The first game with the MediEvil name arrived for the PlayStation back in '98 with little fanfare and the unfortunate baggage of being marked by the press as a 3D take on Capcom's Ghosts 'N Goblins series. That labelwasn't accurate for a number of reasons - the main one being that it wasn't an extremely hard hack-and-slash platform game. Instead, MediEvil focused on 3D puzzle-solving, albeit with hack-and-slashy parts in between, but little or no platform-jumping. The puzzles were original, fun to solve, and just difficult enough to be challenging without being frustrating, making the game a welcome surprise. A year and a half later, a sequel has made its way to store shelves, and though it's not by any means a sophomore slump, it's not as strong as the original either.
The basics of MediEvil II are similar to the basics of the first MediEvil. You control the jawless undead knight, Sir Daniel Fortesque, from a behind-the-back perspective as he makes his way around in the olden days of the world's spookiest city, London. Your arsenal ranges from clubs and swords to crossbows and muskets, and if you defeat enough enemies on each level to unlock its Chalice of Souls, you'll be rewarded with special items.
Set several hundred years after MediEvil, MII finds Dan awakening in the Victorian era where Lord Palethorn - arch criminal, evil magician, and high-society wannabe - has begun to raise an army of the dead to take over the world. Dan takes it upon himself to stop him and finds allies in the form of a mad professor, a friendly ghost, and a female Egyptian mummy/love interest, all of whom provide him with help between and during levels.
Beyond that, things are much as they were in the first game, save for a few changes. For one, the game's structure is far less cookie-cutter than before. Without ruining any surprises - just when you come to think you know how the levels progress, chaos intercedes and the plot and gameplay get very interesting. Another nice touch is that you no longer play just as Sir Dan; you also take control of Sir Dan's head (made mobile by those disembodied Addams' Family hands that scurry throughout the levels) and beheaded body, which at times is called on to retrieve its head from pesky birds. Playing as the head gives you access to smaller passageways, where you'll invariably find a switch that must be hit in order for big Dan to continue. Beyond these two forms, there's even a minigame where Dan's head is placed on a Frankenstein-like body, and he competes against a huge Victorian robot in a boxing arena. When the robot hits Dan too hard, his limbs fly out of the ring, and he must fight imps between rounds in order to retrieve them.
And though the traditional puzzles found in the first game aren't gone, the gameplay has changed so that instead of fighting your way through a horde of monsters to get to a puzzle, the way in which you must defeat your enemies is the puzzle. For example, a phantom will raise a group of zombies to fight you. You can't hit him except during the scant few seconds that he's casting his spell to bring them back to life, which isn't obvious until you've hacked through the undead a few times. More complex battles soon follow.
Not all the changes are positive however. The game camera may work well through most of the game when you're playing as Sir Dan, but when you're Dan's head on a hand, it's more limited, often causing you to fall off platforms and die. The final few levels also require a lot of platform-jumping in areas where the camera works against you, changing the game from one that is difficult, challenging, and fun to being too difficult, and distinctly unfun. The developers seemed to be aware that the game camera wasn't ideal for platform jumping since it was, for the most part, avoided in the original, but for some reason it appears pretty heavily near the end of the sequel.
In the end, MediEvil II feels as though it contains all the features that Sony Cambridge wanted to fit into the original game but didn't have time to include. They're wonderfully original and fun, but unfortunately the perspective problems make certain points far more difficult than they should be and keep this very good game from being great. Fans of the first game shouldn't be disappointed, but they should at least go into it forewarned.