The original MediEvil from 1998 is well regarded as a PlayStation classic for a good reason. It was one of the early 3D games that managed to be easy to play, when games like Tomb Raider had players struggling to move a tank-like Lara Croft across gaps and platforms.
More than just being a competent 3D game in the early days of polygons, MediEvil also caught everyone’s attention with its novel concept and style. Cambridge Studio managed to infuse their original game with the off-kiltered crookedness of a Tim Burton movie. This unusual cartoony quality lent itself exaggerated animations for swordplay and satisfying platforming.
More than 20 years later, MediEvil is remade on the PlayStation 4 and boasts huge leaps with its visual fidelity. Is there more to this remake other than the modern technology to dazzle our ocular portals? Or is this remake a de-make?
Developer: Other Ocean Emeryville
Producer: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Release Date: October 29, 2019
The evil sorcerer Zarok has a legion of undead that he used to try to usurp the Kingdom of Gallowmere. The horde was thwarted by an army “lead” by Sir Daniel Fortesque, who was the first to die during the initial charge. Gallowmere’s officials who didn’t want the kingdom to know their champion was a loser, spun a story about Fortesque’s heroics.
Years pass, and Zarok is attempting a mulligan on his Gallowmere conquest. Once again he raises the dead along with Sir Dan’s corpse, who will take this second chance to prove that he can be the champion Gallowmere deserves.
As a walking pile of bones held together by his armor, Dan will have to arm himself with all kinds of magical relics, and weapons hidden through the land to thwart Zarok’s forces.
The set-up is a perfectly competent premise, that excellently gives the excuse for all kinds of video game shenanigans. Each level has some kind of gimmick or set-piece to give Sir Dan something heroic to do. From fighting dragons to exorcising demons, every stage will have something memorable in it to engage with.
Stages will typically have some puzzle to tinker with, and some gates that might require Dan having a specific weapon or item to open a way through. Sometimes the level design will have players loop back to a main or hub area, and other times the environment will be a long gauntlet of pitfalls and otherworldly beasts.
Every level is full of souls to collect, which go into a collectible chalice hidden somewhere in the stage. Typically, this means slaying the various enemies to release these souls. You don’t need to get every enemy in the level, just enough to get a 100% full cup.
Why would anyone want to do this? To gain access to the Hall of Heroes of course. While visiting, Sir Dan will be bestowed a gift from the heroes of legends. Usually it’s a new weapon or an upgraded version of a weapon that won’t lose durability, other times it is a health upgrade.
No matter what, you are going to want to 100% every stage to get these upgrades, because MediEvil can get tough and even unfair at times. Most importantly, getting 100% on the entire game unlocks the original 1998 MediEvil as a bonus. This is a feature that should be in every remake ever made.
This is all lifted from a game that was the height of 32-bit games at the time, and it still remains as riveting as ever. The one thing that does not hold up is MediEvil‘s playability, which feels very rough and unreliable.
Getting into scraps with even the lowliest of ghoul feels like a crapshoot. For some reason, Sir Dan controls worse than he did in 1998. Enemies do not stun appropriately, and will ignore attacks hurting you as you viciously stab them. The act of changing weapons is slow and cumbersome, with a slow moving menu.
It is understandable that Dan is now a skeleton, but his attacks just feels incredibly sloppy and ineffectual. It feels more like he’s slapping guys with a pool noodle than a long sword. It is incredibly difficult to fight fair, while not having health get chipped away due to grazing up against some grunt.
The best strategy is to hoard up on projectiles like throwing knives and bolts for long range assaults. This does not make for very engaging combat, since Sir Dan’s guidance on auto targeting is as basic as can be. There is so little skill or involvement required that confrontations become pure attrition of your supplies.
Dan frantically sprints around with the grace of a Muppet. The overall attention given to his animation is about as good as you’d expect from a Dreamworks animated film. This level of fidelity extends to the presentation as a whole which makes MediEvil look gorgeous.
The original game had a distinctive atmosphere about it. A heavy black void would fill gaps and our imagination would do most of the leg work. This remake trades the abstraction for more literal details. The effort is appreciated, but it does not always look the way some long time fans might have interpreted.
A perfect example of this is in the Hall of Heroes, where statues of past legends are depicted as enormous bronze statues. In the original, the low poly models were vague enough you could interpret them in various ways.
The remake tries to be very literal, and ends up depicting these figures as realistically portioned humans. This utterly clashes with the designs of Sir Dan, Zarok, and all of the villagers of Gallowmere.
These quibbles on art direction aside, MediEvil does look incredible, and achieves impressive atmosphere of its own despite the liberties taken. Special attention has been given to lighting, which has been carefully used to enhance the gothic mood. Many metallic objects have a brushed surface and are riddled with dents and knicks.
There are areas that are filled with a dense and billowing fog that swirls in spiraling patterns, adding a sense of twisted evil lurking in the air. Foliage is thick with individual leaves and branches, with huge shafts of light pouring through the gaps.
MediEvil may have some issues, but its visuals are not one of them. While not all the choices were agreeable, most of them result in a drop-dead beautiful take on the PlayStation original.
The dialogue is the same audio tracks recorded in 1998, so there is no complaining from anyone about voice acting. It is the same as it ever was, and still sounds great. The music was already very evocative of Danny Elfman’s score on the Batman films, but this time they are fully orchestrated by the original composers.
The audio is very faithful to the original, and nothing stuck out as out of place. There was no apparent use of cheap stock sound effects that might jarringly stick out. Overall, MediEvil intensely honors the original.
This remake is almost 1:1 of its progenitor with almost no deviation. If you are a fan of the original, you’ll feel right at home since so little has been added or changed. The PSP remake, MedEvil: Resurrection made more changes than this PlayStation 4 redux.
Gamers who never played the original might be in for a rude awakening, since many of the early 3D growing pains made it into the remake. One of the new additions to the remake is mostly the added camera control, and a camera mode that goes behind Sir Dan that makes the perspective resemble Dark Souls.
There really should have been some new content added to MediEvil for those who are deeply acquainted with the 1998 game. It almost comes off as lazy with how little effort has been given to improve on what was already there. The original game is quaint by today’s standards, and the remake misses the chance to address the old setbacks and limitations.
MediEvil 1998 was not perfect, and so many of its imperfections are still present in the remake. For some people, it is only the graphics that matter. This kind of shallow attempt at remaking a classic makes for an underwhelming experience.
MediEvil was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a personal copy obtained by the reviewer. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s review/ethics policy here.