Twenty years ago Sir Daniel Fortesque became an unlikely PlayStation icon. He was old, far from heroic, and very much dead. MediEvil became a cult classic nonetheless, and the fact that two decades on Sony's bringing this game back for a remake suggests the company is in full swagger and seeking new ways to celebrate its history.
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The team breathing HD life into Sir Dan, Other Ocean Interactive, also created Rick And Morty: Virtual Rick-Ality and Thimbleweed Park, so they get the whimsical humour of this classic – it's like Tim Burton telling ghost stories to Terry Pratchett, who makes them funny. They're also clear about making sure this hero comes back with all his marbles.
"One of the challenges to resurrecting a game like MediEvil […] is you don’t want to deliver an exact replica of that original game, you want to deliver the game that people remember playing," says Mike Mika, Other Ocean Interactive's chief creative officer, who sees developing a remake as walking a fine line between feeding nostalgia and making something that’s fun to play.
Unearthing the bones of the original
To ensure MediEvil meets that challenge the team dug into the original source code, "almost like an archaeological project," says Jeff Nachbaur, executive producer. He says part of the fun of searching through the historic material and meeting some of MediEvil's '90s creators was discovering what they were thinking and feeling when they made the original. "You use that as a springboard into the new direction you want to take the game," he adds.
This remake will have a lot of additions to ensure it can hold its bony head high. The original source code featured bosses and states that never made it into the game, so that’s all in the remake.
In-game we see the work pay off. Hacking through cemeteries filled with undead, into the Hilltop Mausoleum and beyond, these early stages of the game showcase what we loved about MediEvil 20 years ago. The action is fast and smooth, but 'of its time', though the 1:1 responsiveness on PS4 is a step up from the original game.
How has MediEvil changed for PS4?
Being based on a PS1 original, there are plenty of collectibles. Fireflies illuminate the world beautifully as they flutter in the direction of goodies to hoover up (we can’t wait to experience the Ant Caves, where they serve as a source of light). It feels like there are more hints than in the original, but that could be our ageing brains misremembering. Sir Dan can collect new weapons; some, such as wooden shields and clubs, will wear down over time and crumble away, while others are picked up in limited numbers and need to be saved for when you’re in dire straits.
Those shields are important too; in Hilltop Cemetery we need to deflect careering boulders, fired from the mouths of gargoyles, with our wooden friend. The tension mounts as each rebounded block of rock whittles down our safe space.
Learning how to deal with the hordes, and which combination of weapons and potions to use and when, is part of the game’s classic charm. But there’s more to MediEvil than swinging a sword at an army of imps, demons, and angry pumpkins. The game was renowned for its puzzles, and they look better than ever remade on PS4.
Does the MediEvil charm translate to high definition?
"One thing that stands out even today is the Time Device level," says Mika. "A crazy level that has brains, trains, and clockwork parts." This stage offers a shocking change of pace from the rest of the game. The design impresses Mika, who loves the fact old games like MediEvil weren’t afraid to "throw a weird left hook," and introduce entirely new ideas.
Between levels we experience the Hall Of Heroes, a hub room where you can explore the history of this world and Sir Dan's place in it. Hint: he's a bit of a joke. The tale of Sir Daniel Fortesque is more one of derring-don't than derring-do. When Gallowmere was threatened with invasion by the malevolent magician Zarok, legend says Fortesque led the charge in resisting the advance, but in reality he was killed by one of the first arrows loosed, just before the real fight began. A century later, Zarok has returned with an army of undead to have his vengeance on the people of Gallowmere. By a stroke of luck, Zarok's spell resurrects Sir Daniel too, giving him a shot at rightfully earning his place in the Hall Of Heroes.
"The Hall of Heroes is probably my favourite place in the game," says Nachbaur. "It's something that alludes to a larger world that Dan lives in and that world is everywhere. You can feel it everywhere: it's the way the characters are written, the personalities involved and there’s just a ton of charm there."