Translating the speed and precision of Call of Duty’s multiplayer to a touch screen sounds like a no-brainer. You want the same high-octane action on the go, and now that most phones support Bluetooth controllers, the issue of virtual buttons and joysticks bogging down the experience is a moot point. It’s both curious and surprising then that Call of Duty Mobile not only doesn’t make use of more traditional controllers, but that it also doesn’t feel like it needs to. Its smart control scheme is core to why this scaled-down version of one of the most popular shooters in the world doesn’t make drastic compromises to get there.
Call of Duty Mobile is like a greatest hits tour of the best aspects of the series’ console multiplayer. It features the most popular game modes and some of the best maps from Modern Warfare and the first two instalments of Black Ops, faithfully recreated to give you the same sight lines and choke points you’re familiar with. It looks great, too. Playing on an iPhone 11, I was surprised at how much detail is packed into each map while the game sticks to a silky-smooth frame rate, only briefly dipping with large amounts of action on the screen or out in the more graphically challenging open environments of the included Battle Royale mode. Weapons feature their signature punchy animations and sound effects, killstreaks retain their destructive glamor, and a variety of cosmetic options keep things from drowning in boring military styles. There’s no mistaking it: This is Call of Duty.
It does, however, leave out controller support, despite Android and iOS supporting it widely. Instead you have to use on-screen touch controls, with a handful of buttons and two virtual joysticks controlling the action. First-person games with this type of control scheme have been attempted numerous times, and they’ve hardly stuck. The inability to continue firing while both moving and adjusting your aim is the issue, typically requiring you to sacrifice one or the other to use a finger to hit the trigger. This is how both Fortnite and PUBG work on mobile, but Call of Duty Mobile gives you numerous options to tweak it for the better.
The default mode removes manual shooting altogether. Instead of tapping a button to fire, it’s triggered automatically when you keep your reticle fixed on an enemy for a short amount of time, which is drastically reduced if you’re also aiming down the sights. This lets you focus on keeping aim on an opponent at all times without having to temporarily stand still to hit fire, allowing the action in Call of Duty Mobile to remain fast and fluid. Additional options allow you to make minute changes to the controls, too. You can choose which type of weapons use automatic or manual firing (snipers, for example, benefit from more precise firing) and finely adjust how closely you need to be aiming at an enemy to trigger a shot. Its flexibility lets you experiment with what setup suits your playstyle best while keeping everyone using the same input method for balance, and it works really well.
A well-placed action bar at the bottom of the screen and contextual buttons for equipment, like grenades and killstreaks, keeps all your actions within reach, letting you tap them quickly enough to not seriously affect your ability to continue moving and shooting. Battle Royale also includes the same automatic pickup systems featured in Black Ops 4’s Blackout, and feels far more suited for this constricted control scheme. Attachments and weapons that outrank those you currently have will automatically be picked up and equipped as you hover over them, while additional ammunition and healing items will be added in the same breath. There are instances where you’ll have to dive into your item menu and make quick, small changes to suit your preferences, and navigating this on such a small screen is cumbersome. But for all the potential areas where Call of Duty Mobile might have had a problem with its interface, it approaches the majority of them with smart solutions that let you just focus on the action without worry.
Being free-to-play, Call of Duty Mobile does come with a recognizable suite of microtransactions and blind loot boxes for you to purchase, the majority of which only contain cosmetic items such as weapons and equipment skins. It’s typical for the game to bombard you with messages when launched about new in-game currency offers, Battle Pass exclusives, seasonal events, and more, which is frustrating if you’re just trying to log in for a quick game. Whenever you earn a loot box through natural progression, you’ll be reminded of how much better its contained loot would be had you splurged on the Battle Pass, offering yet another pop-up to route you towards its purchase. Call of Duty Mobile is unrelenting in the way it tries to steer you towards options that require your credit card, but thankfully it has a miniscule impact on gameplay.
Traditional progression governs when you unlock new weapons and equipment, and there’s no way to pay money to speed this process up. As you rank up, you’ll unlock new custom class slots, tactical equipment, weapons across all classes, and special weapons that you can use in a similar fashion to the hero abilities in Black Ops 4. Where it deviates is with weapon attachments. Each weapon you use has an associated level. The more you use a weapon, the more attachments you unlock for it. Although you can’t outright purchase new weapons, you can purchase weapon XP vouchers that can drastically speed up the process of unlocking attachments for them. With just a few you can take a brand-new weapon to its maximum level in a few seconds, circumventing the grinding you’d have to put in otherwise.
This can give you an advantage, as spending money could allow you to more quickly unlock a precise red dot sight to improve your aim or a foregrip to steady your shots. It is easy enough to earn these vouchers through regular play, which mitigates the gap between paying and non-paying players to an extent, but if you’re not looking to spend anything you’ll have to play a couple of games with a slight disadvantage once you’ve settled on a new weapon. But once you’ve reached the maximum level for your preferred weapon, the playing field is entirely even again.
Beyond its messy microtransaction menus and the slight time-saving purchases, there’s not much else in Call of Duty Mobile that detracts from its faithful recreation of the exhilarating and fast-paced multiplayer action of the core series. It’s flexible and easy-to-use control scheme mitigates the lack of controller support, and its celebration of the best modes and maps the Black Ops and Modern Warfare series have produced makes it a pleasure to line up game after game.
WWE 2K20 feels like a transitional entry in 2K’s pro wrestling series. With longtime developer Yukes splitting from 2K in August this year, Visual Concepts took over sole development of the series after the two developers previously worked on the games together. The end result is a buggy mess of a game that takes several Big Show-sized steps backwards from its predecessor. It doesn’t just lower the bar, it breaks it.
The problems begin with the sheer abundance of bugs and glitches found in almost every match and menu screen in 2K20–it borders on the absurd. I’ve seen superstars teleport across the ring and float in midair. Oftentimes objects will violently vibrate on the spot or sink into the floor. Characters have a tendency to get trapped inside the ropes, whereby their bodies will stretch and contort in ways the human body isn’t supposed to. Sometimes wrestlers are invisible in cutscenes or duplicated in matches. Other times they’ll completely stop moving, forcing you to restart the match over again. If you put a custom logo on your created wrestler, the game will crash whenever you try to start the MyCareer mode–this is something I frequently experienced and also has been widely reported as an issue. It will also crash if you try to create an arena, or during loading screens for no reason at all. Commentary will suddenly become fixated on talking about attacks to the core, even if you’re hitting your opponent in the head, while every online match begins with around a minute of lag that’s so bad the in-ring action resembles a slideshow.
Not all of these issues are entirely new considering the series has been riddled with glitches for a number of years now. But their pervasiveness is much more frequent in 2K20, with some kind of bug appearing in near enough every match if you’re unlucky enough. Obviously, your mileage will vary when it comes to technical issues like this, but with the plethora of glitches lurking in every nook and cranny of 2K20, it’s a matter of when you’ll be afflicted and not if. Some of these glitches are hilarious, there’s no denying that, but it doesn’t take long before they lose their charm–even if they do add a goofy element of entertainment to matches that are painfully dull otherwise.
This is because the actual wrestling in 2K20 is significantly worse than it has been in previous years. The only new addition to gameplay is a reworking of the controls that makes it slightly less cumbersome to perform certain actions. Beyond this, the in-ring action is still overly-reliant on a binary reversal system and plodding combat. It’s an acquired taste, for sure, and it’s been solid enough in the past, but 2K20 undoes all of that goodwill by removing any semblance of the series’ previous competence. Targeting and hitboxes are frequently terrible, resulting in numerous whiffs between both yourself and the AI, particularly when weapons are involved. The controls are unresponsive a lot of the time, and sometimes the reversal prompt will just refuse to appear. The AI will also occasionally forget it’s in a wrestling match and stand still for 10 seconds at a time, or it will continuously run into things and wind up jogging on the spot until you bother to interrupt it. Some of the animations look good, but they’re mostly stitched together with missing frames that just make everything feel slightly off. There’s no real flow to the combat either, or any sense of hair-raising momentum. Matches are lifeless affairs that lack any sort of excitement, falling into the category of being either mind-numbingly boring or incredibly frustrating.
In terms of game modes, this year’s MyCareer puts you in the laced-up wrestling boots of platonic best friends Tre and Red. The story begins with the pair reminiscing about their wrestling careers before they’re inducted into the WWE Hall of Fame, charting a course from high school to the main event of WrestleMania 2029 as they try to complete a literal to-do list of WWE dreams. The writing in MyCareer falls into a lot of the same pitfalls as modern WWE shows, presenting smug, unlikeable babyfaces that continually make poor decisions and lack any sort of depth or character development. Red is the angry hothead with lines like “I’m going to give your grandmother bed sores!”, while Tre is an idiot who turns everything he says into a painful joke. Wrestling is inherently corny, but the writing in 2K20 is often insufferable, and its protagonists are impossible to care about.
The writing in MyCareer falls into a lot of the same pitfalls as modern WWE, presenting smug, unlikeable babyfaces that continually make poor decisions and lack any sort of depth or character development
MyCareer is at its best when you’re interacting with current WWE superstars. Samoa Joe turns in an excellent performance as one of Tre’s main rivals, and there’s a delightful scene with Broken Matt Hardy when you’re on a journey into the underworld to find the Undertaker. While the characters we see on TV each week are confined to the realms of reality, the writers on 2K20 are able to indulge in otherworldly fantasy elements and play around with the WWE’s more eccentric personas. These moments are few and far between, though, and it takes far too long before you eventually reach the WWE. The first few hours of MyCareer are spent fighting on the indies in meaningless matches where the focus is entirely on Tre and Red and the inconsequential secrets they’re hiding from each other, while the final act centers on Red’s boring rivalry with her old school bully. The story’s overlong and just drags for the vast majority of its runtime, making it a chore to play through.
Character progression is another sticking point in MyCareer, both in regards to customizing your characters and leveling them up. Almost every item included in 2K20’s substantial creation suite–including hairstyles, attires, moves, taunts, and so on–is locked. The only way to gain access to all of this content is by praying to the RNG gods that you get what you want in loot boxes, or by buying each item outright for a considerable portion of your in-game currency. Thankfully, there’s no real money involved, but structuring unlocks in this way is still a needless hassle that arbitrarily restricts your ability to create the kind of character you want to create–which is only exacerbated now that you have two characters to customize.
Leveling up each character isn’t much better, either. At the outset you’re asked to choose from a number of wrestling archetypes, such as luchador and technician, before gaining access to a mammoth skill tree. The problem with this is that the vast majority of said skill tree is hidden until you unlock an adjacent hex, making it impossible to plan out your character’s build beyond the next few upgrades. Admittedly, this would be more annoying if improving your characters wasn’t as unsatisfying as it is. The attributes you unlock provide such minuscule increases in your skills that they’re almost imperceptible once you’re out in the ring, to the point where I would go hours without bothering to level anyone up.
The other significant mode in 2K20 is Showcase Mode, which focuses on the Four Horsewomen of the WWE: Becky Lynch, Sasha Banks, Charlotte Flair, and Bayley. It explores how the four superstars ushered in WWE’s women’s revolution, focusing on the most important matches of their careers thus far, from the tremendous fatal-fourway between the four competitors at NXT Takeover: Rival, Sasha, and Bayley’s redefining match at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn, and culminating with the main event of this year’s WrestleMania between Becky, Charlotte, and Ronda Rousey. The video packages before each match are enjoyable if you have a fondness for these characters and those early days of NXT, even if the video quality is abysmal. But the matches themselves run into the same problems as the Showcase Modes of the past. During each match you’re tasked with completing myriad objectives in order to recreate what actually happened to a certain degree. This results in some matches lasting upwards of half an hour, and with no mid-mission checkpoints, losing a match either because you were pinned, the AI was pinned, or because one of the glitches caused the game to break, is incredibly disheartening.
WWE 2K’s annual release schedule has felt superfluous for a number of years now. This has never been more apparent than with WWE 2K20, a game that’s not only riddled with frequent technical issues, but one that’s notably worse than its predecessor in almost every area–whether it’s the dull and unenjoyable combat, the fact half the roster look like terrifying goblin facsimiles of themselves, or MyCareer’s obnoxious and tedious story. This is the moment the WWE 2K series hit Rock Bottom.
You stand in a room and the floor is the ceiling, or maybe it’s the other way around? No, everything is the floor and you’re falling through infinity. Welcome to the Manifold Garden, a game where you need to prepare to have your mind warped by the beauty of repetition and some seriously impressive puzzles. It is an Escher-inspired fever dream of a game–you have the ability to allocate gravity to any side of an environment at any time, and it’s surprising just how many different puzzles the game manages to pull from this concept, with new elements gradually being introduced at just the right pace to grant further complexity without being completely daunting.
To start, there are colour-coded cubes which need to be placed on switches to open doors or other mechanisms. It doesn’t take long to discover these colours are also relevant to their own personal gravity and as such, cubes can only be moved when the world is in that orientation. Add stairs going in different directions, switch combinations, and staggered environments, and even these relatively basic puzzles take some mind-bending to get accustomed to, which makes for further payoff when solutions come.
It takes a while to adjust to the changes in orientation, so for the first few hours, I often found myself getting lost and even feeling a little nauseous and headachy (though it’s worth noting that there are settings to adjust field-of-view, which helps). I found that the more I came to understand the concepts, the less this happened, as my mind stopped fighting what it was seeing. Towards the end of the game, I could rapidly make these changes; I could almost hear the click in my brain when everything started to become intuitive and second nature. Things that weren’t immediately obvious, like understanding that the gravity of one block can be used to stop another from falling in order to trigger a seemingly impossible switch, went from edge-of-the-brain concepts to be instinctual.
There was one particularly devilish puzzle where I had to use several different cubes to hold a single, vital cube in place. It had to be done in a specific way and sequence to take advantage of their individual gravities. When I first approached this problem, it hadn’t previously occurred to me that this was even possible, and I was left stumped for ages. The payoff for working it out, however, was not only immensely satisfying but helped open my mind for further puzzles. I began using cubes to hold various things in place, and even as steps for myself (even when it was unnecessary to solve an actual puzzle). It’s in these moments where I felt like my power in this ever-changing space was growing, where the game made me feel like a master of my own domain.
The aesthetics of Manifold Garden are confrontingly beautiful, in that they are both stark and complex. The music is minimal, though it builds in peak moments with intense synths which seem to mirror the environment. There are practically no textures to speak of and almost everything is made of simple polygons; the environments are littered with stairs which seemingly go in every direction, whether or not you know that’s what they are at the time. Some of the environments are simple, like a beautiful block tree with running water displays in a sort of Japanese garden aesthetic. Others are incredibly complex with moving parts in multiple directions. When looked at up close, it can appear dull and barren, but a step back will often reveal the psychedelic beauty in greater patterns.
The physical stages themselves actually repeat endlessly into the void of the world, and this is more than just an aesthetic choice–it allows you to fall off a ledge forever and then land back on otherwise unreachable areas, creating another obtuse mechanic that comes into play during later puzzles. In every way, Manifold Garden’s world challenges you to think differently while maintaining that you’re always safe–there isn’t death or fall damage of any kind. This allows you to explore without fear, while also taking the time to internalise the game’s logic.
As you progress through the increasingly layered architectural stages, you’ll find little-to-no hand-holding and for the most part, this is fantastic. There’s just enough direction that you get the satisfying sensation of working things out yourself, which comes with a deep feeling of accomplishment. Even as new, unexpected elements are added, they’re grounded with enough familiar imagery that you can eventually decipher new solutions with minimal prompting. For example, cube trees grow cube fruits, which can be planted in special areas and given water to provide new trees and more fruit; water can move a turbine to provide the power that opens a door, allowing you to move forward. I was stumped multiple times throughout my playthrough, but it was never due to an obtuse new mechanic being added. Instead, the puzzles are all legitimately clever and tricky, which required me to look at them from literally all angles in order to work out a solution.
There’s also an incredible density of puzzles. Sometimes, even traversing from one room to the next provides you with a new obstacle to reconcile your way around. Very rarely did I feel like Manifold Garden provided much reprieve. Instead, it keeps your mind constantly thinking, always looking for new angles, and firmly on the tips of your toes. But, there’s also no pressure–no enemies, no time limits–and this makes Manifold Garden feel like an intensely cerebral experience from start to finish.
There was one puzzle in Manifold Garden that was so tricky I couldn’t solve it myself–and I later discovered it was only because I’d missed something from an area I thought was finished. The game doesn’t always do enough to provide you with clues to solve its problems–in this one occasion, I wasted possibly over an hour trying to find a solution where there was none. There were a few other moments where I felt that a little more direction would have been welcome, or where I solved a puzzle on accident and missed an important lesson as a result. However, being forced to work out every other problem in the game for myself was so gratifying that in the end, I felt like it was worth the hours lost to obscurity.
As I stood in the impossible world of the Manifold Garden, I felt tested and worthy. Its puzzles are incredibly satisfying and offer a very clever blend of step-by-step knowledge-building with increasingly challenging solutions. The environments are awe-inspiring in their endless repetition, but repetition isn’t a trait reflected in the game’s challenges. There is always something new, or a new way to look at something old, as you traverse through the infinite horizon. Manifold Garden is a feast for the eyes and the mind, so long as you can wrap both around what it has to offer.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD is, incredibly, the first Super Monkey Ball game to use a full-size analog stick since the GameCube era. The 3DS and Vita games in the series were beholden to smaller, less precise sticks, but playing with a DualShock 4 is like a homecoming. The original Super Monkey Ball felt designed to take advantage of the precision and range of motion, which the Gamecube controller offered, but only now has the series returned to the purity of the original game’s design.
Because of this, the opening moments of Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD, a remake of a Wii launch title with the motion controls ripped out, are lovely. Guiding your monkey through those first few goals is immediately familiar if you’ve played either of the series’ GameCube outings, but even if you’re not, there’s an inherent pleasure to the precision of the controls here. By tilting the stick you shift the level itself, rather than controlling the ball directly, and having analog control allows for a greater level of finesse than has been possible for a long time–at least at first. At its best, Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD feels like the series’ latest love letter to the analog stick–you need to be sensitive and subtle with your movements, and being able to make tiny adjustments on the move is satisfying on a level that you might not expect from a game about rolling monkeys around in balls.
Unfortunately, Banana Blitz HD retains some of the original Wii game’s problems–terrible boss fights, unimaginative level designs, the questionable addition of a jump button–and adds in a few of its own. It makes for a Monkey Ball game that shows the promise of the series, and reminds you of just how much control an analog stick can give you, but fails to live up to it.
Super Monkey Ball Banana Blitz HD gives you 100 levels to roll your monkey through–the same 100 featured in the original, updated with a half-hearted graphical upgrade that still makes the game look a little dated. After choosing your preferred primate (each of which have different stats that impact how fast they go and how high they can jump), you’re tasked with tackling all 10 worlds, made up of 10 levels each, in order. In each level, you need to roll and jump your way through a treacherous stage to the goal at the end without falling off the edge, and the first 60 or so are easy. This was a game originally designed with motion controls in mind, and it’s clear, playing with an analog stick, where concessions were made.
The extra precision afforded in this version makes the game more enjoyable to control, but it also means that I was able to blaze through these stages quickly. Super Monkey Ball was a series praised for its challenge back in the day, and it’s hard not to feel disappointed at how easily you can rush through so much of it. There are worse things for a game to be than easy, of course, and I still had some fun with a few of the more imaginative levels, but there’s little incentive to go back and try to collect more of the bananas scattered around each level or record a better time. The time trial leaderboards are bizarrely split so that you can’t simply go back and record your best time on a single world except for the first, so there’s little reason to really become an expert.
But then, for a brief, shining run–around the game’s sixth 10-level world–Banana Blitz HD’s difficulty curve hits a sweet spot. It’s trickier without being obscene or seeming unfair, and the level designs start to get more inventive. You find yourself navigating your monkey through huge rolling wheels, up towers, through moderate maze-like levels, and across other stages that feel like they have a clear sense of purpose and design. The best levels in the series are literal and metaphorical balancing acts–you need to be very careful with your movements, and the level needs to be designed so that you’ll keep playing, believing that you can right your own mistakes. Banana Blitz briefly hits that balance and feels like a proper classic Monkey Ball experience, one that pushes your skills and patience but rewards your efforts with the satisfaction of having mastered a difficult task. Unfortunately, the fun doesn’t last.
Changes made for this version, and the ease of breezing through the less challenging levels, result in a severe difficulty spike in the game’s final third. In the original Wii release, several levels featured parallel rails that you could slot your monkey into and roll along. This meant that while you had to make subtle movements and adjustments to ensure that you didn’t fall off, there was some protection from plummeting. This design helped to compensate for the added difficulty of motion controls; the HD version replaces these rails with thin beams to roll across, which beefs up the challenge dramatically.
There were a few stages that stopped me dead in my tracks and forced me to retry repeatedly, and it was often levels that had been redesigned since the original Wii release. While I prefer stick controls to motion controls for this series, the fact that these levels were originally meant to be played with motion controls in mind makes for a less satisfying experience–the Wii version had a more refined difficulty curve. Early on the game doesn’t beef up its challenges enough for the change in controls, whereas later it feels like it has overcorrected, and it also means that the difficulty can fluctuate–some later levels still feel very simple and a lot easier with stick controls. In other instances, levels simply feel like they lack finesse in their design or clear lines through them, especially the ones where making jumps is a necessity.
It also becomes clear in the later levels just how much of a burden the jump button is. In the Wii version you could control the camera with the Wii Nunchuk stick, since you weren’t using it to steer; this option has been excised from the HD release. Jumping in a 3D space without total camera control leads to headaches, especially since you’re not actually controlling the monkey, but rather the level below them. Jumping feels like an imprecise act in a game that is all about the pleasures of precise movement, and it makes the game far more frustrating than other, comparably difficult entries in the series.
Every 10 levels you hit a boss fight, which feel uniformly out of place. Boss fights usually take place in small arenas and pit your monkey against an enemy with a glaring weak spot that you need to jump into. The difficulty curve is, again, way off here; the second boss is much more difficult than most that follow, as it fires rockets that you must hop on top of to redirect, which is an extremely fiddly process. Tellingly, the best boss fight plays like a standard level with a “weak point” at the end of it instead of a goal; otherwise, these fights feel completely at odds with what Monkey Ball is all about.
The multiplayer mini-games have been cut back, too. Part of the Wii version’s appeal was that the 50 mini-games included showed off the many things the Wii remote was capable of. Banana Blitz HD trims the collection down to 10 games that are all mapped to a controller, and they range from okay to atrocious. The best ones are Dangerous Route (an okay three-level top-down reinterpretation of the series’ standard rolling gameplay) and Monkey Target, a hang-gliding game that tasks you with landing on a distant target (which was perfected in the original GameCube Super Monkey Ball and is greatly simplified here, but still enjoyable). None of them are particularly deep, and much of the control mapping from a Wii remote to a controller is terrible. You can compete in the single-player ‘Decathlon’ mode, which strings all ten games together and lets you place on an online leaderboard, but personally, I never want to play the awful Hovercraft Race or Whack-A-Mole events–both of which control horribly–again.
It’s lovely to have Super Monkey Ball back, but Banana Blitz HD is not a good showcase of what made the series work. It’s a remake of a game that was originally designed for a very different, specific purpose and control scheme, and the efforts made to update it for 2019 have made for a lesser game. It’s a shame, because a glimmer of what made the series great remains, and it’s enough to make us hope that someday we get a new entry that properly returns the series to its roots.
As a remaster of the 1998 puzzle-platformer of the same name, MediEvil holds up reasonably well. Its cartoonishly charming characters and varied, if relatively simplistic, level design both stands the test of time and looks better than ever thanks to a complete graphical overhaul. But as much as MediEvil can feel like a warm blanket of nostalgia–especially for those of us who played the game 21 years ago–it also feels incredibly dated, with jittery controls and camera issues that regularly get in the way of progress.
You play as Sir Daniel Fortesque, a dead knight who is returned to life when the sorcerer Zarok makes an unexpected return to Gallowmere, bringing with him hordes of monsters. Fortesque remains every bit as charming a character as he was; his gnarled teeth, warbly voice, and single, rolling eyeball lose none of their charisma in the remastering process. Zarok’s design hasn’t aged well, though, and the new visuals leave him looking like a plastic doll who’s been left out in the sun too long. Enemy designs are otherwise just as fun as ever, with many tying in closely to their given map’s visual themes.
Challenging puzzles, light platforming, and hack-and-slash combat make up the bulk of what you do in MediEvil. The land of Gallowmere feels stuck in a perpetual state of Halloween, with each level brandishing its own delightfully spooky artistic twist to it. The diverse range of locations makes for some wonderful variety in the look and feel of each level; a graveyard, a pumpkin patch, a large hedge maze, and a floating town in the middle of a lake are a small selection of the good choice of maps to slash your way through.
Combat is reliant on simple hack-and-slash controls, and this feels underwhelming in the beginning–not only do you feel initially weak, but one of your two main attacks is so slow and unwieldy that it’s borderline useless. Most frays are chaotic at best, rarely involving anything more than mashing the attack button while running around to avoid damage, so having one of your main attacks feel pointless is a real bummer. A handful of new abilities that you gradually learn spice things up a touch but also feel awkward to use, like a charge attack that lets you force enemies off platforms by charging into them with your shield up.
However, combat gradually improves as you earn more powerful weapons and start to deal a more satisfying amount of damage. You earn new weapons by killing enough of the enemies wandering around a level, which will fill and reveal a hidden chalice. This grants you entrance to the Hall of Heroes–an in-between level where characters from Daniel’s past offer up new weapons. Filling and finding each chalice isn’t essential for progression, but the extra effort it takes to do so is very much worth it.
Because it’s a straightforward remake, a big issue with MediEvil are the aspects that feel dated by modern standards. Progression often relies on some variety of fetch-quest, like collecting the right runestones to unlock the next door or gathering a few items to encourage some help from a new character. This encourages exploration around hidden corners or through smashing boulders blocking a new path, which can be rewarding when you find a stash of gold or a health-extending life bottle, it can also lead to much annoyance as you grapple with the game’s occasionally nonsensical camera.
When in an open area, the camera acts like any other third-person camera and can be controlled with relative ease, only rarely getting caught in the world geometry. But when inside a cave or a building the camera switches to a fixed view, doing so regularly and without warning. Not only does it look and feel clumsy, but it also switches the movement to tank controls for as long as the camera is stuck in place, which is a tremendous hassle. The result is often jerky and awkward movement, which can be a killer during combat, and these controls are even worse when trying to navigate puzzles and platforming sections.
Adding to these frustrations is the fact that mid-level checkpoints are non-existent, so when you die, you go back to the beginning, which becomes a problem when combined with MediEvil’s annoying movement and another one of its aging design concepts: watery death. It can be so easy to fall foul of some bad geometry and slip to your death that any surface around water will become instantly anxiety-inducing, such is the consistency with which I found myself in this situation.
Furthermore, character health is continuous across the game–finish a level with low health and you’ll either have to tackle the next one with what you’ve got and hope for the best, or backtrack to a previous one and try to find as much health as you can before attempting to move forward. Stack that on the ever-growing pile of issues, and MediEvil becomes the kind of grind that makes you want to put it down and never come back to it.
MediEvil does have some nostalgic charm, but due to its bevy of issues, it feels not just old, but undeniably outdated. For every part that helps us look back fondly on a time when games were made differently, there’s another that reminds us of how far we’ve come in those years since. MediEvil’s delightful level and character design mostly still stands tall, but its combat and controls largely fall well short of what feels tolerable by modern standards, and it left me feeling wholly ambivalent to its existence.