Developer(s): Funhouse Design
Publisher: Philips Interactive Media
Merlin’s Apprentice is a puzzle game consisting of 30 stages, alternating between a few different puzzles types. There are three difficulty levels you can choose from, and the game even allows you to set the difficulty of the various puzzle categories (Words, Shapes, Action, Memory and Logic) independently if you like. I experimented with the difficulties a bit, but for the bulk of my playthrough I used the middle difficulty: Advanced. This is the first CD-i game I’ve played that has multiple save slots, 12 in total, though each is represented by an icon and can’t be named. So I guess if you’re sharing this game with 11 siblings you’ll have to make sure you all memorize who’s the book and who’s the candle, etc.
The Action stages are the least interesting, and all of them play exactly the same: various images float into frame (like bubbles or feathers) and you have to click on them before they exit again. The Memory stages are the next least interesting because they also all play out the same: there is a screen full of items, like frogs or beakers in a laboratory, and the game has three of them each play a musical note, then you click on the same three back, like Simon Says, and then three more are added, then three more, then three more, and so on. Even on the middle difficulty, you need to memorize more than 25 items to clear some of these, which is quite a lot. The only way to get through is try to think of each set of three as one item to remember (adhering to the principle that it’s easier to remember 257 than to remember 2, 5, and 7).
The Shapes stages give you a frame and a bunch of pieces, all of which, save one, must be arranged to fit inside. You can’t rotate the pieces, but I still didn’t find these to be too challenging. They make for a good rest from some of the harder puzzles. The Words stages were probably my favorite, and I was disappointed they only made up three of the 30 puzzles. You’re presented with a sheet of runes and have to figure out the substitution cypher. I’ve done many of these types of cryptograms in pen-and-paper puzzle books and I’ve always liked them. The key is to start with the smaller ones and see how the others would fill out if they were common words like “and” or “the”.
By far the dominant type of stage in Merlin’s Apprentice is Logic. There are many of these and they have many variants, including sliding tile puzzles, alignment puzzles (where you have to reach a given state of item alignment, but every time you click on one piece of it, some of the other pieces change as well), and these strange potion puzzles, which conclude each of the game’s three acts. When you get to these you need to listen to the “How to Play” message from the menu each time, as it will tell you which ingredient must be held in reserve and what the final form of the “potion” (actually never a potion, but items like gems or planets or an evolving reptile) must be. From there you have to experiment with different combinations of ingredients, ultimately finding what order all of the ingredients must be added to the mix to produce the correct sequence of results. This took me ages to figure out at first but by the end it all clicked and the final, most complicated one, came rather quickly.
Merlin’s Apprentice starts with an animated sequence (using a stained-glass motif that I really liked) to explain who Merlin is and that you’re seeking an audience with him. The entire game is filled with little animations, and each time you move to a new section (after completing a potion) there’s another longer sequence. Though the animation quality is simple, I still found them to be very well-done. There isn’t much music, but the sound effects are mostly effective, though in some of the more difficult puzzles they can become quite repetitive and annoying. While Merlin’s Apprentice isn’t the most exciting video game, it’s well-made for what it is, and I enjoyed my time with it.
Graphics – 8
There are plentiful well-done animated sequences and each stage has a unique style
Sound – 7
Sound effects are mostly effective but occasionally become repetitive and annoying
Gameplay – 7
Some good puzzles to be found, though the Action stages feel like a waste of time, and I would’ve liked more Words stages
Value – 7
30 stages, three difficulty levels, and 12 save slots provide plenty of replay opportunity
Reviewer’s Tilt – 7
There’s a lot of charm here, and some fun to be had, but in the end barely 2/3rds of the puzzles are actually interesting
Final Score – 7.2