I never played the original MediEvil. I spent time with Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon, and Ape Escape, but missed this title from the now-defunct SCE Studio Cambridge. So I’m experiencing MediEvil for the first time. And while I can see a glimmer of why fans might’ve liked it back in 1998, it hasn’t aged well.
Sir Daniel Fortesque is our protagonist, a very dead knight who’s lauded as the hero of the Kingdom of Gallowmere, slayer of the sorcerer Zarok. Unfortunately, the truth is he died in the initial charge. When Zarok returns, it’s time for Sir Dan to rise from his grave and become the hero he was meant to be. To do so, he needs to hack and slash his way through the kingdom, in a series of connected, discrete levels.
For the PlayStation era, I can see the hook of Sir Dan and his world. Everything feels vaguely animated, not unlike The Nightmare Before Christmas a few years earlier. You can barely understand what Sir Dan is saying, but the rest of his world and cast would be right at home slumming it on decade-old Nickelodeon midday programming.
MediEvil’s gameplay feels like it stretches even further back though. This is one of those games from an era when developers were just figuring out how movement and combat worked in the 3D space. MediEvil launched only two years after Super Mario 64 and a mere month ahead of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, so it didn’t really have time to learn those lessons. This is a sloppy game. There’s no impact to Sir Dan’s attacks, or precision to his jumps. MediEvil lacks a specific lock-on button, so aiming at targets in melee or ranged combat is more of a hint than a directive.
While MediEvil isn’t hard at all, it’s also not as easy as its cartoony exterior suggests. No lock on and imprecise movement means there’s no dodge mechanic. Your only hope to avoid some enemies is to block their attacks, which wastes your shield’s durability, or hope they don’t hit the bottom of your hitbox. That means there is a lot of ‘gimme’ hits, where enemies hit you because you couldn’t really do much to avoid them. As I played it, I kept desperately hoping for a new ability or weapon that would fix the combat, but to no avail.
The level design is also not that great. Sir Dan marches across the kingdom, tackling discrete levels full of enemies and the occasional puzzle. Generally though, you just need to follow the path until you find a rune, which will open the next door, and then do it again. Copy that concept forward and you have most of the game. There are alternate rooms and branches in each level, but they’re not well hidden, so it doesn’t feel particularly satisfying to find them. You can find everything within a level within 30 minutes tops.
This is a full remake, but developer Other Ocean Emeryville wanted to preserve the feeling of the original MediEvil. Visually, I’d say they’ve done a bang-up job. The developer has changed up the art style to emphasize a greater degree of color, and the new character and environment geometry is a world ahead of the original. There’s also more environment clutter, like swaying grass and vines that cover the edges of the levels. The lighting is much improved, but the performance remains rock-solid. I’d like to see Other Ocean take this tech and make an original game.
But MediEvil itself does not age well. Other Ocean has built a beautiful house upon a foundation that’s slowly sinking into an ancient burial ground full of vengeful spirits; it looks great in the ad, but you probably shouldn’t move in. This is a remake that tries to stick close to the original and I honestly think it was a better idea to change things up. Look at the 2016’s Ratchet & Clank, a game that was a remake of a PlayStation 2 from 2002. Insomniac Games worked hard to keep the feeling of playing the original, while updating the game to root it more firmly in the modern era. I respect the aim of MediEvil’s remake, but prefer the outcome of Ratchet & Clank 2016.
Maybe a strong love for the original might be enough to paper over the issues I’ve mentioned here. I’ve certainly allowed nostalgia to carry me through some older titles upon a replay. But I have no connection to draw upon with MediEvil, so I’m left with gameplay mechanics and concepts that are two decades behind us. The original was the work of developers grasping 3D combat and movement for the first time, and that’s keenly felt in the remake. As it stands, MediEvil 2019 is whole lot of heart and struggle just to end up in last place on race day.
With the remake of 1998’s MediEvil, Other Ocean has done great work bringing the PlayStation title in 2019. Visually, this game is a winner. The problem is the decision to keep the gameplay largely the same. MediEvil’s combat is muddy and its level design lacks any sense of exploration. This needed to be a more extensive remake. As it stands, it’s only for those with heavy nostalgia for the property.