You may recall at the end of my Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy review, I had said, “hopefully, it might help bring other PSX classics back into the limelight such as Spyro the Dragon and hopefully MediEvil.” Well, it appears someone was listening to my wishes since after the publication of that review, both Spyro the Dragon and MediEvil both got ground-up remakes. You’re welcome.
MediEvil actually holds a very dear place in my heart, since it was actually the first game I ever played on the Playstation. I immediately fell in love with its spooky imagery, lighthearted tone, and unusual protagonist. While it did receive a sequel two years after its initial release in 1998, and a “reimagining” on the PSP in 2005; very little was done to preserve the legend of Sir Daniel Fortesque. Until now, during the spookiest time of the year, MediEvil rises from the grave to deliver an admirable reanimation of this Playstation classic.
MediEvil tells the story of Sir Daniel Fortesque—a knight of the land of Gallowmere, who led the charge against the evil sorcerer Zarok, and was subsequently killed by the very first arrow that was fired. The Kind of Gallowmere decided to cover up Dan’s embarrassing demise and declared him the “Hero of Gallowmere,” while Zarok, thought to be dead, went into hiding. One hundred years later, Zarok returned to Gallowmere casting a spell of eternal night upon the land, raising the dead and stealing the souls of the living.
Fortunately, Sir Daniel’s skeletal corpse is also brought back to life in the process. Having failed to earn his place as a true hero, Sir Daniel embarks on a quest to stop Zarok and redeem his soiled legacy. It’s a great story that does a lot to flip the Hero’s Tale on its head and adds a lot of humor not only to the narrative but much of the dialogue as well.
The game looks absolutely gorgeous too—taking the aesthetic of the original that blended Horror Comedy and Dark Fantasy; and giving it the treatment it deserved. Everything from Sir Daniel himself, to each enemy is excellently redesigned; appearing creepy, but in a fun, cartoonish way. Levels are richly detailed and very atmospheric, really bringing the world of Gallowmere to life in a way the original’s technical limitations simply could not. And the visuals are backed by an amazing new soundtrack that adds a lot of gloomy whimsy to the game.
Gameplay leaves a bit to be desired. It’s a fairly standard 3D action/platformer leaning more in the direction of hacking-and-slashing that precision platforming. The problem is: MediEvil still feels like a 20-year-old game in all the worst ways. Controlling Sir Daniel feels janky: like every surface is covered in ice; combat is nothing more complex than mindlessly mashing the square button; the hit detection is unpredictable and enemies don’t really telegraph their attacks so more times than not trying to hit any enemy means taking some damage yourself.
Furthermore, the game lacks any kind of checkpoint system so if you die at any point in a level, you have to start from the beginning. I know this may sound like a nit-picky complaint, but the janky controls and awkward combat means getting far in a level becomes a serious test of attrition, and having to go into a boss fight with low health, only to die and have to repeat the entire level is just a limitation of a bygone era. This is just another example of modern-day design sensibilities that could have added a lot to the game.
Like the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, MediEvil really suffers from its adherence to nostalgia. Apparently Other Ocean wished to keep most elements from the original intact, and I can certainly appreciate that dedication to the spirit of the original; however, there’s a serious mechanical dissonance when you’re playing a game that looks like it belongs on the PS4 but feels like it belongs on the PSX.
It also doesn’t help that MediEvil is a bit glitchy at times. There were several moments when I got stuck in walls; weird jumps that didn’t know where to place me, and a mini-boss fight where the boss got launched outside the combat arena and I had to restart the level—again, no checkpoints. I mean, I get that they wanted to keep elements from the original intact, but they should’ve drawn the line at amature-hour glitches from 1998.
I echo the statement I made in my Crash Bandicoot review: we’ve had two decades of gaming innovation. If you’re building a game from the ground up, remake or not, you should implement them. MediEvil could have been so much better with tighter controls, more fluid, fleshed out combat; a checkpoint system for the longer, harder levels; and just generally tighter game design. Instead, it’s just a very good-looking reminder of how awkward gaming’s first steps into the third-dimension were.
However, even with a lot of the more annoying aspects of MediEvil, I never found myself not having fun, nor did I actively want to turn the game off. MediEvil is still a charming, unique, and enjoyable game; warts and all. While I definitely think I’ve reached my limit with PSX remakes that look new but still feel 20 years-old, I’m glad MediEvil got another chance to be in the spotlight, and hopefully, this leads to a new entry in the series.