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Young Merlin

1993 Virgin Games

Westwood Studios

Super Nintendo


One reason why I don't play very many RPGs is because they just take too damn long. About ten years ago or so console RPGs started hitting the point of ridiculousness - thousands of items, side quests, dozens of characters, extremely complicated magic systems, multiple nonlinear path trees, hours of gameplay that sometimes reached into the triple digits, etc. Who has two hundred and fifty six hours to spend tracking down every little sword or growing dragon eggs or harvesting Materia or whatever? So it's nice sometimes to find a simple RPG that can be completed in two or three settings. This particular game might be a bit too much on the simple side though.

Young Merlin is a 3/4 perspective Zelda-like RPG that seems to be aiming for the 12 and under crowd. The story concerns out titular character as he wanders around the kingdom solving puzzles and rescuing people. The whole game has a pretty lighthearted feel. There are multiple little cinemas that progress the story. Whenever Merlin talks to another character a word bubble is used (like in a comic book) with an icon of what is being said. Puzzles are pretty easy, and usually involve you walking around and finding something then bringing it back to or using it at a certain place - planting flowers, finding a rare fish, finding strange jewels which give you certain items when thrown into a pool, etc. There are some simple push block puzzles in the later levels that aren't too tough to figure out. Combat involves you shooting little magic stars at bad guys and making them hideously explode from the inside out in unbearable fits of deranged agony, except nicely. Eventually you get other spells such as a freeze, fire, and lightning attacks. Bosses are generally cake but take way too much punishment. There's this spider boss where you have to kill it's eggsack. You can stand in such a way as to kill all of the spiders that come out of it. Problem is you end up shooting this stupid egg sack like a thousand times before it dies, literally sitting in the same place jamming on the B button for like five minutes straight. I just don't understand..

The main gripe I have with this game are three areas where you're in this dwarf mine and you have to ride this mine cart. These sequences are ridiculous and unneeded. You have to lean in certain directions to turn or avoid sections of broken track, but more often than not you end up running into walls unintentionally. Why? Because Merlin is not in the center of the screen, he's slightly off center. You have maybe 1/10th of a second to see a hazard and react, not because they come too fast, but because Merlin seems to react half a second behind your controller input. So you see the dang turn coming and press in that direction but Merlin doesn't listen and runs into the stupid wall. Argh... To be fair, these sequences aren't as difficult as similar twitchy segments of other games (Battletoads comes to mind) but they're still pretty vile. The only way to get past them is to memorize it, and the only way to memorize it is to do it over and over and over again. That shit was fine when I was 13, but nowadays I got no patience for this kind of repetitive shenanigans.

Plus it's just a tad unbalanced. The puzzles are so easy an eight year old could figure them out, but there are areas that are extremely tough to get through (such as the underwater area.) Through the whole game combat is extremely simple, then you fight a boss that takes 3000 shots to kill (not kidding.) There are no "lives" in the game, when you die you just have to start a certain part over, which was probably done so the kids could have a chance of completing it. That's good, because even though most normal enemy types die in two or three shots, if any of them get around to actually touching you your life disappears in the blink of an eye. It's pretty sad when a small little fish can corner and decimate our hero in only a few seconds.

In the end the game comes off pretty well, but doesn't really do enough. There are some funny parts that will make the kiddies smile, plus the graphics are quite good. But the gameplay is just too simplistic to be intriguing, and too unbalanced to prove satisfying.

Graphics: Cartoonish and fluid, with lots of little tricks here and there - for instance in the underwater area there's a transparent overlay of "waves," very impressive. In general the graphics are very well done and fit the theme nicely.

Sound: Good music that keeps itself from getting annoying. Sound effects are well done. The mumbling voice of the old wizard is reminiscent of the mumbling from the teacher in the old Charlie Brown cartoons.

Gameplay: Tries to be like Zelda for the kids but is unexpectedly difficult in too many ways.


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