Unlike Microsoft’s Xbox One, the PlayStation 4 is not backwards compatible with older titles from previous generation consoles. As a result, Sony has had to invest time and money into bringing older titles to the current generation of consoles. One benefit to this method is it allows older games to be refreshed. These remasters are often done in one of two ways: either simply remastered with newer graphics (Sniper Elite V2 Remastered) or they are completely remade from the ground up for modern audiences (Spyro Reignited Trilogy). I personally prefer the latter option, of which Medievil is now a part.
Medievil debuted on the original PlayStation in 2008. At the time, it was one of only a handful of platforming adventure titles available on Sony’s fledgling console. Better still, the game’s visual style was reminiscent of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas and it featured the kind of witty humour made popular by games like Kings Quest and Monkey Island. As a result, the title obtained a cult following and many gamers grew attached to the protagonist and his tale of heroism.
In Medievil, you play the part of Sir Daniel Fortesque. According to legend, Fortesque is a champion who led King Gallowmere’s army to victory against the evil sorcerer Zarok. Unfortunately, he succumbed to his wounds in battle after killing the sorcerer. In truth, Fortesque was killed right at the start of the battle with an arrow to the left eye. A truly humiliating defeat. Despite this, King Gallowmere covered up Fortesque’s shame and knighted him as the “Hero of Gallowmere”. Zarok also managed to escape, despite the King declaring him as dead.
100 years pass after the battle, and Gallowmere is enjoying a time of peace. One night, the entire region is plunged into darkness. Zarok has returned, and this time he has brought along the undead to do his bidding. Unbeknownst to the sorcerer, his spell has unwittingly reanimated Sir Daniel Fortesque’s skeletal remains. Although dubbed as a hero, Fortesque was never admitted to the ancient Hall of Heroes. As such, he uses his new found ‘life’ to do everything in his power to stop Zarok and be hailed as the rightful hero of Gallowmere. A noble quest.
Fortesque’s drive to be admitted to the Hall of Heroes is the primary driving force in Medievil. Although Zarok is the antagonist who does everything in his power to stop you, the ultimate goal is to ensure Fortesque’s admittance to the Hall of Heroes. At every turn, Fortesque is reminded of his failures. Thus this drive to right the wrongs of the past forms a core part of both the gameplay and narrative.
Twenty years have passed since the original title. Gamers today are, therefore, more acquainted with games featuring excellent controls, intricate level designs, engrossing narratives and eye-popping visuals. However, there is a place for older games that have been remade. The excellent Spyro: Reignited Trilogy is one such example. So where does Medievil fall within the remake genre?
Sony Interactive Entertainment sought out Other Ocean Emeryville to help remake Medievil. The studio used many of the original game’s assets, basing all of the level designs on the originals and even preserving many of the voice lines for the title. The overall package is one that has clearly been made with care. However, there are downsides to remaking a game so closely to its original source material.
There is no denying how, despite having been remade, Medievil maintains the classic feeling of 90s era games. This is especially true in terms of having to complete certain goals within levels in order to unlock other locations and secret areas. Given how Fortesque is driven to enter the Hall of Heroes, it is up to you to ensure each level reaches 100% completion. Doing so allows you to collect the Hero Chalice located in each level, and you need to collect them all to redeem Fortesque’s honour. A simple and effective premise, marred only by the ‘classic 90s gameplay’.
Gameplay in Medievil is fairly simple. Fortesque can use close range weapons like his arm, swords, clubs and more, as well as long range weapons like cross bows and knives, to make his way through levels and enemies. Some weapons can even be charged for even more damage. He is also able to equip shields to block with and other armour for additional protection, and can collect unique items needed for secret locations or world progression. Unlike more modern titles, he cannot climb, roll or dodge. As such, well timed blocking and hits will feel like necessary elements of gameplay to master – especially during boss battles. With that said, most of the combat in Medievil essentially results in repetitive button mashing. Especially when enemy zombies begin to emerge en mass.
Fortesque can also equip two weapons at once. A definite positive and a seeming non issue, until you try to interact with something in the world. When Fortesque is running around the map, the Triangle Button switches between the two currently equipped weapons. Unfortunately, Triangle is also the same button used for interacting with objects in the world. Since the same button is used for both weapons switching and interaction, there will be numerous occasions where you will switch to another weapon instead of interacting with something, and vice versa. Although a small nitpick, it is rather annoying when trying to activate a chest in the heat of battle only for your weapon to inadvertently switch, wasting ammo and causing Fortesque to take unnecessary damage. Perhaps this issue would not be as prevalent if the camera did not have a mind of its own.
In a truly ironic twist, one of the most frustrating aspects of the original title has, in part and for some strange reason, made it into the remake of Medievil. The original game had a severely poor camera system. It was a time whereby 3D games did not allow gamers to manually control the viewpoint – partly because the original PlayStation controller did not have analogue sticks (until the original DualShock released in 2007). Two decades later, and camera controls are baked into almost every single third-person title.
In Medievil, the system has been reworked, but it maintains some of the original viewpoints as a means of preserving the artistic integrity of the original title. In these moments, locking the camera works and makes sense. Alas, there are times when the camera seemingly has a mind of its own, often being blocked by elements of the world. In these instances, it is possible to easily move the camera around Fortesque with the right analogue stick. Unfortunately, the time it takes to do so will often result in his untimely death (falling off a ledge of some kind) or taking damage from an “unseen” enemy.
A bigger issue is how the camera’s viewpoint will automatically adjust depending on how you move Fortesque. It has a very buoyant feel, whereby the camera feels like it is “catching up” and bouncing around the character. It makes navigating the character around obstacles quite frustrating. In my opinion, the effect is unpleasant and makes the gameplay more challenging than it needs to be. Given how the game was remade for modern audiences, I find these camera issues strange and unforgiving.
Given the 90s gameplay and odd camera, Medievil can be a devilishly challenging title. There are moments in the title where you might just want to throw the controller at the screen. Especially when Fortesque seemingly takes un unfair amount of damage, despite having blocked or used your weapon to attack the enemy, or when you accidentally fall into water or a crevice that you could not see in time.
Thankfully, the game has a good ‘continue’ system based on Life Potions. After three potions are used, however, a perma-death occurs. Resulting in the level being restarted. This includes boss battles, whereby if you die right at the end you will need to do the entire level over again before you can fight the boss again. Anyone familiar with 90s games will remember this style of gameplay design. With that said, more modern gamers might not appreciate it.
I am not someone who enjoys giving up. I thoroughly enjoyed and finished Cuphead, one of the most challenging games in recent memory. Yet, there were moments in Medievil where I honestly felt like hanging up the towel. Unlike Cuphead, whereby you can learn from your mistakes and get better with practice, Medievil’s issues stem from ageing gameplay and unfortunate camera work. After all, not much is as frustrating as falling to your death because the camera placement made the movement far more challenging than it needed to be, or missing a path because the camera would not move in the direction needed to see it. Thus making the five hour campaign just that much more difficult to complete.
Despite some of the classic gameplay issues, Other Ocean Emeryville have managed to maintain all of the charm from the original title with aplomb. For a start, and as Fortesque progresses through the world of Gallowmere, he will update his notes with the creatures and enemies he comes in contact with. Reading this tome is a highlight, as it is filled with humorous little remarks and comments for each entry. It might be a small detail, but it tugs on the strings of nostalgia from games of the past. There are also other little elements, like the way in which Fortesque’s head will roll around to look at you, the player, when not moving. There are also a variety of unique riddles strewn throughout the game, often spewed from gargoyles, which lead to secret areas and riches. It adds a fantastic puzzle element to many scenarios. These small details really serve to add life to an already charming title.
Medievil also features all of the same excellent voice acting from the original. Some of which has been re-recorded for the remake. Whether talking to a sarcastic gargoyle head, interacting with the spirits of fallen heroes, or listening to the narrator guide you on your quest; all of the the voice acting is great and made even better with some witty and humorous script writing. The music in the game is also superb. The soundtrack was redone for the remake, and it shows. The orchestral score is gorgeous, and lends a wonderfully cheery yet eery feel to all levels. It is very much a highlight of the title.
The world of Gallowmere has also been reproduced beautifully for the remake. Using Unreal Engine 4, the studio has been able to breathe a fantastic amount of new life into the title. Animations are fluid, lighting is great and the in-game cinematics use the game engine (showcasing just how far graphics have improved in twenty years). Interestingly, level designs have been maintained from the original game. In fact, they are so closely designed that gamers can use walkthroughs of the original game to navigate through the 2019 remake. A true feat of passion, and it is something I very much appreciate about the title.
Everything else, however, has been crafted from scratch. The end result is a visually pretty game that looks like a modern release, but feels unmistakably like it was produced in the 90s. The effect is surreal and charming, especially for older gamers. Unfortunately, the charm is lessened somewhat by the game’s unusual use of loading.
Although every level is loaded once, returning to the title screen, main navigational map, or the Hall of Heroes, requires the game to load. This breaks up the immersive quality of the game, and is an unfortunate blemish for such a wonderful remake.
Despite the strange camera design, which serves to hinder progress in a way that a modern title should not, and the frustratingly repetitive nature of gameplay from a bygone era, there is a lot to like about Medievil. It features a likeable, if slightly dimwitted, protagonist who is doing his best to right the wrongs of the past. The visuals, voice over work and audio are all representative of a title crafted in 2019. Even so, it does a wonderful job of pulling all of the right nostalgic strings for gamers of the 90s who enjoyed the original. It is a remake worthy of the title, and does a fantastic job of introducing Sir Daniel Fortesque to a new generation of gamers.
|Time Played||5 hours|
|Platform||PlayStation 4 [Exclusive]|
|Acquisition||Review code courtesy of Sony Interactive Entertainment|