by Tim Wilson
One of the things about gaming now-a-days is that there's rarely (and I mean QUITE rarely) an original game concept released on the unsuspecting masses. Time and time again, a new game will be released which is merely a rehash of other games in it's particular genre, and will reek of been-there-done-that. Today's game in question, Merlin Racing, is certainly no exception.
For those of you who have played Diddy Kong Racing on the Nintendo 64, Merlin Racing will seem quite familiar. A little too familiar, in fact. Both games share the distinction of being a multi-vehicular race-em-up, done in good old Nintendo-esque fashion. Both feature colorful courses to race on with cute, cuddly animals with cute, cuddly names. Both feature weapon powerups which allow you to impede the progress of your fellow racers, including (but not limited to) bombs, rockets, and an electric "force field" which blocks enemy shots, shields bomb blasts, and spins out your rivals when they touch it. Both also feature aggravatingly difficult gameplay, which will frustrate even the most seasoned gamer.
Merlin Racing features four gameplay modes; Adventure, Tournament, Arcade, and Time Trial, which are all pretty self descriptive. The main attraction, of course, is the Adventure mode, where you drive around on your little go-kart as one of the eight selectable creatures and try to win races. Each time you win a race, you receive a key, which will then allow you to proceed to the next race, and so on and so forth. Not much is different than Diddy Kong Racing, of course. The overall goal of the game is to collect the four Zystral Crystals, which will allow you to defeat Prava and rescue Merlin from his rusty cage.
Sound easy? Don't even think it. You'll breeze through the first several levels until you reach the first boss, who will thoroughly stomp you in the mud and kick sand in your eye for good measure. This is no kiddy picnic, despite the cute and colorful graphics. On your side, though, is the fact that the controls are top notch, and in some ways superior to Merlin's alter-ego (Diddy Kong, in case you didn't figure it out).
Graphics and sound, however, are definitely a toss-up. While MR features a much wider variety of textures than DKR, you'll definitely notice a few drawbacks. First of all, MR uses a lower resolution than DKR, and also fails to use any kind of anti-aliasing, leaving jagged edges on every object. Second, MR's frame rate easily drops as you start spinning around and going through caverns, whereas DKR stays a smooth, constant 30fps. And lastly, the water levels seem a bit odd; you're boat somehow seems like it's floating above the water most of the time, a fact not helped by the minimal splash effects. Despite these, complaints, though, MR certainly does look nice.
Audio is about average, with cute soundtracks for the races and believable background noise. Thankfully, MR doesn't feature annoying voices for the characters, which gives it a plus over DKR. A few more audio effects (and yes, maybe some voices) would certainly help, but as it stands, the audio is just fine.
Controls are spot on, as mentioned earlier. The only complaint I could register here is that the boats seem to "grip" the water, which makes it easier to control, but a little less believable. No one accused this game of being a simulation, though.
Overall, MR is definitely not a bad game. It has plenty of ups (colorful graphics, challenging gameplay, and tight controls) as well as downs (fairly blocky graphics, spotty frame rates, and NO save game feature). If you're looking for a good quality racing game that is fun (albeit frustrating) for the whole family, the MR will definitely be a good buy. However, if you already own a Nintendo 64 and Diddy Kong Racing, the only reason to pick this title up would be to support your Nuon developers.
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