Sunday, January 26, 2020

MediEvil (PS4) Review

To start the week of content on SuperPhillip Central early, a new review is here. It's for a remake of a game from PS1 era: MediEvil. No worries--the skeleton puns and other associated humor in this review is no charge.

Make no bones about it--this remake's beauty is only skin deep.

Legends tell of the tale of Sir Daniel Fortesque, a hero who bravely led the charge of an army against the evil sorcerer Zarok and his minions. What the legends leave out, however, is that said hero quickly exited the battle from a stray arrow to the eye. A select number of people are aware of this, though, and many happen to be part of the prestigious Hall of Heroes, who shun Sir Daniel. Now, Zarok is back and causing all sorts of trouble in the kingdom of Gallowmere, and a hero shall rise from the grave to take on Zarok and his forces once more. Hopefully, this time around, he won't be defeated by a stray arrow, and will instead more than prove himself to all those who doubt him.

MediEvil is the latest relic from the original PlayStation that receives a full fledged remake, and while the game sees a gorgeous graphical improvement, the gameplay sticks a little too close to the original for my liking.

Let's begin with the tremendous graphical upgrade in this PlayStation 4 revival of MediEvil. Areas are now brimming with color and amazing detail, giving each level and area a more unique personality and character. The lighting on display in MediEvil shows off these levels in... and forgive the play-on words here... such a new light that many seem indistinguishable from the originals, aside from their basic designs. Sir Dan and the rest of the cast look sensational and animate well, too. The orchestrated score, centered on a whimsical Gothic, Medieval fantasy sound, never failed to amuse my ears.

The moon shines bright for the start of Sir Dan's adventure.
So, yes, the most obvious thing here is that the graphics when compared to the original MediEvil have been vastly improved in this remake. But, what of the gameplay? Well, unfortunately, not many tweaks at all were made here, and it's somewhat mystifying as to why considering all of the faults that the original MediEvil had.

In Sir Dan's journey, he starts out relatively weak, armed only with a sword and shield (and a literal arm as well, which can be used as a weapon). Along his multiple level journey, he picks up several new weapons to take down Zarok's plentiful amount of pesky enemies, such as zombies, imps, shadow demons, and more. Weapons like clubs, serve more than just for offensive purposes--they can be used to break boulders and walls to reveal new paths, and can be set on fire to light torches to solve puzzles. Apart from melee weapons like swords, clubs, and hammers, Sir Dan acquires plenty of long-range weaponry in the form of throwing knives, bows, spears, and even magic.

Exquisite graphics? Yes. Highly capable combat? No.
Levels in MediEvil have Sir Dan moving through them, collecting rune stones to unlock doors and gates to new areas, and sometimes performing the necessary occasionally-awkward platforming challenge. That said, most of the time MediEvil is all about light combat, exploration, and puzzle-solving. The former isn't too spectacular. In fact, I'd call it rather clumsy and ungraceful overall. More times than not when it concerned melee combat, I'd find myself running around like a chicken with its head cut off, flailing Sir Dan's sword around while hoping I wouldn't take too much collision damage from enemies in the process. Sadly, that seemed to be the best strategy starting out with the game.

Even the simple act of pushing blocks can be more difficult than it needs to be in MediEvil.
Defeating enemies is a major part of unlocking even better weapons for Sir Dan to use, as when an enemy is slain, a percentage of a level's chalice fills up. When the percentage reaches a full 100%, Sir Dan can scour the level to pick up the chalice. The chalice is usually hidden in an out-of-the-way location, but observant players can see that slain enemies have their spirits fly away in the direction of where the chalice is, which helps in discovering each chalice's location. What is a bit obnoxious is when the chalice location is back near the beginning of the level, so that means a relatively tedious trip back to collect it, just to have to make another trip back to where you turned around at originally in order to make the original trip to the chalice.

Without a long-range weapon, this battle would be a pain in the glass.
Thankfully, Sir Dan isn't unarmed!
Upon clearing the level with said chalice filled and collected, he gains access to the Hall of Heroes where he can earn a reward from one of the heroes waiting inside. These are pretty much required to obtain to have a fighting chance in later levels, as enemies can otherwise take a pretty good licking before they stop ticking. Rewards include upgraded and improved weapons like longbows, bows with flaming arrows, bows with magical arrows, hammers that serve as stronger clubs without the ability to break after repeated use, axes that can also be thrown, and Life Potions that give Sir Dan extra health to work with. Life Potions can also be found hidden in some levels themselves.

Sir Dan will need all the help he can get because MediEvil is old school challenging in its difficulty. While nowhere near so-called "NES hard", MediEvil will put you through your paces quite easily, and part of that is because of its design which is deeply rooted in older gaming. For one, losing all of your health in a level results in a game over, which means you must restart a level from the beginning again. Some levels are quite involved and can be a particular pain in Sir Dan's bony butt. One mid-game level that takes place in a garden maze is rather long due to its puzzles placed in the form of riddles, and dying so close to the end of the level--one that can easily go on for a half-hour--can be a serious gut punch and motivation-killer to continue the game. A checkpoint here and there would have been a terrific addition to MediEvil. As is, the game skews too closely towards cheap and unfair.

Further, the camera isn't always generous in giving you the best angles to work with, and the platforming leaves some things to be desired as it's hardly a game with the tightest jumping controls available. Seeing as missed jumps into bottomless pits, pools of water, or lava, results in an instant loss of a full bar of health, you can quickly breeze through what seemed like a safe amount of health to work with and end up with a frustrating "game over."

A level surrounded by pools of water makes this particular player a wee bit uneasy!
MediEvil does add a new feature to the game, which is that of lost souls. When you open a particular chest in a late-game level, lost souls appear in each of the game's main levels, and each give you a riddle to be solved in another level. These generally task you with opening up your inventory at a specific spot in a level, and then summoning the soul you collected based on the given riddle's clue. Upon finding all of the lost souls and solving their riddles, you unlock a rather cool bonus that rewards you with MediEvil in its original PS1 form.

Overall, MediEvil is an enjoyable enough romp, but one that I wish the developers had given an equal amount of time to improving the game's design and gameplay rather than obviously merely focusing on upgrading the visuals--as impressive and delightful as they are. As is, MediEvil has the appearance of current-gen game, but underneath its HD flesh is a skeleton filled with occasionally cheap design, frustrating deaths, and lackluster combat and platforming.

[SPC Says: C-]

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