When Sony entered the console arena with the PlayStation they were not known as an exceptionally strong developer. Psygnosis and Singletrac created many of their initial hits but the memory of 16-bit turds such as Cliffhanger and Last Action Hero still lingered. So it was quite a surprise when Medievil showed up at the 1997 E3 show and stunned everyone.
Medievil was created by Sony Cambridge and released worldwide in 1998. Sir Dan Fortesque had become something of a legend in the land of Gallowmere, with stories of his bravery and feats told everywhere. The biggest story is of his defeat of the wizard Zarok. The reality however was slightly different. In truth sir Dan was killed in the initial wave of the battle against Zarok, with the Kings army winning without him. A century later Zarok is on the loose with his undead army and unknowingly brings Dan back to life. Now with a second chance to restore his reputation he sets out to stop Zarok. In many ways Medievil is closest in theme to the Ghouls and Ghosts series in tone and features the same combination of winning gameplay tempered by a fair challenge.
Across Gallowmere the object of the game is the same on every level: collect items and treasures and reach the exit. There are a large volume of items to collect in order to solve the puzzles that dot the levels, with the most frequent being the runes needed to access later areas. You amass a series of weapons throughout the quest, from crossbows to swords to axes that can be switched freely. Every enemy killed is tracked and fills up the Chalice of Souls, which grants access to the Hall of Heroes after every level. Here great heroes from the past will lend Dan aid in the form of new weapons or items.
The Ghost n’ Goblins/Nightmare before Christmas inspired theme is used to great effect. Although the levels span the gamut of Halloween tropes, such as graveyards, ghost ships, and ruins Medievil also has some of its own originals, like the Pumpkin Gorge, Scarecrow Fields or Asylum, levels you don’t see in every platformer. The variety is one of Medievil’s biggest strengths. Every level presents its own distinct puzzles and challenges, and the assortment of weapons also gives you something to look forward to every new level. The difficulty is just right in the sense that it begins simply and ramps up but never to the point of frustration. For those that like to fully clear their games collecting every chalice will take some serious skill and is worth the hassle. Even the story is engrossing in its own way, as you’ll become invested in helping Sir Dan seek retribution and become revered by the people.
If there is one area that Medievil did not hold up is the presentation. Thematically its sound; although the game takes place at night it’s full of color, from stained glass windows to verdant fields. But the low frame rate and pop up mar the otherwise solid visuals. The camera is also a nuisance and seems to have a mind of its own, never fully rotating the way you want and even snapping back to its previous state at random. These instances aren’t frequent and thankfully don’t ruin the game
While it isn’t as technically brilliant as it was back in the 90s Medievil is still pleasant to look at but more importantly fun. This was the best of the barrage of platformers Sony released during that period when everyone wanted to ape Mario 64. It doesn’t’ attempt to follow in that game’s shoes and instead forges its own identity, that of an excellent platformer.