It’s hard to believe that it’s been over twenty years since MediEvil was originally put out on the original PlayStation. And after playing its recently released remake, it was easy to see the age, given how little of it was changed besides the gussied up graphics. I have fond memories of playing MediEvil back in 1998, but it was a different time back then, and games have evolved as this remake clearly shows.
Developed by Other Ocean Emeryville, the MediEvil remake is as faithful as it could be to the original version of the game, to painful lengths. Besides the complete graphical rehaul, very little of it was tweaked, besides a better control scheme that now allows you to tweak the camera. Speaking of that, it’s an entire issue on its own, but we’ll get there in time. Safe to say, if you didn’t fall in love with MediEvil’s Tim Burton-esque comical dark world back in the day, you won’t do so now, and if you weren’t around then and are just now dipping in, you might be turned off by how old school this remake feels, in the best and worst ways.
MediEvil begins a hundred years after the war waged in the fantasy world of Gallowmere against an evil wizard by the name of Zarok. As Sir Daniel Fortesque — the big hero who ended up dying right away but is still somehow fondly remembered, so much so that he rests in a big tomb of his own in the game’s opening cemetery level — you’re now back in the world of the living mostly in one piece in order to fight off the undead horde controlled by the big baddie, who’s put a spell on the locals and turned them evil.
Back in its day, MediEvil was one of the most graphically impressive PlayStation games around. It made great use of the simplicity of what that system could pump out at the time by having a very cartoony artstyle that would’ve fit perfectly in A Nightmare Before Christmas. Although it didn’t really play that differently from other action-adventure hack ‘n slash games from the time, it managed to be somewhat fondly remembered due to its charming presentation. The remake preserves that style but bumps it up to HD, which looks surprisingly good for as close as they’ve kept it visually to the original game.
Frame-by-frame remakes can be hit or miss, and in MediEvil’s case more of the latter. Original PlayStation games tended to suffer from horrible cameras, and MediEvil was no exception. Levels had the tendency to swing the viewpoint wildly, especially around screen transitions, confusing players and having otherwise easy jumps and swings completely go off thanks to that. Even though the remake offers camera control via the right analog stick, it’s still very possible to get thrown off, even more so since the same angles have been recreated, and the camera itself is very fiddly to deal with.
But by far the worst thing about playing MediEvil these days is its gameplay. There’s very little to it. Dan can use a bunch of different weapons that he finds along his journey, but the actual combat just boils down to mad button mashing regardless of what he’s swinging around. Terrible hit detection doesn’t help things along when trying to dispatch the many enemies that often surround our hapless hero, and since there’s little in the way of defending against their attacks, other than holding up a flimsy shield, it’s really easy to die on a level after running out of life bottles, which work like lives when you run out of HP. Your best bet is to keep a certain distance and shoot at everything that moves, but it’s still a bore thanks to how hard it is to keep track of what’s behind you because of the bad camera.
And hey, there are no mid-level checkpoints, so every time you get taken out, you’re forced to retry from the beginning. That gets grating very quickly in levels that have you fight a boss, but it’s annoying overall thanks to the game’s overall repetitiveness in level design, which usually has you looking for keys to unlock different paths, killing seemingly endless enemies that converge to you. This is 1998 platformer/action-adventure design brought back for you in 2019, through and through.
You could say that other remakes like Spyro The Dragon’s Reignited Trilogy also fell prey to having very dated gameplay, so it’s a wonder why exactly there are no reworks to either’s gameplay. In MediEvil, it would’ve made the new version much better simply to have mid-level checkpoints, keeping the same combat and everything else intact. It’s a shame to see the obviously loving work put in translating low detail art to high definition get plastered over the shabby innards that this remake sports.
Nostalgia can be a tricky thing to deal with. I absolutely adored what MediEvil was going for all those years ago, but we’re now in 2019 and games have evolved since then. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be releasing a game like this, with the balancing of how faithful you should be by keeping elements intact, or how much you can otherwise improve something that’s clearly outdated without stripping it of its identity. This remake clearly goes too much one way, to a fault. While it’s good to see Fortesque back in the spotlight, I would have much preferred a brand new game in the series.