The PSP launch library, like the PlayStation 2 one, was commendably varied, with a wide selection of racers, RPGs, platformers and puzzle games available from day one. But the variety theme didn't stop there, with the quality of the line-up veering sharply from must-buy titles to simple PSOne-esque ports. So when we heard about Archer Maclean's Mercury, we weren't too sure what to expect.
As we quickly found out though, Mercury is a puzzle title, and quite an absorbing one at that. Players take control of a gelatinous blob of mercury, with the objective being to manoeuvre said blob through a series of levels (controlling the liquid metal is done by tilting the level with the PSP's analog stick, Super Monkey Ball-style). Along the way, various switches, platforms, obstacles and hazards stand between your mercury and the goal. The concept itself is really simple, and yet it's the simplicity and purity of the game that is Mercury's strongest asset.
Crucially though, the concept isn't too simple, and there are many other factors to consider as you guide your mercury through the six themed worlds and 72 levels boasted by the game (these range from taking ten seconds to complete, to a minute and a half). For example, it's possible to separate your mercury into different blobs, which then involves controlling two (or even more) mercury blobs. Each blob can also be coloured, and the mercury can mix together to form different colours.
There's over thirty different objects scattered through the level that are there to either aid or deter you from leading your mercury to the goal. Some of these objects include bridges, spinners, teleporters, colour changers, spikes and rotating wheels, giving the game a sort of mini-golf feel and look.
There's an (surprisingly difficult) tutotial to help prepare players for the challenges that await, and each world also features a boss level at the end, that feels more like an endurance race than a quick puzzle challenge. The level diversity is excellent however, and one of the main selling points of the game is that every level requires a different methodology in order to be completed.
The game also includes support for Wi-Fi, making it possible for two players to hook up and compete on any of the levels that appear in single player mode. With the vast selection of levels, this allows for a lot of diversity in multiplayer, and also ensures some intense battles. The gameplay is where the game seriously excels though - this could be the most addictive game we've played in years, and one that consistently pulls us back for just one more try. The game is definitely no pushover, but retains a level of difficulty and challenge that compels you to return.
Granted, the difficulty of the game does tend to gradually increase until it reaches almost ridiculous levels - eventually, some of the challenges take a few attempts before you understand exactly what must be done - but it never feels impossible. There's also often more than one way to complete a mission, with a slow, precise approach occasionally working as well as a fast dash. There's a pleasant ease to playing it as well. The camera can be rotated at any time by pressing circle on the PSP, offering a better perspective. Initially, we thought the camera was stuck in one position, but thankfully it can be very easily moved without any hassle.
One of the downfalls of this game is the save system. It's not as intuitive as it could have been, and there is no quick save option. This is a feature sorely missing, as if your batteries are running low the player is forced to finish the level before they can save, and this can often be harder than it would seem.
It'll take about five seconds for each level to load and, whilst this doesn't appear to be too lengthy, we didn't expect it to take quite so long. There's also about ten seconds worth of loading when the game first begins. Whilst this may seem like a lot of loading, it's actually barely noticeable.
The graphics in the game are relatively simple. A lot of effort has been put into the physics of the mercury, and it looks great. The environments are as detailed as they need to be, and the background images are surprisingly immersive. The FMV sequences in the game are truly excellent, and can be unlocked as each theme world is completed. This will make the videos watchable at any time.
And even though we could question the wisdom of having clubbing music in a puzzle game, the beats are really great, and totally avoid becoming repetitive. When the beats are going and you're taking on a large challenge, there's nothing more rewarding than completing a level. Mercury fully succeeds in being a game you can quickly pick up, as well as sit down and play for hours.
The game itself will take a decent amount of time to fully complete. The first few worlds are a lot easier than the latter stages, so initially it will seem like you're flying through the game at a record-setting pace. It's only when the difficulty takes a step up that the game starts to last a long time. For skilled players with persistance, there are unlockable levels and variations upon existing levels to be unlocked as well. This is not even including the multiplayer, which could last for a long time. Mercury is a title that will definitely last a while.
Mercury is a surprising title, Even people who are generally not attracted to puzzle games will find something to like with this game. It's easy to pick up and play, and it's even easier to become immersed in the title for hours. So, if you're after something different to racing or platforming for your new PSP, then you simply cannot go wrong with Mercury.