Archer Maclean’s Mercury

I would like to thank Mercury for reaquainting me with a long forgotten feeling: PSP pride. Long standing owners of Sony’s portable powerhouse should be no stranger to this gloopy physics-based puzzler, but for the benefit of anyone who missed out on 2005’s physical release Mercury can now be downloaded from the Playstation Network for a wallet-friendly £4.79.

At its core Mercury is a reinterpretation of that ball and maze game you were forced to make for your GCSE Design and Tech project. You tilt the maze, the ball rolls around and you try to get it to the goal whilst avoiding pitfalls along the way. The major difference here is that the ball bearing has been replaced by a sphere of liquid metal, one that can spill over edges, divide into smaller spheres and spray itself a variety of different colours.

It is a simple premise that has been fleshed out into an agreeably mind-bending time-gobbler. Early levels will see you simply avoiding the edges to navigate your blob safely home. Before you know it you will be rolling through spraying stations to unlock colour-coded gates and splitting your blob into multiple blobs to complete several objectives simultaneously. Some levels enforce a time limit, others require you to reach the finish line with a specified quantity of Mercury still intact. As the levels become more elaborate you will need to perfect the art of multi-tasking and get used to rolling across ceilings reverse-control-stylee if you are looking to catch a glimpse of the final stages.

Mercury succeeds by being neat, simple and well executed. Graphics are solid and the camera is obedient and easy to position. Sound effects are sparse but effective and the digital beats sit comfortably in the mix without intruding. Levels start off dirt simple, but later stages will tax even the most hardened of puzzle-solvers. It’s not perfect – the difficulty does spike about a bit once you get past the third world, and though everything functions there is no single aspect that could really be labelled as truly outstanding.

The biggest compliment I can pay Mercury is that despite the number of deaths I suffered on some of the tricksier levels I never once felt cheated. There was no sense of being sabotaged by loose controls, poor camera angles or unreasonable AI. When I was reduced to a puddle of silvery death for the umpteenth time, instead of experiencing the usual compulsion to rage quit and bounce my PSP off the nearest hard surface I felt only a Zen-like calm and desire to immediately retry. My placidity was not the result of a lack of investment in the game but rather the knowledge that my demise was just. This screams clever game design and is a characteristic that elevates Mercury above its peers.







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