Discounting – pun intended – the PlayStation Classic, the past few years have been pretty kind towards those who have a soft spot for Sony’s first foray into the console market. The unofficial mascots of the system, Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon, saw their original adventures lovingly remastered, and this past January players got their hand on a game of the year caliber remake with Capcom’s Resident Evil 2 (2019) and early next year we’ll make a return to Midgard in Square-Enix’s update of the beloved Final Fantasy VII.
Added to that list is the recently released MediEvil, a remake of the European developed hack-and-slash adventure courtesy of Other Ocean Emeryville. The amount of work put into fully realizing the macabre fantasy world of MediEvil is impressive, but even with some much needed gameplay upgrades to the 1998 original, it very much feels like a product of its time.
In MediEvil you play as Sir Daniel Fortesque, a knight from the kingdom of Gallowmere who history has incorrectly credited with putting an end to the evil sorcerer, Zarok. When Zarok once again returns to threaten the land of Gallowmere, Sir Fortesque is mistakenly resurrected and given a rare second opportunity to prove himself a hero by stopping Zarok’s twisted ambition for real this time. MediEvil’s plot is simple, but what it lacks in complex story telling it makes up for with character and atmosphere. Fortesque, a resuscitated skeleton who’s lacking a lower jaw, is far from your traditional video game protagonist, but he has a great design and he’s an underdog you’re quickly going to start rooting for the more time you spend with him.
Where the most effort was put into this version of MediEvil is its visuals, and it very much makes this do over feel like the world the original designers had in their head but couldn’t realize on the original PlayStation hardware. Zombie infested graveyards, haunted corn mazes and creepy forests filled with pumpkin monsters, shadow demons and aggressively animated scarecrows, there’s no lack of creativity on display in the stages you’ll visit in the eight to ten or so hours it takes to get through MediEvil. This is further enhanced by the spooky, atmospheric orchestral score that brilliantly fits this horror adventure.
Playing as a hack-and-slash adventure with some lite platforming here and there, MediEvil is certainly not a game you come to if you’re looking for deep combat mechanics. You do get a large arsenal of weapons to play around with like swords, clubs, hammers, various ranged weapons like knives and bows, even your own arm, but encounters largely have you running around in circles, flailing about and hoping that whatever you’re fighting dies quickly. Some accommodations at the very least have been added to make things a little less clumsy in the remake. Your weapons are much better organized in your inventory screen, and you’re also given the ability to equip two at a time you can swap with the press of a button. This is great for when you need to quickly change up your tactics to compensate for fighting enemies up close to those that are better tackled from a distance.
For its somewhat basic combat mechanics, MediEvil makes up for this with a decent amount of stage variety. There’s a lot of bashing enemies and collecting keys, but this is usually mixed in with levels where you have to escape a village without killing its possessed residents, solving puzzles while navigating a hedge maze or being shrunken down to hunt for collectibles in an ant hill. Killing the required number of enemies in each stage fills a chalice that you then have to recover. This is the key to obtaining the best weapons in the game and rewards players who explore every corner of Gallowmere. The somewhat downside to this though is that this greatly diminishes finding treasure chests strewn about the land that contain weapons and shields. The chalice challenges are never too difficult, and the weaponry you earn from doing this vastly outweighs what you’ll pick up.
What makes some of these more engaging levels frustrating to explore at times is a lack of mid-level checkpoints. In the ant hill stage, you have to collect seven pieces of amber for a witch while also hunting for seven captured fairies. The level is very confusing to navigate, and it culminates in a boss battle. Should you die at the boss, you have to go all the way back to the beginning and find everything over again. During the play session for this review, there was an instance where a level had to be started over from the start due to a puzzle being put into a no win state. Another odd circumstance had a game over occur while simultaneously exiting a stage, causing Dan to enter the next stage with zero health. Such things could’ve been eliminated with the addition of appropriate checkpoints at certain junctures.
Like a lot of early 3-D games, MediEvil didn’t have the best camera placement or controls, something that’s addressed here to a point. In most areas you have the ability to move the camera around Sir Daniel with the right analog stick, and depressing the L2 trigger brings the camera in close so you can survey your surroundings. There’s still a lot of instances though where the camera is far from ideally placed. Off-screen enemies or those obscured by the camera can get the best of you, eating away valuable health, and making jumps in the few tricky platforming parts can eat away your vials – this game’s version of lives – because you can’t line up your jumps quite right.
This game has its fair share of boss encounters, all of which feel like they belong in this world, from stained glass demons, to a skeleton pirate of a ghost ship and a massive, hungry pumpkin among others. They all have easy to figure out patterns, but like the moment-to-moment combat, the encounters aren’t great, making you either wait around for a small opening to hit, or worse, lead to cheap deaths such as a fight where you have to balance on a platform while fighting two enemies at the same time.
MediEvil isn’t a terrible long game, but a welcome new addition to the 2019 remake will both extend your playtime and give you a terrific award. Deep into the game, you’ll come across a treasure chest that unleashes lost souls that must be put to rest. These souls will present you with a riddle that you have to decipher that tells you where the task is you need to complete, which can be anything from combat challenges to navigating obstacles that are sped up. The reward for completing these tasks is the original PlayStation version of MediEvil. This is a bonus that has sorely been missing from all of the original PlayStation era remakes and hopefully MediEvil will change this. It’s great to modernize games like these for a new generation, but it’s equally important to celebrate their humble beginnings.
MediEvil is a difficult game to evaluate, as for how sucked into the world you can get because of how visually rich everything looks, it’s also quite easy to get taken out of it because of the still not great camera, antiquated combat and lack of mid-level checkpoints. For all its problem though, you still want to root for MediEvil to succeed because it’s a franchise that could stand to get a new entry but with modern amenities. If you have the patience, MediEvil is a game that at least deserves to be tried, even if you have no nostalgia for the original. Who knows, maybe the MediEvil franchise will get a second shot to capture the hearts of players, just like Sir Daniel Fortesque himself.
MediEvil (2019) is available now, exclusively for the PlayStation 4 family of consoles. This review is based on a copy purchased by the writer.
- Great visual reimaging of the PlayStation original
- Welcome updates like cleaner inventory management and better camera
- New exclusive quests to extend the life of the game
- Includes the original 1998 MediEvil
- Clumsy combat
- Camera still isn't perfect
- Lack of mid-level checkpoints make some stages a chore to replay