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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
The levels are bright and colorful, and
the mercury is rendered with its real-life properties in mind.
The soundtrack is fun, campy, and reflective
of the gameplay nature, as are the sound effects. It does get
a little repetitive.
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.
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.