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Archer MacLean's Mercury

Review posted August 2005 by Alex Lifschitz

Publisher: Ignition Entertainment
Developer: Awesome Studios
Release Date: April, 2005
ESRB Rating: "E" for Everyone
Genre: Puzzle
Price: $39.99

Who is Archer MacLean? Would we even care if his name wasn't in the title of this game? Well, probably not. After all, most game creators go unnoticed unless they make a truly fantastic game. But judging by his game, I can say he's inventive and original. I can also say he has quite a capacity for the tolerance of frustration, but he must also have a dedication to his brainchild. Mercury is truly one of the more unique games for the PSP, and a good choice among the otherwise slim pickings for puzzle fans with PSPs. The game does have its faults, but also manages to bring fresh, new content to the table.

Gameplay

As standard puzzle fare, the story for Mercury is nonexistent. Gameplay consists of a using the analog stick to control not the a blob of mercury, but the level itself, tilting it in order to guide a blob of mercury to a certain objective without falling off the side of the level. By itself, this seems pretty boring, but the colorful levels are usually full of inventive systems to do what needs to be done. Objectives consist of guiding the blob of mercury to a marker under a time limit, trying to keep as much mercury intact while doing the same thing (albeit under a less restrictive time limit), or a combination of both. Some markers are activated by simply having enough mercury on it, and others are activated by specific colors of mercury. This means using your head to find out just how to color and mix the mercury, which is accomplished in the manner of the standard color wheel (meaning guiding two differently colored blobs into each other to create a mixed color). Thankfully, the levels are full of splitters (which divide the blob of mercury) and color changers, so you must oftentimes look out to make sure you keep enough mercury from falling off the level, while simultaneously manipulating walls, switches, teleporters, conveyor belts, antigravity and wind machines, and color changers to create the correct color and amounts of mercury to activate all the switches. This can be a frustrating task, however, as the tilting of the level means that all your blobs of mercury move at the same rate and in a uniform fashion, while the obstacles around each individual blob must be used to impede movement or keep individual blobs from falling off the edge. Under this principle, you must use obstacles and parts of the level to correctly manipulate the position of the blobs to your advantage.

Levels may start you off as a single blob of mercury, left to your own devices to solve the puzzles, or as a number of smaller blobs, left to solve puzzles in unison, or even differently colored blobs, when you have to figure out how to combine or move to activate all the markers in the level. Some levels are as simple as guiding your blob across narrow pathways and through mercury-eating enemies to a switch, and some are as complicated as manipulating color and walls to move across several levels of height while keeping a certain amount of mercury intact. This can vary from a fun, inventive romp to a hair-pulling lesson in patience and frustration. Many times, you may already know what to do and how to do it, but have to try many times because of a cheap fall or time restraints. This pressures you to find better ways to do the puzzles, but it can also get on your nerves very quickly. Dying on the same part constantly can be a common occurrence, and for some parts, getting something accomplished is a lucky break. But the more you play a level, the better you get at it, and finally completing it is a rewarding experience. Thankfully, a good number of levels are devoid of cheap deaths, and are a matter of speed or sheer mind power.

Controls

The controls incorporate the analog stick as the sole way to do anything in the level. Moving the analog stick in one direction or another tilts the level, which hangs in the air, thereby moving all the mercury on it in a uniformed manner. The face buttons (circle, square, X and triangle) are used to manipulate the camera. The camera can be set to move in 90 or 45-degree increments, or can be set to move freely around your blob. The controls perform competently, with just the right amount of sensitivity to allow control over the blobs. The camera can also be zoomed in and out to get a better view of the field. This control scheme is nowhere near as complicated as most, for the sole purpose of that it doesn't need to be. With the manipulation carried out by a single analog stick, this control scheme works well enough for the game. My one complaint is the lack of a height control. Occasionally, on multi-tiered levels, you will be left with a number of blind spots, as the camera rotates spherically around a focal point. A height control would allow you to get a decent view of lower levels, while the current camera system will, at most, only allow a side view of the lower levels while individual blobs are split between heights, making it difficult to perceive the dimensions, and causing the occasional slip off the side.

Graphics

The graphics are one of this game's high points. Your blob of mercury is very impressive looking, retaining the shine and reflection one would expect from liquid metal. The divisions and colors of the mercury are done very smoothly, and it pulsates nicely as it slides along the playfield. The fields themselves are bright and colorful, with plenty of wacky items and objectives to keep each level interesting enough through completion. Textures and effects are done very nicely, and the physics engine is well done. Objects are clear enough for you to see what they are. Overall, the graphical power is one if the bigger draws to the game.

Sound

The soundtrack to the game is reflective of its nature; Quirky, a bit repetitive, and colorful. While by no means a fully involving score, it does serve to enhance the visual and technical nature of the game. It gets slightly repetitive, but doesn't get on your nerves. The sound effects are equally zany, with the gloops of the mercury and assorted Hanna-Barbera-esque sound effects accompanying many of the items, keeping with the nature of the game. It is more than standard puzzle sound effect fare, and it helps immerse you into the core gameplay.

Conclusion

Mercury is by no means the best game on the PSP. The primary fault lies in the fact that at times, it's frustrating like you wouldn't believe. The colorful, zany atmosphere helps to keep you immersed in the game, and if you can stick it out through the tough times, it can be rewarding. Aside from Lumines, this is the best puzzle game you will find on the PSP. A good game for puzzle fans, and a fun little distraction for casual gamers.

Playing Hints and Tips

- Take your time with levels. Rushing is a sure way to fail.
- When you've finished each world, at the world select screen, press down on the D-Pad to be taken to a screen where you can select ultra-tough bonus missions for the hardcore Mercury fan.

 

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Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):

Graphics

The levels are bright and colorful, and the mercury is rendered with its real-life properties in mind.

Sound

The soundtrack is fun, campy, and reflective of the gameplay nature, as are the sound effects. It does get a little repetitive.

Fun Meter

While the puzzles may be challenging, and a little addictive, many levels and objectives can just be frustrating. This is not because you don't know what to do - It may be clear - But cheap deaths abound.

Addictivity

It may be a little addictive when you play it, but once you put it down, you won't be as compelled to pick it up again as with other games.

Total Score= 3.6 Dragons, 72%



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