Game Review - by James Allen
Your heart beats fast. Your palms sweat. Your vision is blurred. That's right, you are overcome with gaming suspense and excitement from playing a trading simulation. Nothing causes sheer pleasure coupled with apprehension than buying low and selling high. Yes, trading simulations are not the most exciting or interesting features on the et, but it's nice that every once in a while, a game comes along which tests your thinking skills, rather than your trigger finger. So, come along with me and rediscover some old school gaming. Will Merchant Prince II rise to the position of Pope, or die in some freak gondola accident?
Merchant Prince II concerns itself with trading (and much more) during the Renaissance up to Columbus's discovery of "new" land that many different peoples already inhabited. The core game is the same, as you start out in Venice, in search of riches beyond the Powerball jackpot. There are several other scenarios, covering such things as German and Oriental trade. There are some multiplayer elements, where you can engage your friends over Gamespy. Each game can be set up using the original, historic maps, or a random map (which, more often than not, results in a very weird map). You can also adjust the difficulty of the computer players, starting funds, and the frequency of random acts of piracy. The number of options to vary the gameplay is not up to par with other modern day simulations, and once you've played the game once, you know what to expect.
There is some period-sounding background music and very few sound effects. Of course, the game design doesn't lend itself too well to the incorporation of more sounds, as there are a small, finite number of actions that take place (42, to be exact). Realistically, I'm not sure what else we could expect in the sound department, because any more effects would seem out of place. Better luck next time.
I was pleasantly surprised on how many things there are to do in Merchant Prince II, because just trading back and forth between cities could be boring fairly quick. Trading is the heart of the game, however, and you'll need some spare paper to determine the most profitable course of action. Basically, you are given land and sea units that carry goods between cities, and you complete a supply and demand cycle. You can create trade routes, in which units automatically trade the goods you specify. The money adds up quickly, assuming you have done things correctly. You also need to explore the far reaches of the planet, searching for new ports of call to expand your trading empire and your wallet. Sometimes, a city is not willing for a wonderful entrepreneur to open up shop there, so you can either bribe them, or send mercenaries to attack the city into submission.
You can use your profits to advance your own affairs. First, you can construct roads for speedy travel between centers of trade. The city of Venice acts as the focus of the game, and you can conduct some business in the city. Your popularity is an important aspect of the game, as popular trades are subject to promotions and papal jobs. If you wish, you can construct a villa to host parties and sell art, both of which increases popularity in the game. If you believe that you are a man or woman of the people, you can run for Pope of Doge of Venice, both of which gives you advantages such as crusades and appoint the heads of the city. If you are underhanded, you can hire miscreants you set fire to opposing warehouses, and blame another trader. The business world is so honest! You can also invest in making innovations, which improve unit characteristics or prevent the plague from infecting the city. There is enough to keep you occupied during Merchant Trader II, and the peripherals are certainly a welcome addition.
Oh my. These graphics are slightly above the level of Civilization (the first one). They have the infamous DOS "font," pixilated sprites, and a blocky map. I'd be surprised if they made any changes to the graphics since the original game came out in the early 90s. Clearly, there wasn't much emphasis put on the graphics. I guess we're lucky the game isn't all text.
Merchant Prince II certainly seems out of place. This certainly can't be a release made in the year 2001, can it? Obviously, the 1993 version of the game was almost ported directly over to the newer incarnation, and the lack of sound, features, and graphics, which may have passed back then, doesn't fly in the early 21st century. The game itself is more than just trading, thankfully, and this is the saving grace that prevents Merchant Prince II from the bowels of gaming darkness. Still, fans of trading sims will probably have a grand old time with Merchant Prince II, since they are more likely to ignore the graphical woes more easily than the general gaming public.