Pardon me for digging up the past, but as I look back upon my once beloved MediEvil (1998), I can only view this as a barebones offering. Obviously, the visual shortcomings have been addressed in the remastering process – developer Other Ocean has polished Sir Daniel Fortesque's armour and his kooky little world into a high 4K sheen. Be that as it may, there's still a musty odour emanating from somewhere deep down in MediEvil's marrow. Long story short: 20-year old game mechanics have come back to haunt the living.
But you know what? Before we drag this remaster's skeletons out of the closet, let's bring the less crusty among you up to speed on what MediEvil is. Hailing from the time when Ricky Martin was topping charts and Seinfeld was wrapping things up, a hack 'n' platformer known as MediEvil became a cult-hit that moderately impressed critics.
Watch some 30-odd minutes of catured gameplay emebedded above
I liked it more than most. Something tickled me about the horror-comedy underdog story of Sir Dan – an accidentally resurrected hero who, despite the songs sang about him, was a fraud. Poor bastard copped an arrow to the eyehole during his first battle charge. All the NPCs take the piss out of him because of it.
"You're given a variety of degradable and permanent shields and weapons, including enchanted swords, gigantic hammers – hell, even your own arm..."
The premise here, then, is to affix your remaining eyeball onto the path of redemption after Dan's nemesis tries his hand at necromancy and world domination. You'll need to bust your way out of your crypt and leapfrog about, collecting keys/runes and slaying your fellow living-impaired. The latter, combat, is the focus here, instead of Crash Bandicoot-style jumpy-jumpy. To that effect you're given a variety of degradable and permanent shields and weapons, including enchanted swords, gigantic hammers – hell, even your own arm can be ripped off and used. Whatever it takes to defeat swarms of Necronomicomical foes.
Guiding you through these individual levels, and in the hallowed hub of the Hall of Heroes, are a variety of smart-ass gargoyles and a new narrator voiced by the talented Lani Minella. Speaking of sounds, much of the original audio has been retained and lovingly enhanced from the original. For example, the soundtrack has been re-recorded by the Prague Symphony Orchestra and Sir Dan's old voice actor even returns to redo a hilariously muffled performance. (It's tough to enunciate when your lower jaw has gone walkabout.)
With regards to graphics, the screens and attached video can do most of the heavy lifting for me here. The original PS One visuals didn't exactly wow our primitive selves, and so it looks like a dog's breakfast today. Admittedly, we've already seen one upgrade with 2005's PSP release entitled MediEvil: Resurrection. This also looks like Fido's cereal compared to what's been done on PS4. Tons more architecture has been introduced along with an impressive lighting system, plus a complete texture overhaul. I don't think this surpasses Crash Bandicoot N.Sane Trilogy or Spyro Reignited levels of eye candy, but it's in the ballpark.
Likewise, we get new pre-rendered cutscenes and in-engine animations that turn what were awkward polygonal representations of people into living breathing characters who still retain their moxy. For example, a blurry, geezer-sounding 2D sprite that I once imagined to be a cherub with hereditary baldness and a five o'clock shadow has been realised as exactly that in 3D. He's just one of a cast of “well wishers” who are oozing with British humour that hasn't aged a day.
"That said, mercifully, the bosses have all seen upgrades (many have had their patterns made more complex)..."
With regards to more new bells and whistles, Other Ocean apparently has had access to the original creators along with a bit of cut content mined from ye olde source code. Don't get too excited, though, as we're only talking the occasional flourish and addition to the lore, here and there. That said, mercifully, the bosses have all seen upgrades (many have had their patterns made more complex). I also like the addition of traditional, skippable subtitles for speed readers. The slow rolling ones of the original drove me insane when I replayed it.
Unfortunately, that's pretty much where the creature comforts come to a screeching halt. The camera system is better, but still awful in places. A lot of the problems stem from you never really knowing when you can use the right-stick to pan around. It feels like half of the areas allow it (along with the use of a pretty useless over-the-shoulder “Sir Dan View” that roots you to the ground when you trigger it).
The obvious flow on from that, combined with Sir Dan's insta-death aversion to water, is a bunch of frustrating deaths. I also took a few unfair trips to the Game Over screen due to jumpy-jumpy sections where some of the fancy new level vegetation just served to blind me, mid-leap.
Speaking of ignominious undeaths, restarting a level will give you the health bar you initially started with, no matter the circumstance. For example: imagine you slogged through a labyrinthine ant tunnel, collecting a dozen well hidden items along the way before beating an ant queen boss with a bee's dick of life to spare. You'll start the next level of the game with that little stinger's worth of health. Then you'll promptly die, and now you're kind of stuck in a respawn loop where you haven't enough hp to win through. Manually clicking 'restart level' doesn't solve it, either. You have to exit to hub, drag your fetid arse back to a less taxing world and refill your life at a font. If Sir Dan had a full set of pearly whites, he'd be grating them at this point.
Even worse, had you have died during that ant queen boss instead, the sadistic old checkpoint system would have slung you back 15 minutes or so. Right at the start of that confusing, subterranean collect-fest that wasn't even fun the first-time round. Setbacks like these just go on and on as the game progresses (and make no mistake, this is OG difficulty that hasn't been tuned for younger, modern gamers). Lengthwise you're looking at a 7-hour runtime (restarting deaths subtracted). That's not the best, though this is budget priced at 40 bucks.
"You simply line up a group of foes and either shoulder barge through or go wading and spinning into their midst..."
I can't exactly heap praise on the combat, either. Sir Dan is an awkwardly built chap whose melee skills are pretty thrashtacular. You simply line up a group of foes and either shoulder barge through or go wading and spinning into their midst as you mash Square. There are a bunch of enemy types that require careful tactics and/or subweapon usage, but otherwise there's virtually no physics at play here – no feedback. If you didn't grow up with this, you'd think it all a little boneheaded.
There's always an argument to be made for keeping an old game's “quirks” intact to preserve nostalgia, but there's still a line where useless things ought to killed off for good. That said, I have to acknowledge that only the die-hard fans of the hard-dyin' Dan Fortesque will enjoy this. The timeless Tim Burton-esque charm and the fine Lazarus job done on the visuals can only go so far. In the end, these old bones just creak too much.
What we liked
Macabre humor and timeless charm
Well remastered VO and soundtrack
Pretty as a picture
What we didn't like
Mashy, imprecise combat against remarkably lethal enemies