch in front of an enemy before punching it in the face.
Before each of the major boss fights, you engage in a savage, no-holds-barred game of…rock, paper, scissors. I’m not making that up. It was a terrible idea back in the day and remains a bloody terrible idea in 2021. The trick, you see, is that the selections the bosses make aren’t actually random, so you can store the patterns away in your head. That isn’t a comfort when you’ve just lost 2 out of 3 and been sent back to the beginning of the level, though. You can also find a handy Telepathy ball that lets you read your opponent’s mind, but having that completely removes the point of the battles anyway. It’s a situation with no good answer: the rock-paper-scissors idea sucks, but the Telepathy Ball sucks too because it removes the mechanics very reason for existing.
Alex Kidd is the kind of game that could make people angry. It’s a hard game, a product of the times where games were often tough to the point of being infuriating so that they would last longer. In fairness, though, this remake is actually a bit more forgiving in one way – losing all three lives only sends you back to the start of the level instead of relegating you to the beginning of the whole game. And if you need a helping hand there’s a new Infinite Lives mode that simply lets you go back to the last checkpoint after every death. I actually used this myself after swallowing my pride, making the first playthrough a lot more bearable before I went for a second run without it.
For a more authentic experience, beating the game unlocks Classic Mode where three deaths equal a proper game over. I do think it’s a bit of a shame that you can’t play using the gorgeous modern graphics and the classic three deaths system, though. I imagine there’s a lot of masochistic players who would revel in the extra challenge but also appreciate those shiny new visuals.
It’s also a little odd that Classic Mode isn’t a one-to-one recreation of the original game, either. Sure, it does look the part, complete with the 4:3 aspect ratio. But when you fire it up you’re greeted with a message from the developers stating that, “this mode is the developer’s recreation inspired by the Sega Master System classic.” This means it retains the gameplay alterations, and so if you want to experience Alex Kidd properly you’re better off with Sega Ages Alex Kidd in Miracle World.
Speaking of which, I went and bought the Sega Ages edition because I felt like Miracle World DX’s platforming was a little…different. It’s been so long though, I couldn’t really be sure. But after some extensive playing, I can confirm that the DX is slightly looser in its controls, and Alex appears to have had some soap applied to his boots because when he lands he moves forward a step or two. It might not sound like much but in a game that features some precision platforming sections that little bit of momentum turns into a lot of pain in the ass. It led to me frequently trying to compensate, which in turn led to multiple deaths because the controls can be quite touchy. While it might be a bit stiffer, I actually prefer the original game’s jump. It was more consistent and easier to correctly judge.
As you jump and punch through the game you’ll collect money which can be spent in a little shop at the start of some levels. The most exciting things to grab are the bike and the helicopter, both adding some welcome variety to the otherwise bog-standard platforming action. If you’re like me you’ll probably crash them in the first ten seconds, though, because just like Alex they’re about as tough as wet paper. Once you get the hang of them they’re reasonably good fun to use.
Considering how faithful a remake DX actually is, it does make the few changes that were made a bit puzzling. A couple of the boss fights have been bolstered, for example. An early battle with a bull was previously just a case of waiting for it to charge at you and then punching it away. You’d repeat the process with the bull getting faster each time. It was tense because your timing had to be perfect. Now, the bull charges, you jump over it, let it run into a wall and then punch its stunned form a few times. That’s it. Honestly, the fight should have been left as it was.
The couple of new levels that the developers added are okay, blending in nicely with the original areas. That’s not much of a compliment, though, because level design in Alex Kidd in Miracle Land was patchy anyway. Some of the layouts and enemy positions are frankly atrocious. I do, however, really like the addition of a level after Janken’s fortress.
Alex Kidd’s corpse should have been left in the ground. The remake itself is pretty solid, capturing the feel of the original and adding some gorgeous new visuals. But Alex Kidd in Miracle Land just isn’t a very good game. It hasn’t aged well, and at its very best it’s merely an okay platformer. At its worse, it’s bloody annoying and clunkily designed. As such I can only see two reasons to buy Alex Kidd in Miracle Land. The first is if you’re a die-hard fan of the franchise. The second is if you’re something of a history buff for old-school platformers. For everyone else, though, this isn’t worth buying, despite the quality of the remake being quite good.
I said at the start of this that reviewing remakes is a tricky business because in some ways the remake and the actual game are separate entities. Alex Kidd in Miracle World DX is a prime example. As a remake, it’s likely worth a higher score because the developers have done a good job of recreating the original, even if it isn’t as accurate as some people would like. But then, the debate about how much a remake should change is one that will still probably be raging on a hundred years from now while we play the Playstation One X while floating around in zero-G on Mars. But as a game, Alex Kidd in Miracle World wasn’t even that good when it first came out and time has not been kind to it. It’s aged like Brussel Sprouts left in the back of a warm cupboard. So hopefully this final score reflects the weird, mixed reality of reviewing a remake.