Tim Burton never really made a video game. Sure, the powers that be made a pseudo-sequel to A Nightmare Before Christmas back in the halcyon days of the PlayStation 2’s dominance, but I’m literally the only person who remembers that. So, where are gamers to go for their dose of silly Gothic horror? Allow Sir Daniel Fortesque (Four-Tess-Cue) to help with that.
For those of you not familiar with Sir Dan, he first stumbled out of his crypt in 1998 on the platinum-selling PlayStation title MediEvil. While not a perfect game, it sold like gangbusters, got a sequel, and a quasi-remake on everyone’s favorite handheld, the PSP. Dan popped up on oft-forgotten PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale (a Smash Bros rip-off, for those who don’t know), but otherwise, MediEvil has, for the most part, been relegated to discussions between twenty/thirty-somethings remembering games from their past.
21 years later, Dan has re-emerged from his crypt once more, this time with a fresh coat of paint. How does his debut adventure hold up after all these years? Well…
I’ll just start off by saying I think MediEvil is a prime candidate for a game that deserves a revisit. The strongest part of the series has always been its aesthetic, from the Gothic architectural overtures to the spooky orchestral soundtrack, and the dry, very British humor that envelopes the entire series with some wink-and-a-nudge meta-humor. With the advancements made over the past two decades, especially with some great third-person action/adventures out there, MediEvil would be a shoo-in to benefit from some gameplay updates, right? You’d think so.
2019’s MediEvil, however, is one of those remakes. You know the kind — the one where the devs really don’t change much outside of the paint job. They simply lifted all but the original score, which was re-recorded with an actual orchestra, and Dan’s original audio from the 1998 entry. Needless to say, this is not a Resident Evil 2 style reimagining. This version of MediEvil plays very much like it’s 90’s counterpart, which doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in 2019.
Sir Dan, being a skeleton in a heavy suit of armor, moves in a stiff, tank-like manner. The controls, in general, are far from fluid, making it a bit challenging to pull off precise movements. This makes platforming, which crops up from time to time, tedious and, occasionally, frustrating. I had a few cheap deaths thanks to Dan’s cumbersome movement and bad camera placement that made it hard to judge distances. Even worse, the dash mechanic doesn’t seem to always work as expected. Needless to say, try and take it slow when jumping and moving around.
The combat is pretty, uh, bare-bones (I’ll see myself out now). It plays exactly like the original did, with most weapons having a normal and heavy attack. There are melee weapons like swords, clubs, and hammers, alongside ranged counterparts, including multiple kinds of bows, and even a chicken drumstick. Heck, you can throw Dan’s arm if you really need to! Not unlike Kratos’ trust ax, it’ll come back. Good luck hitting the undead hordes with your ranged attacks though, as the lock-on mechanic is maybe even worse now than it was on the original PlayStation. Be prepared to waste ammo when the aiming system targets off-screen journals, chests, and exposition-heavy gargoyles in addition to enemies!
As you progress and get better, more powerful weapons, half of the game’s early stock becomes useless, which just adds clutter to the already convoluted weapon switching. While you can equip two weapons now thanks to a quick-switch system borrowed from MediEvil 2, it doesn’t work as well as you might think. For starters, you still have to open the inventory every time you want to use something outside of the two you have equipped. If you aren’t as graceful as I am (I kept hitting the wrong button and equipping weapons to the wrong slot), you might a bit of extra damage if you fumble your inventory management and unpause with the wrong weapons equipped.
One of the big additions that developer Other Ocean Emeryville has been toting outside of the “HD graphics” (more on that later), is the ability to manipulate the camera! The original’s system could barely keep up with player movement and, lacking DualShock support, offered no way to change perspective. Now, you can look around freely using the right stick or with an over-the-shoulder camera, and take in the glorious sights the land of Gallowmere has to offer…sometimes.
There are plenty of areas, mostly indoors, where, no, you can’t look around. The camera is fixed at a high angle, usually far away from Dan. You can’t even use the over-the-shoulder camera here, with a rather old school “not allowed” symbol popping in on the bottom of the screen. It’s an odd choice that showcases the limitations (or authenticity) of this particular remake. Heck, even the times where you can move the camera, you can barely adjust it — the rotation is slow and cumbersome. I found myself hardly ever using the over-the-shoulder system either, which made me wonder why it was implemented at all.
That other big misstep is the noticeable lack of additional content. All of the original weapons are here, but with no changes. All of the original levels are here, with minor aesthetic tweaks, if any modifications at all. The original game had cut content that, surprisingly, was not added, but is alluded to in the in-game manual. MediEvil 2019 doesn’t seem to take full advantage of the hardware it’s presented on.
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but in this reviewer’s opinion, the visuals feel dated. The original MediEvil had an adorable quality to it. It was polygonal, but flowed quickly and had some genuinely impressive lighting and fog effects. The remake seems caught between the PS3 and PS4. Gone are the quaint constraints of 1998’s technology, with drab and underwhelming visuals in its place. MediEvil 2019 ditches the charm from the original by trying to split the difference between slightly-cartoonish, old-school visuals and pristine, modern graphics, losing its identity in the process.
At least the game works, though! Playing on a lowly vanilla PlayStation 4, I barely ran into any instances of frame rate drops or texture pop-in. It didn’t crash either. I did, however, encounter one annoying audio glitch involving the Enchanted Sword. The first time I would use it on any level, a loud static hiss would emanate from that spot. I would be able to hear it from any distance until I either finished or quit the level. It was so unbearable at times that it actually dissuaded me from using that particular weapon.
Another minor hiccup is the mismatched subtitles and audio cues in the Hall of Heroes. You visit the Hall of Heroes after collecting the chalice from your last level, and the heroes housed within give Sir Dan upgraded weapons, health potions, or gold. While this progression system is genuinely rewarding and implements a steady sense of growth, the dialogue totally removes me from the situation. Dan’s audio responses mumble one thing, the subtitles say another, but neither directly address what was said to him! They’re completely random and seem completely broken.
I can’t say I wasn’t having any fun with MediEvil, though. It’s a perfectly competent hack-n-slash adventure with elements of non-linearity. The chalices work very well as MacGuffins, even if they aren’t terribly difficult to get, and the Hall of Heroes serves as a nice breather in between levels. The game’s structured well enough and does (occasionally) provide a satisfying level of challenge. Playing this for review, I hardly felt like I was actually working…
…except for the instances where I’d lose a half-hour or hour after dying well into a long level. The most egregious carry-over from decades past is a lack of checkpoints or in-level save spots. The only time the game saves is after completing a stage. Some of the mid-to-late game levels go on for quite some time, with increasingly difficult and numerous enemies. If Dan comes in without full health, shield, or life potions, you could end up losing a lot of time. I definitely set the game aside for the night after a couple of frustrating hour-long expeditions ended in my demise. Maybe I’m just coddled, though.
Overall, it seems that, much like its original 1998 release, MediEvil 2019 is a bit of a mixed bag. As a warts-and-all remake, that is to be expected. Granted, for $30, you could do worse. If you are getting nostalgia pangs, this may satisfy them, but I don’t think I would recommend this to a first-timer. The lack of polish or any significant changes is disappointing, especially considering that, with a little modern TLC, this one could have truly stood out from the pack. Unfortunately, it seems relegated to the cash-grab remake pile. I hope, after this, Sir Dan can rest in peace without further disturbances.
This review is based on the PlayStation 4 version of the game. A copy was provided to us by Sony Interactive Entertainment.
This remake of MediEvil stumbles in the gameplay department, failing to bring life into its resurrected protagonist’s rusty old bones.