The jawless arrow-magnet returns – a look back at MediEvil
The Game Awards event in Los Angeles last week was quite the impressive showcase. The inarguable show-stopper was the latest trailer for Death Stranding, which I discussed here.
But a short teaser for a much smaller game still managed to grab my attention: the teaser for the revival of the original Playstation cult-classic, MediEvil. Compared to the fervour that Death Stranding generated, MediEvil’s announcement was a mere drop in the bucket.
But a video showing the audience’s reaction to the smaller game revealed that the fan base is far bigger than I originally imagined. For a long time I felt alone in my love for the game, but it turns out I was wrong.
The original MediEvil was released on the Playstation around Halloween in 1998. But I didn’t play it for the first time until Christmas two months later. And what a wonderful Christmas it was. My brother and I received several other games such as Resident Evil 2 and Twisted Metal 3, and we were still playing through Zelda: Ocarina of Time from a few months earlier, but MediEvil immediately enraptured me when I first booted it up.
Developed by SCE Cambridge Studios, MediEvil tells the tale of Sir Daniel Fortesque, a would-be legendary knight who met an embarrassing death a century prior to the game’s start. But when his nemesis, the evil wizard Zarok, returns to raise the dead and take over the land of Gallowmere, he unintentionally resurrects Sir Dan as well. With a new lease on life, the one-eyed skeleton knight sets out to save the land and redeem his distasteful death.
The game hooked me immediately with it’s great sense of style, atmosphere, and humour, which was potently British. Visually, the game paid tribute to the works of Tim Burton with characters, creatures, and architecture that are both cartoonishly proportioned yet utterly macabre.
Imagine if Monty Python and The Holy Grail were crossed with A Nightmare Before Christmas. As Sir Dan, the player begins the game in his expansive crypt and from there fights his way through zombie-infested graveyards, haunted ruins, blighted farmlands, and villages inhabited by possessed peasants.
In terms of level design, the game never falls into routine. Each level has a unique theme and assortment of monsters, so you’ll rarely see the same environments or creatures reused in later levels. As for killing those creatures, Sir Dan has an impressive arsenal that he accumulates through a surprisingly unique gameplay mechanic.
In each level there is a chalice that fills up gradually when you slay enemies. When the chalice is full, you collect it and are granted passage to the Hall of Heroes; a sort of hub level where you can interact with the spirits of Gallowmere’s greatest heroes and appeal to them for more powerful weapons and items such as magic swords and arrows. Not collecting chalices will only make the game harder, unless you want the extra challenge.
The game’s biggest drawback is its camera which is stiff and slow to adjust yet reorients itself at inconvenient times. This often results in many cheap deaths via accidentally getting disoriented and falling off a ledge into the game’s many gaping pits of death.
And apart from all the positives I’ve mentioned, MediEvil simply was never on the level of the best action-adventure games of that era like Spyro and Crash Bandicoot. Don’t get me wrong; it’s rock-solid in terms of gameplay, but its best aspects are its humour and atmosphere.
Those things were more than enough to hook me through to the end credits where, and I am not ashamed to say this, I actually cried. Yes, I cried. Not because the ending was sad, it’s not, but because the game was simply over. There are far better games than MediEvil, but few of them have succeeded at drawing me into the game’s world so perfectly. Hopefully, the remake can capture just a shred of the original’s magic.
Image credits: SCE Cambridge Studios