Young Merlin


Review by · June 8, 2001

Have you ever wondered who Merlin was? I mean, sure, everyone knows he has the big beard and the pointy hat, but what do you really know about our favorite sorcerer/senior citizen? Did you know that his mother was a mortal and his father was a demon? Didn’t think so. Ever guess that he’s still trapped to this day inside a giant tree? I thought not. Of course, the greatest source of mystery would have to be his childhood, a period that history tends to leave out in the lives of most celebrities. Anyway, I have played Young Merlin for the SNES, and I now know every detail of the mage’s childhood development.

And quite frankly, it was very, very disturbing. Here’s my review.

On a bright, sunny day in the land of Great Britain, Merlin was walking by a river when he saw a damsel in distress floating past in the raging waters. Being the brave blond that he was, he jumped in to rescue her. Sadly, he never learned to swim in the first place and was quickly dragged into a dark cavern… that led to a waterfall.

When he came to on the beach of a strange pond, he saw that his surroundings were extremely foreign. It was a land of mystery and magic, seemingly pristine and perfect, but tainted by a subtle and hidden evil. As Merlin, you must save the day, fighting off goblins, dragons, and various other overly used RPG villains, all the while trying to stay sane in spite of the game’s nonsensical puzzles and LSD-induced areas. Unfortunately, not even mind expanding drugs can make the game even the least bit interesting.

When considering exactly what Young Merlin is, think of it this way. First, take a perfectly good Action RPG. Now, remove any need for combat. Almost all non-boss enemies are so slow that getting hit by them is an insult, and there is no money or experience to obtain.

The only things that enemies drop are hearts that restore some life and four leaf clovers. The clovers also restore life after collecting twelve of them, but sometimes, they will instead give you three seconds of invincibility. This usually happens when the life would have been useful. In either case, none of this matters because death just sends you back to the last area you entered at a reduced amount of life.

Next, make all puzzles impossibly ridiculous and without any trace of logic. In one scenario, you have to get past an army of goblins. Instead of fighting, you have to BLOW BUBBLES AT THEM!!! Not acid-filled bubbles, not magic bubbles, but plain, ordinary soap bubbles.

If that’s not bad enough, there’s one point where a wizard asks you to get a key. After finding it hidden within a hedge maze, he rewards you by giving you a fishbowl of all things and demands you bring it back, avec fish. When you finally do find a fish on the ocean floor, his prize is a bedspring. And somehow, by some fated twist of fortune, that’s exactly what you need to get to the next dungeon. When in doubt, use the last item you’ve acquired on everything. You would be surprised how idiotic these puzzles can be.

Now, throw in four meager bosses and force the player to fight them each twice in order to create the illusion of more. None of these really require much thinking to defeat, as you tend to find a weapon right before fighting each one that just happens to help you win. There are a few that actually require the use of two or three items to hit, but they are generally easy to figure out. Oh, by the way, unless the boss flashes when you hit it, you’re not hurting it. Trust me; it’s good to know.

Okay, now take the storyline and throw it out the window completely. Remember the scene where the wizard gives you the spring? That’s one of the most emotional scenes in the game. This Action RPG is almost entirely Action and not a bit RPG, although that isn’t a very good description. After all, there’s hardly any action either. Oh well. The only real plot is Merlin trying to save a girl he just met from goblins. Bonus points are given because there is no text. Instead, they use picture bubbles. How classy.

Next up, throw in decent graphics and music. As I mentioned earlier, the game has a bit of a not-all-there feeling to it. Whether you’re walking through a field of giant mushrooms, crawling through an anthill, or racing along on a medieval skateboard through a mineshaft, you can tell that it’s not like these people didn’t try to make a decent game. But on the other hand, we also find levels that have all the creativity of a lettuce sandwich. Expect plains, caves, and dungeons galore.

The characters were done brilliantly though. Although slightly pixilated, they have decent coloring and great animations. Seeing Merlin get punched, strangled, or electrocuted throughout his quest was probably the best part of the game, and the enemies had a few nice ones too. It’s not much, but at least the game won’t blind you.

Nor will the music deafen you. I admit it’s bland, boring, and downright repetitive at times, but since the game is the same way, it fits. The entire game doesn’t have a single adrenaline-pumping battle theme or even a song worth notice, but the sound department is a whole other story.

Along with the very nice thuds, slams, and explosions, there are also occasional snippets of voice acting. When walking past goblins, you can’t help but smile as they threaten you, and conversations with townsfolk are all accompanied by a unique set of grunts and mumbles. That’s not as impressive as it sounds though, mainly because there are only three townsfolk in the entire game.

Finally, add the high level of control you get from a shopping cart. Movement is very stiff, and the fact that a single touch from an enemy can induce incredible amounts of damage doesn’t help much. Your attacks are even worse. The speed at which you can cast spells is annoyingly slow, especially for the ones that require recharge time between uses. The game is still playable, but they could have done better.

As a side note, there are two things I thought I’d mention before finishing up. First, Young Merlin attempted to attract buyers with a very interesting concept: giving out prizes! All you had to do was beat the game after finding all the Heart Containers and send in a picture of you next to the screen.

Sadly, the prizes were a meager $100 gift certificate for first place and a Young Merlin commemorative shirt for runner ups. Considering that the price of the game was around $40 to begin with, that kind of lure just wouldn’t draw me normally. Also, if for some reason you have the game and get stuck, go check out my walkthrough at! I know it’s a cheap plug on my part, but I’m just doing it so all you retro gamers can get this game over with as soon as possible.

I suppose that I’ve played worse games. After all, I did manage to get through this title without killing myself. It’s unoriginal, nonsensical, and downright boring, but at least it’s not terribly hard to look at. In any case, stay away. It’s not worth buying, renting, or touching with a twenty-foot game-touching pole, and you can quote me on that.

Overall Score 55
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Andrew DeMario

Andrew DeMario

Andrew went by several names here, starting as a reader reviewer under the name Dancin' Homer. Later known as Slime until we switched to real names, Andrew officially joined RPGFan as a staff reviewer in 2001 and wrote reviews until 2009. Andrew's focus on retro RPGs and games most others were unwilling to subject themselves to were his specialty.