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The games you obsess over as a child are interesting, because in a lot of cases (and correct me if I’m only speaking for myself here), you often didn’t finish them. You may have sank more hours into them than is reasonable or sane but it’s not impossible that you didn’t get very far into the actual game. How does that work? How can you love something you were unable to see all of, which may have been too hard for you to even play properly?
Most of the series which I’m still to this day obsessed with have early entries I never finished. Hitman 2: Silent Assassin – note my use of that full subtitle is quite passive aggressive since “Hitman 2” is out in November; aggravating – was too difficult for me, I never fully finished a Tomb Raider until Legend, and then there’s MediEvil; the game that caused me to misspell “medieval” for years after.
This game may be one of my earliest experiences of hype. I still remember playing the MediEvil demo on the infamous Demo 1 disk over and over. That there was a full game out there never seemed quite real. But one Christmas I finally got it and gained access to the full land of Gollowmere. And so began an obsession with a reluctant protagonist with only eye and half a head, and an unforgiving world of zombies, insta-death and a thoroughly British approach to a hero’s journey.
My most vivid memories of the game are wrong. Which is to say I experienced it as a different game than it was. While not the outright comedy it’s PSP remake would become, the game is a dark cartoon very heavily influenced by Tim Burton-style sensibilities by way of a Python-esque existential bleakness. To me it was a survival horror.
The slow clunky combat made for sometimes hectic and frequently unforgiving encounters with the varied and prone to swarming, enemies. The eventual ranged weapons feeling like a precious commodity, especially for bosses. Probably most comparable to an early Zelda game in terms of health, weapons and combat design but with early 3D movement and a slightly hovering camera which could feel almost top-down at points. Despite a rigid level structure, there was a ‘baby’s first MetroidVania’ system in effect with levels often needing to be replayed after later weapons/items were acquired to open up the path forward, allowing the world to feel more harmonious and complete.
But if I really had to try and pin down what about the game made it stick with me, fondly and for all the years since; it’s probably the score. In much the same way that the visuals are suspiciously Burton-esque, the music is dangerously close to being a court case Danny Elfman would win. Yet there’s something more formal about it than a real Elfman score, it has his sound but without his signature indulgences and zany quirks. Almost every level had distinct and complete themes with the occasional melody of the main theme sneaking in. It was often quite dramatic, frequently bombastic and added an air of authenticity to the situations and tone instead of playing into the cartoon silliness which the game could much more easily have fully embraced.
The (panic-inducing to wee-baby-me) boss theme made the fights feel more intense, the threats more credible. While sections such as the wheat demons – effectively an extended level of ‘the floor is made of lava’ but with wheat fields – were that much more tense by virtue of the score making you fear the jabbering lunacy that lay in wait in the crops more than they maybe deserved. Then there were pieces such as Cemetery Hill and the Hilltop Mausoleum which are simply beautifully constructed pieces of music in their own right. The score was (partially) recorded anew for the PSP pseudo-remake by the City of Prague Philharmonic and it is a treat for the ears.
One odd tidbit about the score while we’re on it. It seems the rerecording of the soundtrack used in MediEvil Resurrection is cheaply and easily available to be licenced because it frequently shows up on British television. Sky used it a lot in the trailers for their Terry Pratchett adaptations and, more bizarrely, it’s the BBC’s go-to music whenever they want to imply a television is on in the background of a scene in Eastenders. This isn’t what Sir Dan died for…repeatedly.
This is probably why the game has had an oddly long shelf life in some people’s memories. In terms of tone and atmosphere, it stood out amongst the other mascot-platformers etc of its era. While your Crash and Spyro’s largely went for brighter colours and protagonists meant to at least partially seem ‘cool’ to the younger audience playing these games, MediEvil was visually dark, musically eerie and sweeping, and fronted by a self-loathing coward stumbling begrudgingly through a world-saving adventure simply so that he may die in peace and ideally stay dead this time. And let’s not forget, this was a character with no lower jaw who grumbled every line of dialogue and required subtitles throughout. There is no reason this game should have been anything other than weird and annoying and yet instead it was engrossing, witty, occasionally spooky and effortlessly charming.
It’s been almost a year since Sony announced a PS4 remaster of the original and not a peep subsequently. Let us remain hopeful that the project wasn’t quietly cancelled and that Sir Dan may yet be forced to reluctantly inhabit the land of the living(-dead) once more.