MediEvil Review – Bones ‘n Brawn
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.
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