Wednesday, January 25, 2017

MediEvil: Resurrection (PSP) Retro Review

Earlier this year, Sony officially shuttered Guerrilla Cambridge, which particularly hurt us at SuperPhillip Central since they made what we consider the best handheld FPS ever made with Killzone: Mercenary. Before that, however, the team, under the name of SCE Cambridge Studio, worked on an early PlayStation franchise known as MediEvil. Since the news of Cambridge closing, SuperPhillip Central wanted to look back at one of the studio's earlier works. What we ended up agreeing on was checking out MediEvil: Resurrection, an early PSP release. Here's our retro review of that game!

Make no bones about it, there's some wicked fun to be found here.

MediEvil originally released on the very first PlayStation, and it soon saw cult classic status among owners of Sony's big break into the home console market. It seems only fitting that the same game that was part of Sony's establishment as a first-party for their first home console would be a part of Sony's first-party offerings for their first handheld system, the PlayStation Portable. While many years have passed since MediEvil was first released, MediEvil: Resurrection shows that what was wonderful on the PS1 isn't as great now.

That notwithstanding, something that remains just as great now as it did then is the brilliant dry English humor that MediEvil; Resurrection exudes. The dialogue is a positive delight to listen to, though for some it might enjoy its own presence and prattle on a little too long at some points, occasionally outwearing its welcome. The characters each possess different quirks to them, all voiced excellently. There were no pulled punches on the script.

The script and story itself begins with an evil sorcerer named Zarok, who was assumed to be defeated, rising up and using his sinister mystic arts to arise ghosts, ghouls, and zombies from the kingdom of Gallowmere's local graveyard. In the process, he resurrects Sir Daniel Fortesque, who is well known as the hero who put a stop to Zarok's plans in the past in a mighty war. In actuality, Sir Daniel was a coward who was taken out early in battle by a stray arrow to the eye. Newly awakened and mocked by both a genie living in his empty eye socket as well as various gargoyles who all know the truth, Sir Daniel sees Zarok's revival as a way to prove to himself and all his doubters that he can be a true hero, deserving of the townspeople's respect.

Zombies and a cemetery go together like peanut butter and jelly... though not as delicious (like, at all).
MediEvil: Resurrection stands as an action-adventure game. Levels  are quite pleasant to look at with their visual design and artistry, something that should be very much commended, but on a level design basis, there is a lot of linearity to be found. Well, that's not totally true. To be fairer to MediEvil, most levels have some degree of secrets to be found, but at the same time you're pretty much doing the same thing in each level: beating up enemies, solving simple environmental puzzles, hitting switches to unlock doors, and getting runes which are essentially the fantasy genre form of keycards to open specific gates.

While levels aren't massive endeavors that take an hour to complete, they do take 10-30 minutes to complete. Unfortunately, there are no checkpoints to be found in them, meaning that if your health meter runs out and you have exhausted your supply of health potions or vials that serve as spare health, then you must restart the level. Thankfully, you can save your progress mid-level, so if you do die, you can just load your game from that point. That said, you're stuck at whatever health amount you were at, so sometimes it's just better to start fresh with full health.

However, MediEvil: Resurrection most feels dated through its combat. Sir Daniel is no master of offense and as a character is quite the clumsy one, but the developers didn't exactly have to make him play clumsily as well. A surefire tactic when facing one enemy is to observe them, attack when an opening is there, retreat, attack, retreat, repeat. Unfortunately, you're seldom ever facing off against just one enemy. It's usually a group of ghouls or whatnot you're taking on. Sir Daniel's swipes, whether it's a sword or a club, swing rather wildly without much precision. This makes attacking with any sort of continued accuracy a pipe dream. It also results in many cheap hits to Sir Daniel. As health is very valuable in MediEvil, due to the rarity of health items found in levels and the cost of health vials from the gargoyle shopkeep who appears occasionally throughout the game, this becomes a problem rather quickly.

With better combat, Sir Dan could make these frogs croak much more easily.
In one level based in an asylum, it's basically room after room of hordes of enemies. Simply staying put and mashing on the attack button isn't a smart stance of survival as enemies will attack from all sides. Plus, Sir Daniel can't swing his weapon repeatedly with any consistent speed. So then, you try to run away from enemies, but as soon as you turn around, they're on top of you. Thus, the main means I used to take out foes for this and every other encounter I was faced with, I held down the Square button to unleash an attack that spins Sir Daniel's torso around, slicing all enemies around him. This proved to be a better solution that worked rather well, making the overall game an easier experience.

Ah, the enemy mob, a scorn to every MediEvil player!
Then, there's the camera, which is set a bit away from Sir Daniel, making it a tad difficult to see how far he is in relation to other enemies. You can reset the camera behind Sir Daniel with a tap of the R button, but this is a small Band-Aid to a foot-long gash. It's hardly a remedy. The camera gets quite spastic in indoor sections, especially cramped ones.

Despite these issues, I still felt lots of enjoyment playing through MediEvil: Resurrection's campaign. Perhaps a lot of that was the aforementioned humorous story and dialogue, but a lot of it was also slowly building up an arsenal of more powerful weaponry to take on enemies and bosses with. You see, a totally optional task in each main level has you filling an icon of a chalice, seen at the top right corner of the screen. As you defeat enemies, the chalice fills more and more. Once it reaches 100% and you have found the actual chalice to hold that energy in, usually hidden rather well in the level, you can beat the level and enter the Hall of Heroes. Here, one of the actual heroes of the war that saw Zarok's defeat, will give unto Sir Daniel one of their weapons, be it a crossbow, hammer, sword, or something else. Unlike most other weapons in MediEvil: Resurrection, these weapons don't degrade after use, so you can use them as much as you want. They are also much stronger than regular weapons, resulting in faster encounters with enemies.

New to Resurrection that the original MediEvil didn't have is a full-fledged level for the Pumpkin Gorge as well as some fun mini-games to pass the time. These include activities like a Whack-A-Mole inspired game, two different shooting gallery games, as well as more combat-oriented ones where Sir Daniel is tasked with protecting the ringing of a central bell from a mob of enemies spawning from all directions. These games can be played via wireless connection with a local friend. The games are worth playing solo as well, however, because the strongest weapon in the game is only unlocked by completing them all.

Pumpkin Gorge is a full level in Resurrection while it was just a brief spot in the original MediEvil.
MediEvil: Resurrection is a marked improvement graphically over the original MediEvil, offering more complicated textures and environments. The frame-rate can chug to low numbers on occasion, but it's overall not too much of a bother. Load times are about 10-15 seconds between entering and exiting levels, but you at least get a witty British narrator saying something funny about the level you're about to enter, such as "Dan's Crypt; A good place to go to find a dead Dan..." or something to that effect. The music is absolutely riveting, delivering a whimsical Danny Elfman-inspired score. Just as hum-able too!

In many ways, MediEvil: Resurrection is an antique from a long gone generation of early 3D games with its clunky combat and camera. In others, it's still an enjoyable adventure filled with delightfully dry humor, charming characters, and levels that while linear offer plenty of clever ideas. It's a game I thoroughly liked despite all of its obvious problems. I certainly did have some bones to pick with MediEvil: Resurrection, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't dying to have some more from the game after I completed it.

[SPC Says: C+]

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