Reviews

MediEvil Review – Should It Have Stayed In The Grave?

Seeing so many amazing older games get resurrected through remasters brings me a lot of joy. It means awesome games like Crash Team Racing and the original Spyro trilogy can be experienced by a new generation, and relived in glorious HD by those who played them by in the day. And so many of these older titles still play great even today, the recent remaster of Link’s Awakening being a good example. But I admit I never even once imagined that MediEvil would get a remaster. Like a lot of other fine folk my first experience with MediEvil was from a demo disc that came with an issue of Playstation Magazine. I loved it and spent dozens of hours on the demo alone, but the MediEvil never really managed to cement itself in the annals of history. Yet here we are with a remastered version on PS4. Talk about a pleasant surprise.

So let me lay down the premise, here: the game opens with the vile sorcerer Zarok doing evil stuff because…well, because he’s evil. Simple as that, really. To stop this foul threat the noble Sir Daniel Fortesque leads a charging army, but unfortunately he gets immediately killed by a stray arrow that goes straight through his eye. Still, despite having done nothing Fortesque is mistakenly hailed as a hero in the history books and Zarok is defeated, though in reality Zarok managed to survive and went into hiding.

Having spent 100-years planning and plotting Zarok returns and uses his dark magic to steal the souls from the people of Gallowmere, and to raise the dead. However, his spell has an unintended side effect: Sir Daniel Fortesque rises from his slumber, his skeletal remains ready to do battle. Fortesque is Gallowmere’s only hope, and he wants to use this second chance to become a true hero.

Available On: PS4
Reviewed On: PS4 Pro
Developer: Other Ocean
Publisher: Sony

Fortesque himself has such a unique design, his jawless skull making him look like a gormless goof. He doesn’t get any character development or anything like that, after all he was the product of a 90s videogame, but he does get to occasionally tell people to get on with it or mumble something else. Sure, Fortesque may never have reached the heights of Mario, Sonic or even something like Spyro, but he’s a pretty memorable chap. Bring him to Super Smash Bros. I say.

Having direct access to the original game’s source code means that the developers of this remaster have managed to rebuild MediEvil from the ground up, barely altering any of the mechanics or level designs. Instead, almost all the time and effort have gone into the graphics, bringing Fortesque into 2019 in all of his goofball glory.

What MediEvil has in abundance is charm. The visual style makes the game look like Tim Burton accidentally made a video game rather than a movie, each environment brimming with its own unique atmosphere. We’re pretty lucky to have amazing looking games these days that are technical marvels, but we’re sorely lacking stuff like MediEvil where the tiny amount of polygons was combated by ramping the art style up to about 1000. It’s fair, I feel, to say that some of the game’s original eeirie atmosphere has been lost simply because the murky textures are gone, but it’s a small price to pay because in 2019 Sir Daniel Fortesque looks pretty damn good. There are certainly issues, such as Zarok who likes like some sort of strange wax creation, but for the most part MediEvil looks exactly like it does in my lying memories. Best of all if you can 100% complete the game you unlock the entire original game, complete with terrible graphics.

I have to say, though, it’s a real shame that MediEvil 2 isn’t included. Both games are rather short, so a combined package like they did with the recent Spyro remaster would have been really appealing. Especially since MediEvil 2 is a much better game, to my mind. But if this remaster sells well enough we might just see the sequel getting the same treatment. Who knows, perhaps a new MediEvil game isn’t entirely unlikely.

MediEvil is very much a product of its time, so it plays out like a basic hack and slash adventure with some platforming tossed into the mix for good measure. Each level is a tight map where you typically need to find Runes to open up doors, maybe solve a light puzzle, fight a boss, head for the exit and move on to the next area. Should you happen to run out of health along the way then there are no checkpoints, so its back to the start of the level.

You’ll get to fight through a pretty good variety of enemies from Shadow Demons to gun-wielding tin cans, each one with a distinct if very limited set of tricks. Likewise your own options for tackling them are pretty shallow with combat mostly coming down to hammering the attack button which results in Fortesque waving his sword around like a feather duster. Enemies don’t really react to your attacks, instead they get pushed back a little. It leads to fights feeling weightless, like you’re constantly skating on ice .It’s pretty mindless stuff, but you can block with a shield, though determining if an attacking is coming amidst the chaos is often more about luck. The key is not go into MediEvil expecting some sort of deep combat system – you hack, you slash and either you or the other thing dies.

If you want to get your undead mitts on some shiny new gear then you need to collect each level’s Chalice, which can only be done by first killing enough enemies. Provided you get the Chalice and make it to the end of the level you’ll be transported to the Hall of Heroes where the souls of dead legends now reside in statues. While they aren’t exactly too thrilled that the fate of Gallowmere now resides on the sagging shoulders of Sir Daniel Fortesque, they are at least willing to lend their gear to the cause. From powerful bows to the clearly superior hammer there’s a good range of new weapons to play around with that are all technically entirely optional, although you’d be daft now to get them. It’s a rock-solid system that gives you a reason to actually go fight everything, and the various different weapons you get hold of are fun to use. I naturally found myself replaying a level if I didn’t get the Chalice rather than just moving on.

The combat does get better when you’ve got more weapons to play around with. It’s still weightless and clumsy, but the extra variety helps make it a bit more fun. Especially the mighty hammer which packs a powerful secondary attack that basically makes every other weapon feel superfluous.

You’ll hoover up some gold as you explore the linear levels and squash enemies, and this can then be used to repair/recharge some of your gear or buy more ammo for your favourite ranged weapons. The rate at which you gather the glittering coinage is nicely balanced so that you can’t just replenish all your ammo and often have to choose whether you want more spears or arrows or want to recharge your magic sword.

The thing that I disliked way back when MediEvil first launched was the platforming, and that’s not really changed in the remaster. It’s arguably a touch better thanks to camera changes, something we’ll get back to later, but it still feels like you’re never entirely in control. Falling off the edge of something means losing a vial of health, too, so there are occasions when you’ll have to restart an entire level because of a dodgy camera angle or something else cause you to plummet to your death. Er, second death? Honestly not sure how that works.

Those various levels (there’s twenty in total) are a highlight of the game, each bringing with it a small collection of new enemies and its own visual style. There’s a hedge maze replete with a giant face that issues riddles, a town filled with innocent folk who have been corrupted that you need to avoid harming and a giant, evil pumpkin thing to fight. The bosses are a particular high point too, each being fun to fight and typically boasting some small twist to the gameplay.

When you play through MediEvil the most noticeable thing is just how true to the original it remains. I don’t have an original copy of MediEvil lying around so it’s hard to be completely sure, but I feel like this is a one-to-one remake. Well, almost, because the developers did add in some lost souls that pop up during levels, offering you basic challenges that when completed will let the soul find peace. You need to do this to unlock the option to play the original MediEvil, 90s graphics and all.

The fact that MediEvil stays so true to its origins is commendable, but that also means most of the game’s problems stem from its initial design. We’ve already covered some of that but by far the biggest is the camera. To be fair, it’s certainly better than it was with control having been shifted from the bumpers to the right stick, and a new “Dan cam” introduced where you can bring the camera down to over the shoulder for a better look around. But fixed camera angles are still a part of the design thanks to the often cramped levels. The result is that I constantly felt like I was fighting the camera, never entirely happy with the angle or becoming annoyed at how a fixed view would obscure stuff in a horrible way. Quite a few times I was fighting some random enemies only to step the wrong way and find myself unable to see properly.

What I’m saying is that if any game needed a, “Just Let Me Control The Fucking Camera,” option then this is it. But I suppose even full camera control wouldn’t have been able to fix the cramped areas you need to move through sometimes.

MediEvil hasn’t aged well, especially compared to some other games from the same era that have got the remaster treatment. While I loved the game when it was first released all those years ago I find that my love just isn’t as strong in 2019. So much of MediEvil feels awkward and cumbersome. However, if you venture into MediEvil knowing exactly what you’re getting – a slice of the 90s that’s largely untouched – and can accept what that means then there’s a lot of nostalgic fun to be had.

2.5 out of 5

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