MediEvil Review: There's Meat on These Bones

It's been a good time to be a fan of PlayStation's many classics. Franchises like Spyro the Dragon and Crash Bandicoot have made their big return with fresh new coats of paint, so it's a little surprising, yet not entirely, that MediEvil has gotten a modern-day remake as well. Sony Interactive Entertainment's MediEvil was a cult hit among PlayStation fans when it first released, but it's not exactly held on the same pedestal as other mascot franchises of its ilk. But MediEvil has also previously experimented with re-releasing the first game with MediEvil: Resurrection, so a remake for the PlayStation 4 isn't the oddest idea.

Even so, it's been over 20 years from MediEvil's original release, and this remake is unfortunately a stark reminder of why the franchise stayed a cult hit. It's got a lot of hilarious elements, and a kooky fun aesthetic, to provide MediEvil some meat on its bones... but not enough.

MediEvil is set in the kingdom of Gallowmere, a land under attack from a sorcerer named Zarok, and legend has it that Sir Dan Fortesque was a hero who managed to kill Zarok before dying himself. But the truth is Dan was hilariously shot in the eye and killed in the first few seconds of the battle, and his "legend" was instead a quick cover up. Zarok then returned 100 years later to attack with an army of the undead, and ends up reviving Dan in the process. Dan then gets a second chance to prove himself the hero that everyone believes him to be.

MediEvil's tone is such a strong one, and provides some of the game's best experiences. It finds a balance between a darker humor and goofiness, so there's always a nice cynical layer to everything. While the story is essentially a fairy tale adventure, having Dan be a faux hero welcomes all sorts of in-universe ridicule from those who know his secret and give him guff about it. This makes Dan, who is a mostly unintelligible skeleton and has had enough with others making fun of him, flourish with a biting personality.

This morbid, yet cartoonish tone is further boosted by the art direction. Gothic-inspired architecture coupled with a more varied color palette than expected are made even stronger with the amplified visual presentation of the remake. Enemies all have fun little visual quirks, bosses all look unique, Dan himself is a perfect encapsulation of everything the game's aesthetic has to offer. But it's more fun to look at than it is to dig into.

Broken up into stages across a world map, none of the areas are particularly large, but they are densely packed. It's packed with classic adventure game tropes in which Dan can clear out a room full of enemies in order to get a special rune which then unlocks another door. Then the door opens to another room with a weapon, or another room, which then leads to another opening, and so on. It scratches that completionist itch well in that there's a lot of stuff to do in stages that doesn't really take a lot of time, but there are much needed quality of life improvements that should have been made for the modern-ay take.

There's a fine balance between paying homage to the original source game and changing just enough without alienating older fans, but there are a few design elements that should have been left in 1998. The camera use around the top-down perspective is thankfully much less fussy, but still does have a few hiccups here and there that can be noticeable when dealing with a crowd of enemies constantly launching attacks.

A fun novelty is the "Dan Cam," which offers a behind-the-shoulder perspective, and this indeed changes combat in a fun way. But constantly holding a trigger button to keep the camera this way makes the view more effort than it's worth, unfortunately. The game is difficult with limited health, weaponry, and attack types, but this is not a problem in itself. The difficulty curve gets even steeper when stiff platforming leads to more "cheap" deaths than it should, and some imprecise movements often result in taking more damage in combat.

It's not like MediEvil is bare bones in terms of the improvements on the original. It will be the perfect revisit for fans who have fond memories, but the actual experience of playing it -- especially for new players -- is another thing altogether. For better or worse, MediEvil's PlayStation 4 outing is faithful to the past.

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Rating: 3 out of 5

MediEvil is now out on PlayStation 4. This review was based on a code provided by the publisher.