Archer Maclean's Mercury PSN Review - August 3rd 2009

Re-released nearly four years after it first came out on PSP, and at a bargain price, Archer Maclean's Mercury is going to be hard to turn down for any serious on-the-go gamer.

Coming in at just 4.79, being able to have Mercury on your PSP's memory card and take it with you for that pick-up-and-play fix is just superb. Even those who already own the UMD version (now likely to be somewhat tattered) should consider upgrading at this price for sheer ease of use.

The principle behind Mercury is very similar to Marble Madness. You begin with a blob (or multiple blobs in harder levels) of mercury. This shiny, liquid metal can then be nudged around the level to reach a target area. You move the level itself as opposed to the mercury, allowing for the liquid to split up into many different droplets. Sometimes this is required to complete a level. More complexity is introduced later on with colours. Paint-gates can be passed through to change the colour of your mercury, while combining different colours (and so, different blobs) will mix them together to create a new one. Such tasks are frequently required for passing through certain barriers – many of which require a particular colour droplet to continue.

The graphics look fantastic in motion.

The trials don't stop there however. You also have to face enemies intent on gobbling up your mercury; teleporters, allowing you to quickly beam it across the map; and pressure pads, where a certain amount of mercury has to be gathered before a gate will open. Despite all this variety in terms of challenge, by far the hardest thing about Mercury is controlling the liquid itself. This is not the fault of the developers, but is a deliberate ploy to jack up the difficulty. It works. While you always feel in control with subtle tilts of the game world (though perhaps an over-reliance on the PSP's analogue nub is never a good thing), often leaking just a tiny slither of precious mercury over the edge of the level can fail you the mission.

Some platforms are barely big enough to fit a full compliment of mercury on, so trying to navigate these (often with gaps in terribly inconvenient locations) within a time-limit can be very difficult indeed. Hearing the sad-sighing noise as your mercury bounces off the edge of a level and into the abyss is not merely disheartening, it makes you want to try again; you want to beat your high-scores and get as much Mercury back safely as possible!

Some of the levels get seriously complicated.

Once you get to the really trying stages, where you may, for example, have three separate blobs of mercury, need to change them each into different colours (keeping them apart from one another while tilting the level) and then combine them at the other end to get through the final gate, the game comes into its own. What's great about Mercury is not the difficulty that it poses, but the fact that every puzzle seems possible. I'm usually the first one to criticise a puzzle game of this type that requires serious thinking to beat but which offers no hints or tips for gamers who get stuck. Usually this can lead to someone just giving up on a game; obviously if someone doesn't know the solution to a puzzle they can't solve it. The beauty with Mercury is that you can botch it. See a platform with a convoluted route round, what some might call the 'safe' way? Try hurtling across the platform. You might lose a lot of mercury, but if you're lucky you've still got enough left to tiptoe across the rest of the level. On numerous occasions I've completed a level the 'wrong' way, but nevertheless have got to the final destination within the requirements given. This sort of freeform gameplay is fantastic in a puzzle game, and is testament to the physics behind it.

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