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Something of a cult classic upon its release for the original PlayStation, back in 1998, MediEvil might not seem like the most obvious choice to receive the remake treatment. But then again, it’s perhaps the most obvious choice for the remake treatment, because, as it happens, MediEvil is still rather good. And developer Other Ocean’s affectionate revisit treats the offbeat adventures of its hero, Sir Daniel Fortesque, with a clear-eyed, loving reverence.
Rose-tinted memories of MediEvil will no doubt recall the Tim Burton-esque art style, the all-pervasive zombies and pumpkins, and a bizarre skeletal hero in Sir Dan himself. What you might have whitewashed from those memories is how floaty and imprecise controlling Dan feels, how much button-mashing is required in the game’s sword-swinging combat, and how unforgiving the later levels can be. MediEvil is an entirely faithful remake in this regard.
While MediEvil plays exactly as it did more than 20 years ago, that does mean that some hallmarks of old-school game design remain. Newcomers might be turned off, but fans of the original game will undoubtedly be delighted, enjoying the game for its foibles. Marry that to a brilliant rerecorded soundtrack that summons the full force of a live orchestra, and fans old and new are in for a treat. Remade and revamped, MediEvil not only looks great – save for the rare instance of minor frame rate chop – but sounds fantastic too, like a lost Danny Elfman score.
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If you’ve never played MediEvil before, it’s a linear 3D action game in which you play as a hapless undead knight, the fabled Hero of Gallowmere, tasked with dispatching an old enemy – evil wizard Zarok. Raising an army of the dead, Zarok also inadvertently returns Sir Dan to life, presenting the erstwhile knight with the perfect opportunity to kill off the nefarious warlock once and for all.
Your adventure takes in all manner of macabre locations, like a pumpkin patch, a graveyard complete with reanimated severed hands scuttling about, and a hedge maze watched over by an old stone face that dispenses riddles. There’s an inherent charm to MediEvil, not only in its weird and wonderful characters, but also in its deliberately off-kilter environments. By today’s standards, MediEvil is a mite on the clunky side, but it more than gets by in its persistence as something genuinely unique, even two decades on.
Being based on a game from 1998, however, the MediEvil remake sticks to the very same aged game design, which means miserly checkpoints and having to restart levels completely from scratch when you die. Spending a solid 40 minutes lost in the Ant Cave level, then copping out during the Ant Queen boss battle isn’t particularly fun. We could cite several examples when this kind of thing is exceptionally galling, but just imagine meandering through a level, collecting everything, then falling at the last hurdle, and you can understand the frustration.
This was par for the course back then, but it doesn’t have to be that way anymore. It’s a shame Other Ocean didn’t think to add an optional, more accessible way to play through the game for new players, with mid-level checkpoints. By no means is MediEvil a hard game, but having to repeat levels over and over again until you succeed does feel somewhat anachronistic, almost punitively so. That it’s the biggest criticism to be levelled at MediEvil speaks volumes, because, in spite of a few old hoary tropes that we’ve long since left behind, the game still shines on its own merits.
It’s fun to fill your chalice gauge with departed souls in each level to gain access to the Hall of Heroes, where you’re gifted with a new weapon. It’s fun to cut the Pumpkin King down to size. Solving Jack of the Green’s riddles and besting his fiendish hedge maze is enormously gratifying. It’s nice to revel in a game that’s structured in a relatively simplistic way. These are merely a few reasons why MediEvil warrants a remake like this – one that’s had due care and attention lavished upon it.
And that’s about all you really need to know about the 2019 version of MediEvil. It blows the PlayStation cult classic apart with stunning visuals that stay true to the original while retaining the essence of what made the game special in the first place. Arise, Sir Daniel Fortesque – it’s great to have you back, you toothy skull-faced twat.
Developer: Other Ocean Emeryville
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Available on: PlayStation 4 [reviewed on].
Release Date: October 25, 2019
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