The Merlin TV series on the BBC proved to be a larger success than many would have believed when it first arrived on the scene several years ago. Surprisingly, though, it is only now that a deal has been struck to bring the magical antics of Arthur's servant to Nintendo DS. Based around one of the many engaging episodes from over the years, Merlin: A Servant of Two Masters takes the happenings of a Series 4 tale and wraps it around a standard puzzle fare filled with Hidden Object scenes and various mini-games.
It all starts off with Merlin being captured by an evil sorceress named Morgana, with her ultimately making the young wizard into a weapon to be used against King Arthur so she can attempt to claim the throne and take charge of Camelot. Even for those that do not follow the UK-made programme, the tale of ancient magic, hero-turned-assassin, shocking betrayal and the eventual success in the face of danger makes for a gripping excursion into fantasy land. It is also what prevents this videogame version of Merlin: A Servant of Two Masters from landing straight in the bin.
The Hidden Object scenes have all manner of unusual items strewn across poorly compressed static imagery, meaning that it is almost impossible to not see anything that was not already on the original shot. So simple is it to identify objects that the list on the top screen becomes almost redundant until perhaps the last one or two that have actually been smartly obscured on the background. There are also a couple of times where the instructions make no sense either; twice related to finding a specific bottle amongst lots of bottles, yet not being given an indicator as to how to distinguish said glass container! As no score is kept and there is no timer, there is no real punishment for tapping in the wrong location, other than being warned that an incorrect move has been made.
At first it seems like no voice acting is included, but further into the adventure there are indeed snippets of voice work from the episode in question, and the sound effects are lifted from it as well to add to the authenticity. Uucari, the same team behind the enjoyable Junior Mystery Stories, is not quite on top form here, sadly, with the range of items to be found barely changing from scene-to-scene, meaning that in each of the thirty-plus stages players will nearly always have to find a belt, spoon, spider, chunk of bread, skull, cockroach, crossbow, and so on. Yes, the same ones crop up so often that they have actually been committed to memory, as sad as that is!
Then there are the nineteen mini-games included, many of which are atrociously animated, but scrape through as 'decent enough for the target casual audience' that basically does not bother about breath-taking visuals and merely wants an enjoyable experience that does not take up too much of their time. This is where Merlin: A Servant of Two Masters actually succeeds in its goal. Sure, it may come across as lazy in many ways, but takes on Sudoku, Snakes, jigsaw puzzles, word searches, and some twitch-reaction style affairs, help to break up the potentially monotonous Seek-and-Find sections. There is also one extremely odd scene where faces of all the popular characters from the show appear in the woods and Merlin's mug must be tracked down - the one part of the game where knowledge of the TV show comes in handy. As much as most will shake their heads and tut at this, it manages to hold the attention until the end, which in fairness is probably about three-to- four hours maximum.
Merlin: A Servant of Two Masters is a quirky one, with the story it is based on being interesting enough to engage players, yet the Hidden Object section not being quite up to scratch. On the other hand, the variety of mini-games mixed in makes for some great fun, but again the downside is the poor visuals and animation. Uucari and Avanquest UK have somehow delivered a product that both pleases and disappoints with equal measure!