Review: A boy and his blob
Though the majority of the PSPs early lineup exists of familiar brands and altered ports of console games, there's a few original titles in the bunch. One such title is Archer Maclean's Mercury, which could be considered Marble Madness for the 21st century, just far more complicated and puzzling, yet fairly easy to grasp all the same. Mercury truly makes you think, like any good puzzler should, though in many ways the game is hampered by an uneven difficulty curve and occasionally frustrating camera angles causing much grief and aggravation trying to navigate the challenging, multiple-tiered stages the game presents. Those looking for a Lumines alternative will find something different to be sure, but if you need one PSP puzzle game to hook you in, Lumines is your best bet, but Mercury definitely should find its audience ? especially if you loved the old Marble Madness game.
Mercury's basics are extremely simple; you're in control of a silver blob of Mercury, and your objective is to reach the goal of each stage within the time limit and/or stage requirements. Sometimes it's as easy as navigating around the stage without falling off a ramp or losing any of your mercury, but sometimes it's extremely difficult, with numerous steps to finish your objective. Mercury contains a great deal of unique universes to tackle, once you finish the tutorial and experience all the strange attributes of Mercury's world. Those who've played Marble Madness will understand the main gist, but Mercury takes the concept to the next level with far more to deal with. Once you finish off a stage, you can tackle it as many times as wished, and compete for the highest scores.
As touched on earlier, the game is far more than taking a little blob of mercury and moving it around the level. No sir, sometimes you have to do a great deal of things to reach the goal. Frequently, the goal is to change the color of the mercury, by going to the nearest Pay & Spray (well, not really), and changing your color. However, it's not always that simple, since Mercury sometimes requires you to actually 'make' the color by mixing more than one ? for instance, yellow and blue make green. So you have to first change the color to yellow, sometimes pass through a colored gate, find the next color, and then hope you have enough mercury left to complete the requirements and find the goal. Another thing you learn is how to 'split' the mercury into two...or more. Some stages contain such a splitter, and you must break your mercury down into two and navigate both
around the level. Yes, it's as difficult as it sounds. Things get really hairy, though, when you must split the mercury and
color the newly-split blobs before moving around opening more than one gate.
Needless to say, you really have to use your brain ? but sometimes Mercury can become far too challenging, far too fast. The tutorial starts out very easy and slow, guiding you through the basics with ease, but suddenly they throw out one of the 'split and color' stages and it's like being shot out of a cannon and slamming into a brick wall. I wouldn't blame anyone for quitting right then and there, before even opening any of the 'real' worlds in the game. Like many older games though, this difficulty masks the reality that Mercury doesn't last very long, and since you can save between each stage, it can be beaten fully in a few hours from beginning to end if you manage to become really skilled at the game. Mercury also suffers from one of the features that was once mentioned ? a tilt sensor to help control the mercury along with the analog nub. This feature never came to fruition though, so you're left with the basics, and though it works well enough, the game would probably have been much more intuitive and less frustrating if such an accessory existed. However, if you really, really like hard puzzle games that require perfection, Mercury will fit the bill, though it really can't touch Lumines in overall quality, though it is hard to compare two different kinds of puzzle games.
There's not really much to the game graphically ? the levels are pretty basic and do their job ? it's a puzzle game, a genre not exactly known for or even requiring stunning visuals. The presentation is decent enough, and the frame rate is smooth, a needed feature in this more action-oriented puzzler. Each of the various 'worlds' are unique from each other, but aside from some effects here and there, there's nothing really stunning about it. One of the biggest hassles though is the camera issue; finding the right angle for a particular part of a stage can be a chore, and also takes your concentration off controlling numerous mercurys and puts it on finding the right angle for the job ? something that could take a handful of retries to actually discover. The audio consists of forgettable music and basic sound effects ? nothing really to write home about. It's not like you'll have time to take in such things, since you'll be fully concentrated on beating the stage.