Wednesday, May 6, 2020

MediEvil (PS4)

While I didn’t grow up playing the original MediEvil on the PS1, I did become interested in playing it for the first time through a remake of the same title, with some quality-of-life changes, that was announced for the PS4 and released last year. When a limited-time demo was available, I made sure to give it a try so I could see what the gameplay was like, along with unlocking the previously Japan-exclusive Dan’s Helmet item in the full game as an incentive. Needless to say, I was hooked on the game after playing the demo. Though I would later receive it as a Christmas gift, I didn’t get around to playing it until recently, with Dan’s Helmet unlocked and everything. Despite some difficulty spikes and flaws in the experience, I found it to be an overall enjoyable experience.

In the year 1286, Sir Daniel Fortesque led the charge to protect the realm of Gallowmere against the evil Lord Zarok and his army of the undead, though he himself died in the conflict. A century later, Zarok made his return, raising another undead army to take over Gallowmere once again. In the process, however, he ended up reviving Sir Dan, giving him a second chance to stop Zarok and prove himself a hero.

Generally speaking, the game plays like a hack and slash with some occasional platforming and puzzle elements. What makes things interesting is the wide variety of weapons you can choose from to suit a melee or ranged playstyle, though there are often situations where ranged works better than melee. Ranged weapons also have a more limited ammo capacity, so it’s usually best to conserve ammo unless needed. You can also equip different shields and swap between your designated Primary and Secondary weapons at any time, making it much easier to deal with different enemies in the heat of battle. There’s even the option early on to use one of Sir Dan’s arms as a last resort, as it’s possible in some levels for your weapons to get stolen by Imps, necessitating having to buy the weapon back from a Merchant Gargoyle if you don’t recover it in time.

Among the different arms you can carry, one of the more versatile ones for various circumstances is the Dragon Armor, a suit of armor that makes Sir Dan impervious to flames and grants the ability to breath fire. Though it can be easily missed in the Crystal Caves, it is absolutely necessary to properly get past the following level, The Gallows Gauntlet, however it is otherwise a good equipment to have on hand when having to run through flames. While The Ghost Ship level has some annoyances of its own, the Dragon Armor can come in very handy as a way to make the boss fight at the end significantly easier, rather than relying on the ability make the Club weapon into a makeshift torch.

Sir Dan's arm, though weak, can be used as a makeshift weapon.

Of the 22 levels of the game, 20 of them (exclusively between the first and last) also contain a Chalice, which can usually be obtained after defeating a certain number of enemies, or in two cases preserving the lives of others in addition. Obtaining a Chalice allows you access to the Hall of Heroes at the end of the level, with no other way to get there, wherein you can obtain additional and more powerful versions of weapons you are already carrying, which you will often need as enemies become tougher. Health upgrades and Gold can also be obtained on some visits.

In addition, obtaining all 20 Chalices allows you to see the True Ending of the game. Since I knew this going in, I went out of my way to not leave each level without acquiring its Chalice, reducing the need for any additional backtracking in the process. Towards the end of the game, you can also activate a side quest in which you release 20 Lost Souls from a chest and have to lay each one to rest throughout each level. Though I decided not to go through the effort to do so prior to this writing, I did read that your reward for doing so is the ability to play the original PS1 version of MediEvil in its entirety, complete with the classic PS1 startup noise and title screen.

During my playthrough, I felt that some later levels, such as The Ghost Ship, seemed designed to be unnecessarily difficult or that some like The Ant Caves, accessed within The Enchanted Earth level, were designed such that it could be very easy to get lost without assistance. For the former, I ended up going into a rage after several failed attempts (Pro tip: the game doesn’t tell you you can hold down X/Cross to trampoline), only to get through it at a brisk pace after taking a break from the game. For the latter, as well as some puzzles and Chalice locations I couldn’t figure out on my own, I will admit to consulting a walkthrough to progress in a timely fashion.

Though they didn’t significantly disrupt the experience, there were some issues I had while playing. While the game generally maintains a good framerate, there was one enemy in the Scarecrow Fields level known as Mecha Imps, of which there are two, whose mere presence caused the framerate to slow to a crawl, as though it were running like molasses. There is the option to lock the game at a rate of 30 FPS, though I’m not sure where that fixes this particular issue or not.

When you encounter enemies or other characters for the first time, an entry is unlocked in the Book of Gallowmere, each of which includes a humorous narration (and some of which warn you against licking toads). While I enjoyed listening to these, I was a bit mad that the entry for the Jabberwocky,  encountered in a cutscene, absolutely refused to play. Levels often contain books you can read, which often include either helpful hints or world-building information, though I ran into an issue multiple times where the book wouldn’t open in spite of the prompt, that is until I was certain distance away from it first. I also ran into a minor issue where Sir Dan Fortesque would get hung up on walls when running against them, when logically he should be able to just continue running.

Fitting for a PS4 remake, the graphics for MediEvil received a total visual upgrade. From looking at screenshots and gameplay footage of the PS1 original, environments and character designs are more detailed to take advantage of a three-generation leap in hardware while still retaining the game’s original art style. The results are comparable to Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy, as it’s clear a lot of care was taken when bringing the title over to a new generation.

Pumpkin Gorge (PS1)
Pumpkin Gorge (PS4)

While some tracks are more memorable than others, such as the map screen, the music generally does a good job of capturing the medieval setting of the game while injecting a goofy atmosphere. The voice acting is also great, with creator Jason Wilson reprising Sir Dan and Lani Minella providing a serious, yet mildly sarcastic form of narration in a humorous way. Though much of his dialogue was archive audio, the late Paul Darrow, to whom the game is dedicated as he passed away months before the remake’s release, portrays Zarok as a serious threat with just the right amount of humor in his actions to make him more three-dimensional.

The PS4 remake of MediEvil is a generally solid recommendation for those who haven’t played the original, as well as existing players looking for a fresh experience. The varied combat and generally humorous tone are enough to keep you going through even the toughest of times, while the stellar visuals build off of the original game in an interesting way. The amount of glitches seem to vary depending on the player, so this is something to keep an eye on if you intend to play the game.

And seriously, do NOT lick toads.

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