Sunday, 19 June 2016

Re-visited: Medievil + Medievil 2 (Playstation)

Well it's been a while since I last posted and to be bluntly honest (the best way to be in my book), I've just been very lazy. Extremely lazy even. Anyway, I've still been gaming during my absence (the flood of "where have you gone?" emails was too emotional to deal with) and as happens sometimes, I decided to turn a blind eye to the monstrous backlog of unplayed games and replay something from the past that I have a lot of affection for, that "something" being the magical Medievil for the original Playstation. This was a standout title for me in my early years of gaming for all sorts of reasons and 2016 was certainly not the first year that I paid another visit to the land of Gallowmere but did SCE Cambridge's creation still manage to wow me?

You'd better believe it. I love trying out new games (old and modern) but there's nothing like returning to an old flame for another fling is there? (or so I have been told!). Yes, the visuals are notably dated in 2016 and the combat is nothing to write home about in a post-God of War era but Medievil retains a unique charm that will not be eroded by time and here's why.

First of all, those 'dated' graphics are actually not so dated. Textures and draw distances are obviously not very impressive by today's lofty standards but the art style of the game leans towards being mildly surreal, slightly exaggerated and even a little twisted. Simply put, not aiming for a completely realistic game world has actually helped Medievil age extremely well because you're not looking at - for example - a gravestone and thinking "these look a lot better in modern games". You are instead appreciative of the crazy shapes on display and beautiful gothic cues, both aspects contributing to a general "look" rather than appearing aged. For similar examples, take a look at the Crash Bandicoot and Spyro games to see how fantastical shapes and settings help a 15+ year-old title still look more than acceptable to the eye in an age of photorealism. All of these games had top-drawer graphics in their day in fairness but I would bet money on the 'realistic' games of the subsequent PS2 generation looking far uglier than this in the future (if they already don't).

The Short Sword...every hero has to start somewhere.

The music too is really quite special with each level having it's own unique theme. Rousing, sombre, haunting, grim...lots of different moods are utilised at the correct time and it's yet another example of a soundtrack that I could easily listen to outside of the game. Personal highlights are the sad notes of King Peregrine's castle, the eery tones of the Enchanted Earth and the fantastical sounds of the Crystal Caves but really, all of the music is memorable and of a high standard.

Humour is prevalent too and it's of the classic British variety which - as a Brit myself - I find very amusing. Upon successfully collecting a stage's chalice, Sir Dan will be transported to the mythical 'Hall of Heroes' where he can stand before the statues of various other heroes and receive new weapons or items. These characters in particular are hilarious and blatant stereotypes sporting the entire spectrum of British dialects from the north, south and everywhere in between. You can clearly see that the designers of Medievil must have had some serious fun selecting the dialects and matching them up with smile-inducing dialog. The wall-mounted Gargoyles are another highlight for their sarcastic personality, especially when addressing Sir Dan and mocking him. I can only feel sorry for Japanese gamers if their localisation included voiceovers in their native language as they would be missing out on one of Medievil's biggest assets.

This boulder section early on still manages to annoy me...

If I had to pick one negative aspect of the game then it would be combat. It's certainly not bad at all but there is no form of lock-on or evasion systems and having to manually manipulate the camera at the same time with the shoulder buttons to leave you in a sticky situation but moreover, it's usually the general loose feel of the controls and having to just keep hitting enemies and hope they die before they dish out too much damage that annoys. Fortunately the game is quite lenient in this respect and death is usually the fault of falling into pits or taking injury from obstacles. Shields provide some defense but degrade far too quickly for my liking so need to be used sparingly in the most dangerous of places (usually against projectiles). I also find that there is rarely enough gold in the game to fund the constant repairing of the gold shield, re-stocking of supplies and so on - unless you are happy to replay past levels and farm them for gold that is. Again though, this issue is partially negated by simply sticking to one or two favoured projectile weapons and only buying stock for those. My favourite weapons in the game are the mighty blue Magic Sword, Dragon Armour and Magic Bow. The throwing axe is also a fantastic hybrid melee/projectile weapon.

Overall I enjoyed my 2016 Edition 100% run-through of Medievil very much. The game was just as loveable as I remembered and I had a great time re-visiting familiar locales again. The game comes up smelling of roses for its art and audio design most of all though so I'm not sure how I'd view the game if I were only interested in the action side of things. Fortunately that isn't the case and I appreciate the visual direction and accompanying audio even more now that I'm older which is a pleasant realisation.

Upon clearing Medievil, I knew that I wouldn't be able to leave it there. I played the sequel back in the day too and I remembered enjoying it but also recalled that it was a bit more fiddly and that I didn't ever complete it. The copy I have is that very same one bought on release but outside of the physical product, I found myself genuinely unfamiliar with what I was about to experience. All I had were vague recollections of the levels, enemies and events so in a way, re-visiting Medievil 2 would be an intriguing prospect.

A new time, familiar enemies.

In this game, Dan is reanimated in the Victorian era with the land of Gallowmere firmly in the past. There are new foes with evil plots in the works and many new locations to fight through including Kensington, Kew Gardens and Whitechapel to name just three. Gameplay-wise, things are much the same with the bonus addition of camera control now also mapped the right analogue stick which gives Medievil 2 a definite modern feel. Dan also now has firearms at his disposal but for all intents and purposes, the pistol, Blunderbuss and Gatling Gun function the same as the projectile weapons from the first game. The majority of the original weapons are also included sans the Dragon Armour (booooo!), Magic bow (double booooo!) and a few others.

Medievil 2 shocked me however and not in a good way. I found myself not enjoying it that much and having to force myself to play it. What was the problem? Well, I did finish it 100% in the end and I came to the conclusion that my apathy towards the sequel was the result of lots of small niggles rather than one single flaw. To save time, I'll just list my gripes below:
  • Dan now has a comedy voice rather than his original gruff version.
  • Too many annoying enemies that take ages to dispatch i.e. the intangible foes that keep re-animating zombies and can only be hit when they make themselves solid. The green sewer monster things that latch onto Dan's body and drain health and leap about the place resurrecting fallen zombies are also a pain.
  • Several hateful levels such as the 'Dankenstein' boxing segment.
  • The whole game simply isn't as charming as the fictional setting of Gallowmere.
  • The music isn't as memorable.
  • Some levels felt too 'open' and not as tightly designed as those in the original.
I had to use cheat codes to pass two areas because they were so irritating that I simply couldn't be arsed to keep re-playing them. One was to clear the terribly frustrating Dankenstein boxing challenge and the other was to obtain the Kew Gardens chalice because trying to protect all of the civilians from the pumpkin monsters was infuriating. I also found life refills and gold to be in a lot shorter supply than the previous game and enemies more dangerous than ever so on balance, I would say that Medievil 2 is easily the more challenging of the two games.

Dan has a love interest for the sequel: Egyptian princess Kira.

It's important for me to say that I did enjoy the sequel however. I finally put it to bed 100% (with the aid of those two instances of shameful cheating of course...) and I appreciated the new ideas and setting that SCE Cambridge had implemented to keep the formula fresh whilst retaining what made the original so likable in the first place. The 'Dan Hand' puzzle bits were creative for the time and the bigger use of plot/characters was certainly an interesting experiment. Personally I preferred the more simplistic experience of the original game but I can't criticise the developers for going the way they did. After all, many gamers probably prefer the expanded nature of the sequel and it's not hard to see why. It wasn't for me though and while I would happily replay Medievil on a regular basis, I could comfortably sidestep playing the follow-up again...or at least not as often. The original is a 10/10 title for me. The sequel? Probably an 8. That's still a fine score indeed but not how I expected to conclude when I dug both games out again to replay.

I should probably end by mentioning that I haven't played the PSP remake but judging by how much the small alterations to Medievil 2 irked me, I can't see how it would be a good idea. I've seen screens and I've read things about it and that's probably all I need to know to be honest. Should there be a Medievil 3? Well, I'm not completely against it but I honestly believe that the game is a product of its time and that a brand-new sequel may well be a solid game but I can't see it capturing that same magic.

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