Platforms: PS4 (Reviewed)
MediEvil is back “remade from the grave up” as the marketing material goes. This is another one of those remakes along the lines of Crash and Spyro that seeks to revive an old PS1 classic with present day graphics and controls. But has MediEvil aged like a fine wine or has it rotted like a corpse.
Here’s a quick rundown of the plot for anyone who hasn’t played the original.
MediEvil puts you in the tattered armored boots of Sir Daniel Fortesque, a valiant knight of Gallowmere. Good ol’ Dan leads the charge against the evil sorcerer Zarok and valiantly…. dies to the very first arrow shot, missing the entire battle. Then, 100 years later Zarok returns using necromancy to raise an undead army of minions, but little does he know that this also resurrects Sir Daniel as a spooky scary skeleton. Now Dan must set off on an adventure to defeat Zarok, restore his honor, and become a true hero.
The Burton aesthetic
MediEvil’s greatest strength by far is its style. It’s modeled after the Tim Burton aesthetic, The Nightmare Before Christmas especially. Everything has this campy rattlebones feeling to it, with animated gargoyle heads cracking wise at you, bombastic orchestral scores accentuating combat, maps made out of graveyards and catacombs, and a lot of slapstick humor featuring characters that look like they came out of a Halloween costume catalog. It’s the perfect game to play at a Halloween party if you are looking for something a little less horror and a little more fun.
This new remake absolutely capitalizes on this strength. Instead of the jagged polygonal models of the original, Sir Dan now looks almost like a character out of a Pixar or Dreamworks movie. Animations are smoothed over yet still have a slight feeling of janky stop-motion, which honestly feels adorable. Environments almost feel like a diorama, with fences and graves jutting out at angles that look like they were haphazardly glued together.
There is one flaw in the visual presentation, however. The game cannot stick to a single framerate. At times it will run at a crisp 60FPS, usually while you are spelunking through catacombs and there isn’t a lot to draw, but come out onto a bigger map and the game will slow to 30FPS, and it’s noticeable.
It’s not just the graphics that have gotten an overhaul. The sound design has been upgraded too. Some lines have been re-recorded while others have been restored and enhanced from their original PS1 quality. The soundtrack has also been re-recorded, further emphasizing the grand orchestral score that accompanies Sir Daniel in all his deeds.
Old school gameplay
Of course, this all goes without saying. It’s an HD remaster, so of course everything is going to look and sound better. The real question is, how does it play?
The answer, not as well as you might remember. For the most part the gameplay is unchanged. Dan has a standard attack, a charged attack, a ton of different weapons and items to use, and a jump to help him get around the world. While this is the same formula that many great games (like the Zelda franchise) are based on, much of MediEvil feels archaic by modern day standards.
Weapon durability, for example, feels like it’s thrown in for no good reason. Yes, this is supposed to limit your use of powerful weapons but they aren’t that much better than normal weapons. The remake attempts to fix this by adding more and stronger weapons but these new weapons are rare enough that it doesn’t make a big difference.
Many parts of the game simply feel unresponsive because that was how they felt in the original Playstation version. It’s hard to tell when Dan gets hit. Yes, he flashes red, but this can happen so many times in such a short period that you can very quickly lose track of your health when getting mobbed by zombies. Blows don’t land with any sort of oomph. Dan’s jump feels unwieldy and stiff. There’s no reliable way to aim with ranged weapons. It all feels just a bit clumsy.
Much of MediEvil has you wandering through levels, completing puzzles, defeating enemies, and finding your way to the exit. Unfortunately, much of these levels are made of same looking graves and gothic architecture. Any modern day take on this game would have included a mini-map of some sort, but there’s none to be found here. So it’s very easy to get turned around causing you to wander aimlessly until you stumble your way back on the path.
The puzzles also haven’t aged well. More often than not they are simple variations of “bring an important item to a specific location. Sometimes you’ll have to use certain weapons to get past certain hazards and other times you’ll be subjected to enemy gauntlets. The thing is, none of these obstacles really make you think. They just feel like busy work.
Playing this new MediEvil has given me a lot to think about. When I first played the original, it was 1998 and I was 14 years old. The very idea of a 3D platforming/action game was mind-blowing to me, and MediEvil was one of the quirkiest. I loved playing a skeleton that could beat people with his own detached limb. I played to the end because this was one of the best examples of 3D gaming the genre had to offer at the time, and the sheer force of personality kept me glued to my controller.
Now, 21 years later and I’ve played a lot of quirky Tim Burton-esque games. I’ve played plenty of action, adventure, and platformer games and everything in between. I’ve seen games with tighter controls, better map design, and more interesting mechanics. When you take all of that away, the only thing MediEvil has left is its quirkiness.
Now, to be fair MediEvil is not being sold as a full price game. It has an extreme budget price tag at only $30. That being said, you can purchase the original PS1 classic for $5 dollars on Sony’s same online store. Does this remake contain $25 of extra value? It’s hard to say. The graphics, soundtrack, camera, and save system are all upgraded, but is that worth the price of, say, a well-developed indie game? Or a season pass for your favorite AAA title? Or… 25 full size candy bars?
Well that depends on how much of a nostalgia buff you are. For me, it was a welcome romp down memory lane, and I’m sure anyone else who played the original will happily cough up the money to experience again in 4K HD. Just know that this is a remaster, not a remake. It’s the same game you remember, to the point that “walkthroughs from 1998 can be used” as the marketing materials say. It’s a shambling, bumbling, skeleton of a game from 1998. That might be adorable to some, but to others it’s just a walking corpse.