The developer of the MediEvil remake wanted to make a game so true to the original that modern players could still use the 1998 version's strategy guides (opens in new tab). It succeeded. Believe me, that was the first time I've loaded up one of those old GameFAQs guides in at least half a decade. It was a good thing I had a trove of plain text strategy guides to peruse, too: there are winding level layouts that make the way forward difficult to find (that anthill level is the worst), there are key objects that are easy to miss, and there's a boss that requires you to hit specific parts of the environment – even though those parts of the environment don't do anything elsewhere in the same level and no other boss is like that.
Please hold your scoffing until the end, seasoned gamers. All that is indeed the kind of retro roughness that I expect from an old-school or old-school-derived game. It would be easy to look past all of those flaws, or maybe even see them as positives, if exploring stages and doing battle felt challenging and satisfying. It feels OK.
Creaky old bones
I know it's old hat to talk about the camera in a video game review, but since this whole game's a throwback, let's start there: MediEvil uses a mix of fixed and free camera angles, sometimes letting you zoom in to an over-the-shoulder view if you hold down a button. I'm occasionally left flailing during a scene transition or as I try to find enemies hidden in corners but it usually works fine.
Unfortunately, even the not-at-all-hidden enemies are rarely fun to fight. Most monsters move about the same speed as our skeletal hero Sir Daniel Fortasque (pronounced Fort-Askew) and hurt him whenever they touch him, so I usually try to catch enemies with wide sword swings or trap them behind fences or walls and plink away with ranged weapons. I haven't found a strategy that doesn't include enemies smacking me back at least a few times, leading each level to feel like a battle of attrition rather than a test of wits or reflexes. It's both imprecise and unforgiving, which is a frustrating combination.
When the original MediEvil came out in 1998 it had rough combat and camera work too. Its ambitious steps in other areas like 3D level design and quirky, cinematic storytelling still made it a classic. Some of those clever touches are just as fresh today; even with his means of expression limited to jawless grunts, toothy grins, and one-eyed squints, I enjoy Sir Dan as a character. If you share in my generation's rampant feelings of impostor syndrome, his valiant attempt to live up to his undeserved post-mortem glory will probably inspire immediate sympathy as well. Unfortunately, those forward-thinking spots make the rest of MediEvil feel even more archaic.
I spent about 11 hours playing through MediEvil's campaign from start to finish, and in that time I encountered a handful of annoying glitches. The least troublesome stranded me on the map screen between levels so I had to quit to the title and load back in (the load screens are surprisingly long for how small most levels are). The worst occurred when I accidentally skipped a cutscene, making two events play out at once and depriving me of the Chalice I should have unlocked by rescuing a bunch of Cockney fairies. Naturally that second one happened on the damn anthill level so I felt obligated to play the whole damn thing over again. All of my issues occurred on version 1.01 of the game, hopefully they'll be put to rest in future updates.
All other criticisms aside, I can find no fault with MediEvil's release date. It is coming out at the perfect time of year. This game is a chef's kiss worthy distillation of the Halloween aesthetic. There are ghosts and imps and skeletons, there's a warty witch stirring a cauldron (who sent me to the anthill but I forgive her), and there are entire levels set in pumpkin patches and haunted corn mazes. Even when fighting the restless dead and demons it's more cartoonish and comedic than scary.
Most of the people or friendly spirits Sir Dan meets poke fun at his ignoble death and missing bits, but their sense of humor never gets too dark or morbid. There is one unwelcome portrayal of mentally ill people as straightjacketed cannon fodder in an asylum level. Aside from that, I enjoyed the game's cheesy/kooky/creepy vibe, and spending time in the haunted kingdom of Gallowmere enhanced my enjoyment of the season. Anybody who can appreciate the powerful energy that radiates from the aisles of those strip mall Halloween stores will likely feel the same.
That Halloween energy, that gooey green aesthetic, is what I enjoyed most about MediEvil - what kept me going even as I groaned through too many of the authentically loosey goosey fight scenes and platforming challenges. If you're a big fan of the original who just wants that with better graphics and some subtle improvements, you'll be delighted. If you want something a little scary and very silly to play for Halloween, you'll be pleased. If you're looking for a new game to play, you don't have any nostalgia for the original, and there isn't at least 10 square feet of fake spider webs in your home, you should keep looking.