Medievil PS4 [REVIEW] | Re-re-remaking The Past

While not what you would call a system seller, if you ask anyone growing up in the 90s, Medievil will probably come up in the discussion, so ingrained this little, beloved series of action platformers in the Playstation brand and overall legacy, despite remaining a cult/nostalgia sensation.

Though, when i say series, i mean the PS1 original (still available as digital PS1 Classic release on PS3 and Vita), Medievil 2 exists, but it’s mostly forgotten by the internet hivemind/consciousness, and this isn’t even the first remake of Medievil, as there’s a PSP port, Medievil Resurrection, with upgraded graphics that also changes some of the story, adds new features and remove others.

This is more of a remaster than an actual remake, a complete technical re-built but with minimal changes to gameplay and controls, very few modern concessions, all in order to offer a faithful recreation, for best or worst. Because as much as i like Medievil, this remaster/remake also works as an interesting litmus test of where bringing back the 90s, and – expanding the question – appealing to the nostalgia market eventually leads.

At least without going into the unholy effects of meming fuckin Bubsy (and Shaq Fu) unto life again, we’ll visit these forsaken lands of excrement and death, but not today.

But first, let’s go over the story. You are Sir Daniel Fortesque, valiant medieval knight of Gallowmere, the champion of the king that honorably vanquished the demon army commanded by the evil wizard Zarok … or so the legend goes. In reality you were a coward, the first one to fall – very clumsily, at that – by the very first arrow, an arrow in the eye to be precise, but time and lineage made it so you went down as a hero, and buried as such in your own masoleum.

One day Zarok comes back for revenge, starts brainwashing people and resurrecting the dead to ammass a new army, so you’re inadvertly given another chance at life, another shot at becoming the hero you were supposed to be, instead of the fool you died as. Sure, you’re just a skeleton with a missing eye and armor, but with determination, some luck and help from actual immortal heroes, you actually might make things right this time around. Even without your jaw bone.

Plot is charmingly comical, with a tongue in cheek, Tim Burton-esque vibe to the characters and the medieval world of peasants, witches, pumpkins, warlocks and poo buckets. And Army Of Darkness jokes (joking).

I know this game very well, since i played it on PS1, again for the PS1 Classic release, then for the PSP remake-port, even played the aptly titled “short lived demo” for this release before getting the full game.

It’s faithful to a fault, because Medievil came out in that phase of first 3D games, so don’t expect a complex and deep combat system. There are no long combo strings, backstabs, perfect parries, armor breaks or advanced evasive manouvers: in Medievil you can choose to either attack or defend, you won’t have time to do both, with how fast the enemies rush at you, with no invincibility frames after being hit and foes having no cooldown, so they will attack and attack with kamikaze celerity. And you can’t attack and defend at the same time, anyways, so you’re gonna take a lot of hits regardless, and have to redo the stages more than you should because of it.

It’s just better to keep swinging your sword/melee weapon or use the sub-weapons (like the throwing knives) and see that the enemies die from that before they can get too close, because there’s no much behind button mashing the attack button or proper auto-targeting attacks for projectile weapons (for which the targeting snaps to the objective, not optimal). It’s not completely mindless, as each weapon has a secondary attack and they have uses for puzzles and exploration, but there’s not really any complexity to it, even if you can strafe while attack or using the shield.

It’s no wonder most of the weapons and upgrades gotten by getting the chalices (filled by killing all or enough the enemies with souls) are long-ranged of some kind, be the many types of bow, throwing lances. etc. If anything, it makes collecting the chalice worthy of exploring the whole level in search of enemies, because the upgrades do improve your chances and make progression doable, it’s still not easy, but it’s not being punishing or absurdly hard just to be hard.

Actually a good way to describe Medievil’s gameplay to someone who never played it’s basically a midway between Ghost N Goblins and Maximo, challenging and not very forgiving, but NOT frustrating for the hell of it, challenging but actually fair, with some minor puzzle elements as you need to explore and get items and key card equivalents to proceed in the levels.

Controls come in a modern, and frankly better set-up, and a classic set-up like in the olden days, good to have both. Modernized one make more sense, frankly, but they’re almost identical, so pick one and you’ll be ready to tackle Medievil fairly quick regardless of the control scheme.

One problem arising from the new controls is that Triangle is used to interact when the prompt appears to read books, talk or access the gargoyle vendors, but now is also used for switching weapons, one of the many welcome (and expected) quality of live improvements, as it reduces time spent fiddling and equipping stuff in the inventory.

This is not a problem in itself, at all, but even in late levels the game often misreads the input even when the prompt appears on screen. It seems limited to some specific levels, but still, you’d think it would have corrected in a patch. To this day still it hasn’t, i think.

Combat has been improved, as now there is “Z-targeting” even for melee weapons, and they also changed the way the basic sword works, instead of the large swing (with charging attack if you hold the button) of the original, Dan does a flurry of basic but fast, more proper sword swings in front of him (the charge, area sword swing is now the secondary attack, and can still be charged), it’s just that you don’t notice because it’s such an obvious improvement to add in a “remaster/remake”.

And still, the combat is fundamentally unchanged, so by now it’s sloppy. Not unfun, but sloppy, messy and a bit “primitive”, absolutely, but it’s no surprise, as it was the early 3D era of videogames, and this just happens to be a product of that time.

Like many things often are.

One change that it isn’t exactly for the better is the camera being closer to the character, which results in not seeing some enemies coming behind you, a minor issue, overall, since the camera it’s not that close and it becomes fixed for specific sequences, a minor issue but one that wasn’t present in the original….. but then again, the original still had camera issues, which has been addressed, and you have a typical “recenter camera to what’s in front of the playing character” button, so it’s not even a real problem, more an annoyance, the more i think about it.

One thing that i feel could have been touched more upon is the platforming, as collision detection isn’t bad, but it works exactly as in 1997, so it ain’t exactly precise, as you can get partially stuck on some geometry, nothing major, but that could have been improven. It’s not broken, but it’s rough because most 3D platformers of the time were completely uncharted territory for developers, and now look made with dinosaur bones, weeds and fecal matter.

And loyally transporting a 1997/8 experience into 2019…. it’s what you’d expect.

Surprisingly, this isn’t the big issue it may sound like, even in later levels with more focus on jumping challenges, because the collision detection can also work in your favour by letting you stand on some place you weren’t exactly supposed to be standing still, not letting you cheese it but not frustrating and randomly finnicky only for you, and not the enemies and the enviroments.

One aspect of the experience that also is faithfully preserved but it’s a bit frustrating it’s having one (or more) extra life vials completely drained because you accidentally fell out of bonds, it’s better than instant game over, but still, it’s excessive to consume an entire life vial just to be resurrected, regardless if you died by enemy hits or the collision detection made you accidentally slip into the water. I could have easily done with a nerf or without this being kept for the remaster/remake.

Another area where this remaster improves some of the notoriously poor or middling parts of the original game, as some boss battles were improved, made longer, less rash and overall better.

Also, performance is good but not great, maybe it’s better on PS4 Pro, but on my vanilla PS4 the framerate can chug in some occasions, not many but more than it should. It really should be ultrasmooth even on the base PS4, this isn’t asking much, let’s be frank. It’s not an issue that affects gameplay, it’s just a bit absurd for a remaster/remake like this, come on, Medievil came out in 1998.

Even more because it seems to happen at random, like even during cutscenes where there’s basically nothing going on besides small lip movement, like when you save the 3 peasants in the haunted castle stage, they just talk and then after the cutscene go away, and it managed to drop in framerate like a sparrow. Like i said, random.

More common are some collision glitches, so in the later levels i was able to see Daniel suddendly stuck for a second in a falling animation while standing (easily corrected by another jump and being hit) while in the Timestop level, which seemed to be the more “bountiful” stage in this regard, as i was able to witness some tin soldiers being accidentally pushed out of the way by the train during an unskippable and uncontrollable mini-cutscene.

I also witnessed Lord Karkok randomly doing his circling the arena routines while “flying” on thin air meters above and even outside of the arena (and you could see him clipping through), or one enemy officer in the Ghost Ship level fleeing down from one of the upper parts of the galleon… into somewhere else i couldn’t see or reach or target in any way, which prevented me from getting the Chalice from that level during my first run. It can happen.

To be honest, outside of nostalgia, revisit Medievil will make you realize… it was a decent-good game, but nothing THAT great. I love the halloweeny atmosphere, i like the quirky attitude and the humour, i really like the story, but in retrospective it’s just decent, with nothing really that special to it. It makes sense they just released a remaster instead of a remake or a new game, mostly because they dropped this at budget price (30 bucks standard), a fair price, but it’s kinda telling they didn’t fully believe in the IP.

Play this today and it’s not exactly mind blowing. It’s good for what it is, as in, you want a PS1 game with PS4 graphics? This happens to also be arguably good, though.

And frankly, after this one you realize that Sony were kinda scraping their barrel of nostalgia exclusivity, because this isn’t a big property, but it somehow managed to be known by many back in the days. Again, if you wanted the same Medievil you played in 1998 with a rebuilt from scratch technical department, some minor improvements and refinements (with some extras throw in)… this is it, being fundamentally unchanged.

So much is the dedication to preserving the original experience (with some minor improvements where designs and mechanics aged too much) that you can actually unlock the original PS1 version, by completing some of the extra challenges and objectives added for this remaster, which involve the newly added Lost Souls and their extra little quests.

Honestly i expected that between the first draft of this review and publishing time the rumors about Sony ordering a remaster for Medievil 2 would become reality, and while it’s not impossible, this just makes me wonder why they didn’t just remade that as well in this fashion and made a collection directly. Or why they didn’t just make a new Medievil all together, but that’s on Sony, Other Ocean did a good job, with some hiccups but they did well was asked them to.

Pretty good and the recommended way to play Medievil for the first… or second time.

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