Thinking back to my childhood, the Sony PlayStation was the videogame console that defined gaming for me. I may have been too young at the time of its initial release, but from around the years of 2000 to 2003, I remember spending the majority of my after-school hours glued to the television screen playing whatever my dad had bought for us to play through together. For most kids my age, it was games like Crash Bandicoot, Spyro the Dragon and Tomb Raider that they were obsessed with. I would not play any of those until years later. I was instead hooked on a Tim Burton-inspired hack-and-slash called MediEvil.
Developed by SCE Cambridge and released for the PlayStation in 1998, MediEvil is an action-adventure game with puzzle and platformer elements. The story follows Sir Daniel Fortesque, a fallen warrior who is inadvertently revived when the evil necromancer Zarok casts a spell over the land of Gallowmere to raise the dead and overthrow the kingdom. Having failed many years ago when he originally died, Dan uses this new opportunity to stop Zarok as a chance for him to earn his place as a true hero.
Taking place over 22 levels, Dan journeys across Gallowmere, visiting different locales and solving puzzles to progress, with the final aim of defeating Zarok at his lair. Each level is unique in the sense that the setting, theme and mechanics can be entirely different, for example one takes you to an abandoned countryside that has you fighting lively scarecrows and enraged farmers, whereas another takes you to a flying pirate ship littered with the reanimated corpses of its literal skeleton crew.
There’s also a large incentive to hunt down additional enemies. Killing enough in each level allows you to collect the Chalice of Souls, an item that permits Dan to visit the mystical Hall of Heroes to converse with fallen heroes of Gallowmere’s history and receive new weapons. It is here that a lot of the game’s excellent writing and voice acting stands out, as each character encountered has a distinct personality and backstory, and is usually accompanied by a thick regional British accent. Some of my favourites include a roaring Yorkshireman who loves a good hunt or an Amazonian warrior woman who constantly flirts with him.
As for the weapons, the game provides a diverse arsenal of medieval equipment including swords, hammers, axes, crossbows and spears. If you go for the chalice in every level, it initially feels like you’re getting new weaponry at a consistent rate. If you’re like me and aim to collect every one in the game, the upgrades will eventually fizzle out making some of the endgame prizes notably lacklustre. The final chalice honored me with a life potion, which are already incredibly abundant. I think SCE intended for these rewards to be accessible to all types of players and not just the completionists who go for 100%. It still would have been nice for a 100% run to have a more substantial reward at the end.
I hadn’t played MediEvil in about 15 years so I wasn’t expecting everything to be as perfect as I remembered, and upon my revisit to Gallowmere I noticed two large flaws that are synonymous with a lot of 3D titles of the late ’90s: the camera controls combined with the platforming were really awkward. The player mostly has free rein over the view – with the game occasionally changing to a fixed perspective at key points – but if the camera hits a wall, the whole thing bugs out and your view becomes distorted. This kind of technology was still new at the time in 1998, but even Super Mario 64 perfected this two years previously. The platforming is the worst part about this. There are many situations where your jumps will require pixel-perfect accuracy, and this can be frustrating if you happen to fall into a fatal pit. These situations fortunately don’t give you an automatic game over, pulling you back to the last safe ledge you were on. It will, however, consume an entire life bottle.
I think part of what made MediEvil so special were the character designs that were creative yet made complete sense for the setting they appeared in. This extends not only to the Hall of Heroes but also many of the bosses. For example, one level has you exploring a hilltop mausoleum that ends with you fighting an animated stained glass window. Even the design for Dan himself – with his missing eye and jaw – was a major influence on how he became a key mascot for the PlayStation brand.
Although I love MediEvil and could possibly rank it within my top ten games of all time, I have not touched the sequel or its PSP remake. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s because I don’t need to. From what I know, MediEvil 2 moved from a feudal Burton-esque setting to Victorian London, and included characters such as Jack the Ripper and Winston Churchill. It got good reviews – as evidenced by its score of 79% on GameRankings – but nothing about the sequel looks appealing to me. Maybe it’s because I felt that Dan’s story was done by the end of the first game. I think I’m happy sticking with just the first game as a standalone adventure.
With that said, I am very intrigued to see how the upcoming PlayStation 4 remaster turns out. In a perfect world, it would come with updated graphics, audio and controls, while keeping level design and game mechanics as close to the original as possible. Perhaps the platforming and camera could be improved, while also making some more subtler changes to better flesh out the world of Gallowmere. I don’t currently own a PS4, but this could be a major factor in my decision to purchase one.
It may be rough around the edges, but MediEvil has still managed to stand the test of time a lot better than other games from that era, with the level and sound design being among its strongest assets. The memorable Danny Elfman-inspired score is a personal highlight for me. I think anyone who owned a PlayStation will have at least heard of MediEvil. If not, it’s certainly something you should check out if you’re a fan of early 3D hack and slash games. It’s now at the stage where it has reached cult status amongst gamers, and if the remaster reignites interest in the series, Sony may indeed consider releasing a MediEvil 3.
Tested on PS1
Developer SCE Cambridge Studio
Publisher Sony Computer Entertainment