Fans of classic PlayStation titles have been spoiled as of late, with the likes of Crash Bandicoot and Spyro being reimagined for the modern era. As well as a visual overhaul, these games have been rebuilt from the ground up, while remaining faithful to their original structure and essence. However, there is another beloved title being resurrected, one of which has been out of the limelight for far too long.
MediEvil is a horror adventure title which first crept into the PlayStation game catalogue in 1999, receiving a sequel and a PSP remake before being shelved by Sony since 2005. With the exception of the game’s protagonist appearing in the character roster of All-Stars Battle Royale, MediEvil was almost left to fade into obscurity. So, you can imagine fans of the game were both ecstatic and a little nervous when Sony finally teased a 4K MediEvil remake of this much-loved classic at PlayStation Experience 2017. Even with the promising gameplay trailer that emerged on Halloween, it’s too early to tell if this remake will become what fans of the series have longed for. So, while we wait eagerly to get our hands on the MediEvil remade version, let’s have a look at 5 things that made the original game unique and somewhat of an unsung masterpiece.
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1- The lovable and unique story
MediEvil is a story of redemption and second chances in which our hero, Sir Daniel Fortesque, tries to save his kingdom of Gallowmere from a sorcerer that’s hellbent on necromancy. However, Sir Dan isn’t your typical 90’s video game character, mainly due to the fact he’s a reanimated corpse. Our protagonist meets his mortal coil before we even get to select new game, as he is the first to fall in battle defending his kingdom of Gallowmere against the Evil Zarok.
Despite biting the dust in an embarrassing fashion, Zarok’s evil armies are thwarted and Sir Dan is mistakenly remembered as a hero. There’s good news and bad for Sir Dan in this scenario, the bad being that since his legendary status is false, he isn’t able to join the hall of heroes in the afterlife. The good news, however, is that Zarok comes back with a vengeance, accidentally resurrecting Sir Dan alongside an army of the dead. This gives Dan the perfect opportunity to earn his title of hero while ending Zarok’s reign of tyranny once and for all.
The fact that our protagonist isn’t a typical 90’s mascot or action hero character adds to what makes this game so memorable. He’s a demented looking corpse with no jaw and one eye, with no special powers or abilities. Despite being dead, he’s basically just a regular underachiever, the type that Mr. Strickland from Back to the future would call a slacker.
The fact that we get to join Sir Dan in his unconventional quest to redeem his name makes him relatable as a character. I’m sure we’ve all had someone in our lives that we wanted to prove wrong, whether it be a parent, a teacher or a ghostly hall full of history’s dead heroes. By managing to stay true to a horror-themed fantasy plot and not take itself too seriously, MediEvil provides the player with a story that serves as a refreshing take on what is essential, a quest of a knight saving a kingdom from evil.
2 -Hilarious uses of comedy
Comedy is something that is difficult to get right in a video game, either seeming like the writers are trying too hard or playing it too safe. MediEvil manages to bring us comedic value that matches its style and aesthetic perfectly, which enhances every aspect of the gameplay experience. The dialogue is akin to the likes of Monty Python, providing wonderfully surreal humour by poking fun of itself. Sir Dan himself has a hilarious attitude towards his whole situation, often coming across as completely sarcastic or disinterested in the fact he has to embark on a noble quest. To be fair, who can blame him? His first conversation after arising from his tomb is with a pair of sarcastic gargoyles who seem to have waited centuries to rub his face in the shame of his past.
Most of the characters are residents within the Hall of Heroes, of which range from an aristocratic-sounding Centaur to a flamboyant squire. The range of different personalities and accents of the characters makes visiting the Hall of Heroes a joy every time, with usually an awkward gag about Sir Dan’s appearance and some insight into his relationship with the character. The game’s antagonist, Zarok, also has a hilarious persona that would make him perfect as a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race. Instead of coming across as evil, he seems more like a pantomime baddie, where most antagonists would have a vengeful speech when their right-hand man is slain, Zarok merely says ‘Bugger…’.
Not only is the writing hilarious in MediEvil, but some of the game mechanics are injected with humour. Sir Dan’s deceased state is exploited for laughs, with such abilities as using his own arm as a club and being able to lose your head, literally. This might sound like a simplistic use of humour, but how many games do you know how where you can literally slay the living dead with your own detached arm? The sequel, MediEvil 2, expands on the hilarious uses of Sir Dan’s body, by enabling him to attach his head to one of the green hands that scatter around the environment. No matter what your sense of humour is like, it’s hard for anyone to say that MediEvil isn’t funny, blending horror and comedy together in perfect matrimony.
3- Affective horror aesthetic
Despite the fact that MediEvil is, in fact, a comical game, going as far as to advertise itself as the laughing dead, it also manages to maintain a creepy atmosphere and setting that stays true to traditional horror themes. Using a combination of textures, animations, and sound, MediEvil actually creates the perfect atmosphere to fit its levels settings.
The textures in the game may be dated, but they perfectly portray the type of environment that Dan is traversing, whether it be the hallowed ground of the cemetery or the stone walls of the mausoleum. You get a real sense of the type of environment that you’re in, which was hard to pull off on the limited hardware of the ’90s. There’s also some nifty weather effects that are matched to the type of level you’re within. The lighting in this game is also very effective, with torches giving off an eerie glow and light beams coming through windows, which is something that wasn’t so common in early 32-bit games.
The animation in MediEvil is also extremely effective in setting an atmosphere, in terms of environment, objects, and enemies. The way that enemies move towards you in the game creates a sense of panic, almost feeling like a pack mentality as zombies and other monsters flail towards you with murderous intent. The way that coffins will also rise from the ground with upturned dirt is also a great addition to the sense of unease as you’re traveling through a level. Sound effects also play an important role in setting a creepy atmosphere, with the grunts of enemies, creaking of gates opening and splatter of dead flesh against Sir Dan’s weapons, there’s an array of different noises that will both amuse and leave the player feeling uneasy.
Another huge part of the horror within MediEvil is contributed by the design of the enemies, with each level having something unique for Dan to whack. From the typical zombies from the first level to killer pumpkins, there’s usually something new to try and kill you in each level. Some of the boss designs, such as the Stained-Glass Demon, are particularly creepy, creating a feeling of danger and suspense. The fact that MediEvil manages to maintain atmospheric horror alongside its other qualities is an amazing feat, one of which makes the game a unique experience.
4- The hauntingly good soundtrack
If there’s one thing that classic PlayStation games are known for, it’s outstanding soundtracks that took full advantage of the then new CD-ROM technology. MediEvil is no exception to this, having a masterpiece track list that sets the tone of the game perfectly. The composers, Paul Arnold and Andrew Barnabas, were no strangers to the world of video game music and ran the music department of Sony Computer Entertainment Europe until 2001. Bob & Barn, as they’re affectionately known, captured the essence of MediEvil perfectly, embracing the game’s similarities to a Tim Burton film and drawing inspiration from the likes of Danny Elfman.
Despite being crafted using synthesizers and modulators, the game’s music manages to be as impactful as an orchestra, sounding dynamic and atmospheric. Tracks in the game range from sounding as haunting as Edward Scissorhands, as menacing Batman Returns and as jaunty as the nightmare before Christmas, while still managing to be unique. From the moment we reach the title screen of MediEvil, the music works on making the player feel uneasy as the camera pans through a murky graveyard. Each track manages to complement its level perfectly, whether it be a mischievous pumpkin patch or dangerous Mausoleum, which enhances the player’s experience of specific moments of the game.
Despite the fact that this is indeed a video game soundtrack, you’d be fooled into thinking that it was a composition for a film or a musical, which really hammers home how well written it is. Bob & Barn even managed to recreate the tracks for MediEvil Resurrection, the PSP reboot, using a full orchestra and expanding on cues from the original. It will be exciting to hear what Sony does with the new MediEvil soundtrack, but if there’s one thing I’m sure fans can agree on, it’s that Bob & Barn should definitely be involved.
5 Game design and mechanics
A game can look amazing, sound amazing and have an amazing story, but if it isn’t fun to play, then it’s about as useful as chocolate teapot. Luckily, MediEvil is ridiculously fun to play and rarely leaves the player feeling unamused. The level design might be linear by today’s standards, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not cram-packed full of riddles to solve, items to collect and danger to evade. The main goal is to reach the end of a level, whilst also killing enough enemies to be able to collect a Chalice of Souls, which are required to get new weapons.
The weapons selection, given to Dan by members of the hall of heroes, all have their own quirks that make them worth picking up. The likes of the axe can be used as both a melee and a ranged weapon that will boomerang back once thrown, while the hammer creates waves when smashed on the ground that damage enemies. Not only are these fantasy weapons a joy to use, but they’re also needed to gain access to secret areas and solve puzzles, such as boulders blocking a path. Weapons can also be rewarded to Sir Dan within levels, such as the comical chicken drumstick, which can turn enemies into whole chickens.
MediEvil makes a point of not holding the player’s hand as they set off on their quest, with some intuition required in order to retrieve all Chalices in each level. The game doesn’t have to do anything drastic to keep the player interested but will instead maintain the same hack n slash enjoyed throughout the game. From graveyards and corn fields to castles and ghostly pirate ships, there’s always tonnes of puzzles to solve and hidden areas to find. Not to mention that you can complete the level map in any order you like as it starts to open up. You’ll also encounter some amazing boss battles, from stained glass demons to monster pumpkins that cover an entire level, which makes getting to these in-game milestones all the more worthwhile.
MediEvil might not have the same hype behind its remake as it’s PlayStation counterparts, however, it is an absolute classic in its own right. If the MediEvil remade version of this comic caper sticks to what made it unique, while giving it a modern age makeover, then you can be sure that MediEvil will become a favourite amongst gamers collections once again.