"About 14 years ago, there was a fantastic game about called Jimmy White's Whirlwind Snooker, which was one of the only sport simulation type of games that I've ever liked, thanks partly to its sense of humour and believable AI, but thanks mostly to the fact that it was fun to play. Not long after it came out, there was a sequel - Archer Maclean's Pool. I'd never heard of Archer Maclean before, but I always assumed he was a well known pool player, and the makers of the game had seen fit to attach..."
About 14 years ago, there was a fantastic game about called Jimmy White's Whirlwind Snooker, which was one of the only sport simulation type of games that I've ever liked, thanks partly to its sense of humour and believable AI, but thanks mostly to the fact that it was fun to play. Not long after it came out, there was a sequel - Archer Maclean's Pool. I'd never heard of Archer Maclean before, but I always assumed he was a well known pool player, and the makers of the game had seen fit to attach his name to it in an effort to sell more copies (as they did with Jimmy White and their snooker game). It wasn't until early 2005 when I first heard tell of Mercury that I realised Mr. Maclean was (and still is, evidently) a programmer. And I thought I was some sort of gaming expert. Erk.
Mercury is a puzzle game, first and foremost. You have a blob of mercury on a table and must clear each stage by getting to a certain point within a certain time, or by activating a set number of pressure points within the level. There are six worlds (the first of which is mostly tutorial levels, and which you should clear more or less the first time you play them), and each world contains about 15 levels.
The main thing that surprised me about Mercury was the control system. Rather than actually taking charge of your dollop of mercury, you control the table that it is sat on. You use the analogue stick to tilt the ground and guide the blob through each stage, while the action buttons are used to switch camera views. That's all there is to it - you move and look. Each level has a specific goal to it - some require you to finish the level without losing a specified amount of your mercury over the side of the level (for each level appears to be suspended in mid-air), whereas some require you to just get to the end as fast as you can - if only 1% of your blob remains by the end, then it doesn't matter, to get there quickly is the most important thing.
However, it quickly gets more complicated once colour is thrown into the equation. On most levels, there are pressure points that are colour-coded and there are little stations positioned about the level that change your mercury's colour when you pass through them. Sometimes, you'll have to combine 2 differently coloured blobs to create the required one, and sometimes you'll have to combine the methods. A lot of the time, you'll need to split your blob in order to finish a level. Sometimes, like when you try to quickly pass through a closing door, your blob will be inadvertently split for you. Remember that you are in control of the whole level, not just the mercury, so whichever way you tilt it, all your blobs will go shooting off in the same direction. It won’t be long before you’re frantically trying to guide one blob through a narrow maze while trying to keep another two from merging and forming an unwanted colour, all the while keeping a close eye on the clock as it counts down your last precious seconds – there is a significant challenge presented by this game, even more so than the very different, but completely fantastic Lumines or Zoo Keeper.
The next thing that surprised me about Mercury was the general unfriendliness of it. Before each level begins, you're given a quick panoramic view of it and then dumped into the action against a fairly harsh time limit, without having been able to work out very much of what you might need to do. Given the tough nature of the time constraints, there's a lot of trial and error present here. The first handful of levels tell you how the basics work, but after that whenever something new appears, you're left to discover what it does for yourself (like the chutes which spit you onto the ceiling where (hnnngghhh) your controls are reversed, a really, really irritating game technique that I thought we'd seen the last of years ago), which is a bit unfair (contrast with a game like, say, Mario vs. Donkey Kong, which gives you a short tutorial each time you're about to encounter something new, so your game is never cut short because you were killed by something the game hadn't told you about or prepared you for).
Of course, this being 2005 and one of the first games for a new system, the graphics and sound have had the most attention lavished upon them during development. The music is very much of the Ambient/new age type stuff that, if it was available on CD, would probably be accompanied by whale song. It’s very nice at first, but it doesn’t take long before you’re no longer even aware of it. The graphics, however, are really special, and the movement of the mercury itself is perfect.
Mercury is a good game. It’s worth having, but don’t put it at the top of your list – you’d have to be some sort of fool to consider buying yourself this over the mighty Lumines, for example. But if you’re absolutely dying for another slice of PSP puzzling, then you might as well get Mercury, because, let’s face it, there aren’t really any other PSP puzzle games at the moment, are there?
Community review by gazgt (May 14, 2005)
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