Let’s get this out of the way immediately. Despite being a Sony-published PS3 exclusive, despite starring a skeleton with a sword, and despite the game’s name, Medieval Moves: Deadmund’s Quest has absolutely zero relation to the PlayStation classic MediEvil.
Hopefully, that has set your expectations low, because expecting too much from Deadmund’s Quest is fairly easy, especially given how promising it looks. As one of the few action-adventure games in the PlayStation Move’s library, it aims to be more than your usual collection of waggle-based minigames.
It’s just a shame it didn’t aim to be much more than that. Good job, Jeremy!
Medieval Moves: Deadmund’s Quest (PlayStation 3)
Developer: San Diego Studios, Zindagi Games
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Released: November 15, 2011
Medieval Moves: Deadmund’s Quest tells the tale of a young prince named Edmund, whose castle is invaded by the skeleton wizard Morgrimm. He turns the castle’s inhabitants, including Edmund, into skeletons, but while the civilian populace become evil thralls, Edmund’s mind is shielded by a magical deus ex amulet. Sadly, the amulet has been shattered into four pieces, so the newly styled “Deadmund” must put it back together and stop Morgrimm’s generically villainous machinations.
With its promise of increasingly powerful items and multiple paths, not to mention its third-person perspective, one could be forgiven for thinking that the PlayStation Move might have finally gotten a decent action-adventure title. Unfortunately, the cosmetics and promises give way to what is fundamentally an on-rails time-waster that attempts a few unique things but is never bold enough to stand out from the pack.
Gameplay is mostly split between three actions — slashing with a sword, firing arrows, and tossing throwing stars. Deadmund’s movement is handled by the game, while players wave the controller around in various manners to perform actions.
Melee combat is a simple case of swinging the controller around, which the PlayStation Eye will track with 1:1 precision. You can slash in any direction, from whatever angle you wish, then Deadmund will replicate the attack fairly accurately. Pressing the “Move” button will bring up Deadmund’s shield, which is manipulated with similar precision to block the angled shots of opponents. Thus it is that combat becomes a fairly fast-paced balance between blocking, which is also crucial in defending against enemy projectiles, and counter-attacking.
To fire an arrow, players must simulate taking a bow from a quiver by reaching behind themselves with the Move button pressed. Reaching behind and then aiming forward will make Deadmund draw his bow, which again features totally accurate aiming. Actually shooting the arrows aren’t quite so accurate, however, because the on-screen target reticule essentially lies to its users. You can have an enemy directly in the crosshairs, but the arrow will regularly bounce off random environmental debris or miss altogether. I’ve found that aiming anywhere around an opponent has a greater chance of hitting him than actually trying to aim at him.
For mid-range enemies, the throwing stars are an invaluable weapon. Pressing the trigger and flicking the controller will toss a star in the desired direction, and it soon becomes apparent that one can continually toss endless stars without much thought in order to overwhelm incoming attackers. This is a boon when faced with multiple melee opponents, as they’ll stagger and fall back when hit with a star.
The action is broken up by a few extra motion-based activities, such as tossing dynamite by holding the controller upwards to light it then making a throwing motion. There is also a hookshot-like device which is activated by pointing downward, pressing a button, and then releasing while pointing at the grapple target. Players will need to turn locks to open doors, rotate or pull levers, and also activate special amulet powers by holding the controller to the their chest and pressing two buttons. To replenish health, Deadmund needs to drink milk by having the player press a button and make a swig motion. Finally, a number of quick time events, featuring Deadmund’s avoiding traps by prompted swings of the controller, have been tossed in for good measure.
For the most part, the game works well, although there are some distinct moments of lag that will often see Deadmund’s taking cheap damage. Drawing the bow will occasionally have it stick in a transitional animation, with the player unable to aim for a second or two. This can also happen to the shield, which is particularly frustrating, as well as the quick time events, which get horrendously unresponsive whenever a sideways swipe is required.
By far the most aggravating part of the control scheme, however, is how confused it can get. This is a problem in any game that tries to make a single control method handle multiple actions, and it’s especially grievous in Medieval Moves. Often, the game can’t work out whether you want to draw the bow or toss a throwing star, especially in the heat of combat when the player is pressured into acting quickly. Activating amulet powers is nearly impossible to do on purpose, as the game barely ever understands the chest motion. Trying to do most things in the game will usually result in Deadmund’s attempting to light a stick of dynamite, because it seems nobody thought that having over five items mapped to two buttons might have been more than the software could handle. It reminds me of how confused The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass would get with its all-touch controls.
Another issue is the fact that the game demands incredibly dramatic movements at all times. Even if the game knows when you have swung the sword, it will actively complain that you’re not swinging hard enough. To drink milk, players have to pretend to drink like they’re in a Betty Boop cartoon, leaning all the way back and simulating a ridiculous motion in order for the game to recognize it. When it comes to firing an arrow, Deadmund’s Quest won’t be satisfied until you’ve reached back far enough to punch yourself between the shoulder blades. Such movements are usually at odds with the combat’s quick pace, where players will need to focus on moving swiftly rather than melodramatically. It can also give you tennis elbow if you’re not careful enough with those swings.
The game is rarely challenging, ever relying on cheap tactics to provide a threat. Such tactics include surrounding Deadmund with multiple enemies while he can only ever effectively block one of them, or having several projectile-based enemies time their shots so that Deadmund can never aim at one without taking damage from the other. Even during these moments, health pickups are plentiful, and players will only ever feel tested by truly overwhelming odds, namely those rare difficulty spikes where the game throws all kinds of crap from multiple directions in an falsified attempt to be challenging.
There is a lot to complain about with Deadmund’s Quest, but when it works, it really does work quite well. The 1:1 precision leads to some pretty satisfying battles at times, and the flow between melee and ranged combat can be impressively fluid when the input doesn’t confuse the software. There are genuinely enthralling boss battles that use Deadmund’s skills in innovative ways and blend traditional boss combat with motion activity. When the game wants to be, it can be quite gratifying.
Medieval Moves impressively storms through its myriad flaws to become more fun than infuriating. It is certainly not incredible, but it does provide some simple, shallow enjoyment that makes solid use of the Move controller and tells a cute little story. It requires a little luck for all the potentially broken elements to work at once, but when they do, it’s a decent little adventure.
The game also wins points for having a terrific atmosphere. Despite not being MediEvil, it still captures that same goth-cartoon look and constantly delivers endearingly silly characters to interact with. While Deadmund himself is whiny and annoying, the eccentric skeletons he fights are amusing and affable in their bony, evil ways.
The biggest problem with Medieval Moves, however, is that it demonstrates a complete lack of bravery on the part of the developers. The gimmicky pre-subtitle name really indicates exactly what this title is at heart — just another tech demo. While it bears many similarities to fuller, deeper adventure games, Medieval Moves is a typical on-rails slasher/shooter that sees players’ tediously moving from one combat zone to the next across levels that get pretty repetitive after a while. There are only so many times you can trudge along a corridor, slash at some skeletons, then fire arrows at some other skeletons before you notice how formulaic and weary it all is.
At its heart, the ideas in Medieval Moves aren’t developed much further than what was shown in San Diego Studios’ debut Move effort, Sports Champions. While the archery and sword combat have been dressed up in the threads of a more engrossing title, the basic gameplay has barely evolved. It’s a game that cowers in its safe zone as much as possible, treading on familiar ground but attempting to use its visuals and premise to look more distinguished than it actually is.
Medieval Moves: Deadmund’s Quest could have been an incredible new IP for the PlayStation Move, a peripheral that sorely needs something exciting to call its own. Sadly, while remaining quite fun, the end product is a severely problematic and ultimately shallow exercise that covers familiar territory. While it would make a fairly worthwhile holiday game for the kids, the true potential of the game is tragically unrealized, and those looking for that elusively meaty PS Move title will come away disappointed.
Still, if you abandon any preconception, Deadmund’s Quest will give you at least a couple hours of entertainment before outstaying its welcome.