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Merlin (sometimes known as Merlin, the Electronic Wizard) was a handheld electronic game first made by Parker Brothers in 1978. The game was invented by former NASA employee Bob Doyle, his wife Holly, and brother-in-law Wendl Thomis. Merlin is notable as one of the earliest and most popular handheld games, selling over 5 million units during its initial run, as well as one of the most long-lived, remaining popular throughout the 1980s. A version of the game was re-released in 2004 by the Milton Bradley Company.
Merlin took the form of a rectangular device about eight inches long and three inches wide. The play area of the game consisted of a matrix of 11 buttons; each button contained a red LED. The array was encased in a red plastic housing, bearing a slight resemblance to an overgrown touch-tone telephone. Four game-selection and control buttons were also placed at the bottom of the unit; a speaker took up the top section. Supporting electronics (including a simple microprocessor) were contained within the shell of the game. Parker Brothers later released Master Merlin with more games, and the rarer Split Second, where all games involve time with a more advanced display, sporting line segments around the dots. Both of these share the same general case shape, and came out a few years after Merlin.
Merlin's simple array of buttons and lights supported play of six different games, some of which could be played against the computer or against another person. Here is the list of games that could be selected:
- Tic Tac Toe
- Music Machine
- Echo, a game similar to Simon
- Blackjack 13
- Magic Square, a pattern game similar to Lights Out
- Mindbender, a game similar to Mastermind
The Music Machine game functioned as a musical instrument; in this mode each key was assigned a musical note, and sequences of notes could be recorded and played back. This made Merlin one of the earliest digital sequencers as well as an early consumer-level electronic synthesizer.
The Toy Manufacturers of America named Merlin the best selling Toy and Game Item (SKU) in America in 1980 (2.2 million sold).
Merlin: The 10th Quest
In 1995, Parker Brothers redesigned Merlin for a new generation and made it a one-player game with more challenges called Merlin: the 10th Quest. The premise of Merlin is still the same, but for each game completed, an icon is displayed on the screen showing proof of victory. Instead of 6 games from the original, you now have 9 games to play:
- Swords & Shields, a game like Tic-Tac-Toe
- Seek the Grail, a game like the shell game
- Castle Keep, a game where you guess a number between 0 and 99
- Spell Bender, a Memory-like game
- Mindcaster, played like Mastermind
- Magic Square, played like Lights Out
- Singing Sword
- Ghost Walk
- Dragon Dance
In Singing Sword, you have to push the right buttons to make the swords on the screen disappear. Pushing the wrong button will make a sword appear. In Ghost Walk, you use directional pads to move the ghost towards the center of the screen and destroy it, but the ghost can resist. In Dragon Dance, you are surrounded in all directions by dragons. If a dragon appears, kill it by pressing the directional pad where that dragon is. Each of the three last games keep time.
After you defeated all 9 games, Merlin announces "Brave Knight, the challenge awaits!" and you're immediately thrown into the 10th Quest. You have to run through a dungeon maze to escape through the exit. The first round of the dungeon is simple, but the second round shows the walls temporarily before vanishing while the third round has invisible walls.
If you managed to conquer the maze in record time, Merlin would say "Congratulations! You are a Master!" and displays your time in the dungeon maze.