The Good, The Bad & The Bony
Back in 1998 I remember playing Medievil for the first time, courtesy of the obligatory demo disc on the front of an old Playstation magazine. Having just finished playing Crash Bandicoot, Croc and Spyro, I immediately took to Sir Dan’s exploits, which combined puzzling, combat and platforming in a simple but challenging hack’n’slash format. I have fond memories of being hopelessly stuck in the enchanted forest, of trying to escape scarecrows in the cornfields and squaring off against Zorak himself when I eventually received the game for Christmas that year. Medievil was not without its problems of course, but it was a fun and timeless classic that stood out as one of the better attempts to merge genres together when it launched all those years ago.
In an attempt to rekindle that beloved nostalgia and introduce a new wave of players to this franchise, Medievil returns to Playstation 4 with a fresh lick of paint and a couple of performance updates, but also a largely unchanged experience. This decision is ultimately the best and worst part of the game. On the one hand, the combat and movement feels almost identical to the original and the level design is every bit as intelligently crafted as it was before. At the same time, the lack of checkpoints, simplistic AI and a cumbersome camera holds this back from being more accessible to those looking to sink their teeth into this one.
Much like many games of that era, the story to Medievil is relatively straight forward. You play as skeletal knight Sir Dan, brought back from the dead to stop the evil sorceress Zorak who has taken over the world of Gallowmere. Across 20+ levels, the game sees you slashing through enemies, solving puzzles and navigating environmental hazards, with a few nicely timed boss fights thrown in for good measure. The story serves its purpose though and the revamped cut-scenes do well to bring this world to life in crisp detail.
Each level progressively increases in difficulty too and the learning curve can be pretty steep, especially for those new to this game. Very quickly, Medievil throws a ton of different enemies your way, with an ever-expanding map that boasts a number of varied and interesting areas to explore. Highlights include a possessed moon-lit village, an autumnal pumpkin patch and crystallized caves, to name but a few. The actual design of these levels is good and with the exception of one that almost exclusively relies on solving riddles, never feels like it slows or loses momentum as you get ever-closer to confronting Zorak.
Unfortunately, in a bid to transfer everything from the original games, a lot of the issues inherent with that title find their way here too. The fixed camera angles in some areas are a real problem, especially with navigation, while the large UI sometimes blocks hidden passages or items. The simplistic combat system and enemy AI feels dated and in desperate need of revamping too, with most enemies simply rushing at you and stuck with the same stock sound effect and animation. Although the boss fights do mix things up and offer an alternate challenge, they’re also relatively easy to overcome once you figure out their basic attack patterns. All of this is fine as a nostalgic trip but for those looking to see what the fuss is about, Medievil may feel like a bit of a disappointment, especially next to other prolific remakes.
The combat is very basic too, with attacks mapped to Square and Circle, while triangle is used to switch weapons between two predominant load-outs and to activate environmental triggers. As you advance through the game, extra abilities do open up and defeating a certain number of enemies in each level allows you to collect the Chalice at the end, which transports you to the Hall Of Heroes. This in turn allows you to collect legendary weapons, bonus health or coins, as well as listening to the quirky banter from the Hall’s resident statues.
Despite its flaws, Medievil has a wicked sense of humour and that breathes through every facet of the game. From the ability to rip your arm off and fight with it, through to the cheeky level descriptions and banter from the gargoyle heads, Medievil’s comedic timing is perfect and Other Ocean have done a wonderful job transferring this over from the original game.
Having said all this, Medievil is a remake that’ll almost certainly split opinion. On the one hand, the game perfectly captures everything the original did right, with faithful level design and updated visuals, whilst consequently carrying over all the baggage too, including the questionable camera and dated controls. As a fan of the franchise, I loved playing through this 6+ hour adventure again and the waves of nostalgia hit at every turn. As an introduction for newcomers in 2019 though, Medievil is a game that shows its age at almost every turn, groaning and bemoaning its luck much like our plucky hero Sir Dan. If you can look past the flaws, there is an enjoyable game here but compared to more prolific platforming titles released this year, Medievil pales by comparison.
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