|If theres anything that gives me pure, bone-tingling
pleasure, its the way the voice actors in the MediEvil series say "Sir Daniel
Fortesque" in their exaggerated Cockney accents. It rings in the ears, falls
pleasantly from the lips, and clears the phlegm out of your throat to do an impression of
it. But Ive little hope of describing the sound, so youll have to pick up
MediEvil 2 to check it out. The British franchise, developed by Sonys Cambridge
studio, has been very popular since the first installment hit in October of 1998, just in
time for Halloween. The latest, MediEvil 2, is just out, and the series is as strong as
ever with more great humor, in a sort of "gothic Monty Python" vein, and
incredibly unique game play. If youre a fan of the action/adventure platform genre,
youre probably already playing MediEvil 2. If you arent playing it, you need
The second installment picks up where the first left off. Well, it picks up about 500 years or so after the first, but thats testament to how successful Sir Dan was. It all started in the dark ages of a place very much like Britain. In an area called Gallowmere the evil wizard, Zarok, planned to rule and destroy the world. Sir Daniel Fortesque, who had died embarrassingly a couple of hundred years before, is ressurrected to save the world. He does, through a series of wacky adventures, and all is well until Palethorn, a successful 19th Century industrialist and evil sorceror discovers a lost page of Zaroks spellbook. He gets up to some black magic, and soon the dead are walking and monsters have flooded into Victorian London. A quick-thinking scientist (and magician), Professor Kift, revives Sir Dan once again to save the world.
This time the Statler and Waldorf esque gargoyles are replaced by Winston The Help Ghost and The Spiv. Winston is the ghost of a 10 year old pauper (think Oliver here) who shows up to give you hints, save your game, and help you out along the way. The Spiv is a shady, trenchcoat-wearing merchant who hangs out in secluded spots and sells you provisions and services. You are ressurrected in the Museum, and encounter these two characters almost immediately. You will also encounter a bunch of zombies, some animated suits of armor, and a revitalized Tyrranosaurus Rex. Ill take time here to insure that while MediEvil 2, and the characters in the game, draw from a "Halloween" motif, featuring zombies, skeletons, vampires, brain-sucking watermelon octopi, it is all conveyed in a cartoony and very non-threatening way. I would be surprised if any little kids were frightened by the MediEvil games. The cartoony graphics also lend to the humorous tilt of the game.
Gameplay is very similar to MediEvil. You rendezvous at the Professors Laboratory this time, as opposed to the Hall of Heroes, and he gives you new weapons and story development. The map interface has been replaced, making MediEvil 2 slightly more linear. On the one hand I was disappointed that you are only presented with one option to continue, whereas in MediEvil two or three levels may have opened after completing one. On the other hand, progressing through the levels in order prevented me from engaging on too tough a mission and having to start over. Its a small difference anyway. You can still return to levels to complete objectives, find more money, or just whoop up on weak enemies with tough weapons. The inventory system is still the same, and theyve added a few new weapons, like the Gatling Gun, which is so sweet.
Sir Dans head is more important in MediEvil 2. Birds steal it, puzzles rely on it, and you can put it on the disembodied hands that run around in some areas to explore hard to reach rooms. I really like Dans modularity (he also can use his boney arm as a weapon, and throw it like a boomerang). In one level, Dans head is placed atop a cobbled together body to form Dankenstein, and you fight a bout against the Iron Slugger in a level that plays like Ready 2 Rumble for the undead.
There are downsides to the gameplay, mainly because of technical difficulties. Sir Dan is still as squirrelly as ever. The D-Pad makes you walk, and the analog joystick makes you run, but whether walking or running its tough to get Dan to stand exactly where you want him to. Also, because double tapping the D-Pad makes Dan run, oftentimes you end up running when you dont want to. I would much prefer a run button. The camera is still not ideal in MediEvil 2. While you do have pretty extensive camera controls, plus a first person look function, the automatic camera tracking is atrocious. Oftentimes enemies will be left out of sight, and when coupled with the difficult movement the camera can be really frustrating, especially when lining up jumps. All of this could have been overlooked, except for the fact that the game relies on precise movements and jumping to get through several parts. Add to that the fact that you can only save at the beginning of levels and a few major checkpoints, and youll end up replaying large chunks of the game because you missed a crucial step and died.
The graphics on MediEvil 2 deserve to be better than they are. Sylistically, they are top notch. The cartoony aesthetic really aids the story, adds to the humor, and creates a believable universe. However, the visuals are plagued by pixels and the occasional clipping problem. The clipping doesnt get so bad as to interfere with gameplay, but sometimes disrupted my suspension of disbelief. Also, there are many in-game cinematics that are delivered with game graphics, and I think these really should have been made into real FMVs. Half the fun of playing MediEvil 2 is getting the story, so the story should be polished up as nicely as possible. And that last battle against the demon Ive never seen a more disappointingly rendered final boss.
The voice acting and audio are incredible throughout. As I said before, those accents just make me giggle with limey glee. The background music is perfect: moody where necessary; light and ironic where funny. Its easy for sound to fall to the wayside in games such as these, but in MediEvil 2 the audio cues give a strange satisfaction. The thwack of the crossbow arrows is beautiful, and the ka-ching of the money bags is disturbingly comforting.
There are so many great things about MediEvil 2 that the relatively minor technical difficulties can be overlooked. Without a doubt, this series has some of the best writing, voice acting, and innovative plot and play elements this side of Oddworld. Level and puzzle design is just right, and the game creates an entire world of its own that blurs with real history. This is the kind of game that is played and loved by kids for the cool visuals and wacky story, but also appeals to adults because of its intelligence and artfulness. Once again, Sir Dan saves the action/adventure genre from mundane repetition.