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Video (Real Player)
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Merlin Racing
NUON Game Review

Type: Kart Racing
# of players: 1-2
Tracks: 25
MSRP: 29.95

Magic, mayhem and mini-karts, - what more could you ask for?

It had been years since Prava the evil witch had dared to show her face around Camelot, which was just fine with Merlin. The longer she stayed away, the easier it was to forget, and forgetting was nice. However, Merlin knew that he could not simply forget and expect the problem to vanish. Sure he could make all manner of objects appear and disappear at will, but this was different. It had been written in the stars many years before Merlin was even born, and if he was reading the signs correctly, it was just a matter of time... Nevertheless, it was a happy time and Merlin did not want to spoil it by dwelling on a centuries-old prophecy that could well bring an end to not only Camelot, but to the world!

Features:

  • Four modes of gameplay - Adventure, Tournament, Arcade and Time Trial.
  • Ten characters from which to choose
  • More than 25 unique tracks in a variety of settings
  • Three different types of vehicles; mini-karts, swamp-buggies and futuristic hover crafts
  • Bonus items: grenades, rockets and turbo-boosts
  • One or two players - race alone or go head-to-head with a friend

Let's see - kart racing with cute characters in a bright and colorful land, the perfect game for a 5-year old, right? Well, on the surface that may well be so, but underneath lies a beast - a beast that rears its ugly head right about the first time you race the first boss (Dr. Freo) in Adventure mode. You suddenly realize that Miracle Designs must be playing some sick joke by hiding an insanely difficult racing game in the guise of a "kiddy" game. Enter the world of Merlin Racing.

If you've played any of the other many, many variations of kart racing games since Super Mario Kart on the SNES, you'll know exactly what to expect from Merlin Racing. One game that Merlin bears the greatest resemblance to, though, is Diddy Kong Racing. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, considering Diddy Kong was a very fun game; it just means the game isn't overly original.

There are multiple play modes in the game. Arcade, Adventure, Time Trial and Tournament. Adventure mode is the meat 'n potatoes of Merlin Racing, though, and you'll most likely spend the most time playing (and hurling vulgarities at) this mode. Adventure sees you battling through race after race, collecting keys and beating bosses to retrieve the illusive "Zystral Crystals." This mode definitely shows just how difficult a kart racing game can get. From Dr. Freo to race 19 "Space Race," it's a blast and frustrating all at the same time. And, the multiple vehicles at your disposal provide a nice variety to the whole adventure.

As you make your way through the game's many, many tracks you'll see just how much time went into designing the levels in this game. Almost no two levels look alike (with just a few exceptions), and each level is bustling with color, animations and textures. I've said it before and I'll say it again - Merlin Racing may be THE most colorful game I've played on any system, ever. The only major gripe with the graphics is the low(ish) resolution. The framerate chugs along at a nice clip (probably 30FPS), and there's very little load time. The DVD format obviously is being used to provide a huge variety of textures and visualizations, which help this game stand up nicely against the competition.

The audio in Merlin is decidedly cute and while there is a nice variety, the music could be better. All the audio tracks are pretty basic but fit the game nicely. The SFX are basically what you'd expect for this game, though some voice-overs for the characters in the Adventure mode cinematics would be well appreciated. A few voice clips for the playable in-game characters would be nice as well. Also of note is the fact that the audio is in full surround sound, which plays a vital role once you get to the upper levels. You'll be listening to see if the 2nd place racer hit that bomb you laid out, if someone's coming up from behind with a shield active and to estimate how far away your opponents are.

Whether you're a fan of Karting games or not, it's hard to deny the fact that Merlin Racing shines even in such a crowded genre. Thanks to the colorful, varied tracks, multiple vehicles, numerous play modes and challenging gameplay, Merlin has a lot going for it. It may not be an original concept, but it is quite fun.

Graphics - 8

    Colorful. Plain and simple. Good framerate and high variety of textures keep Merlin looking great despite a semi-low resolution.

Sound/Music - 7

    High quality surround-sound SFX, basic "cute" music tracks. Some voices would have added extra character to the Adventure mode.

Control - 9

    Very good. Some characters seem a bit too slippery but all have their benefits and disadvantages.

Fun Factor - 9

    Would have been higher if it wasn't so absolutely frustrating at times. But it keeps you coming back for more!

Overall (not an average) - 85%

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