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Archer Maclean's Mercury
Review By: J. Michael Neal
Developer:  Awesome Studios
Publisher:  Ignition Entertainment
# Of Players:  1-2 (Wi-Fi Adhoc)
Genre:  Puzzle
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  Yes (Adhoc)
Accessories:  Memory Stick Duo
Date Posted:  6-11-05

While Archer Maclean may not be distinguished enough to stamp games with his moniker just yet, if he continues like this he might be able to get away with it. Archer Maclean’s Mercury is a clever puzzler that plays like a cross between Marble Madness and Super Monkey Ball. Like Marble Madness, you must guide an object, in this case a slippery globule of mercury, through a series of labyrinthine levels, avoiding obstacles and completing tasks along the way. Taking a cue from Sega’s successful Super Monkey Ball series, however, the only control you have is over the level itself. Yes, it’s not terribly original, and does kind of feel like a cut-and-paste of other people’s ideas, but it works really well, so who cares, right?

Mercury’s strength is in its concept, which manages to bridge the gap between fun and function. Fun, in that it’s a good pick-up-and-play time killer. It’s the kind of game you can play for 30 seconds or 2 hours – the perfect game for carrying in your pocket. Function, in that it highlights more than a few of the PSP’s features. You get to use the analog “nub”, you get to see how it handles 3D architecture, you get online multiplayer, and you have the impressive physics behind the mercury blob itself, without which there’d be no game. It’s a nice step towards more games taking advantage of the PSP’s unique capabilities as a handheld gaming system.

The level designs are fairly ingenious. Each one is unique, and either based on navigating the twists and turns as quickly as possible, without loosing too much mass along the way, or completing a series of interconnected objects before activating the final switch. You’ll often be required to maneuver multiple beads simultaneously, which is as difficult as it sounds, and mix the appropriate hues out of the primary colors to activate color specific gates and switches. You’ll also have to contest with adversaries like mechanical smashers, moving floors, and mercury-munching monsters. And did I mention this is all under a set time limit? If you think the game sounds difficult, you’d be right, because it is. If anything, it’s the game’s only real flaw.

Mercury is a little too taxing for its own good. Of course, it is a puzzle game and puzzle games are suppose to be challenging, but this level of trial-and-error repetition can be grating. Stages are hold-your-breath nerve-wracking, and after a few dozen failed attempts, I usually find myself too frustrated to want to continue. Worst yet, you can’t move on until you’ve finish the current stage, so if you’re sick to death of wherever you’re stuck, too bad! You have to keep at it if you want a change or scenery. This isn’t enough to make me hate the game, and I’m sure it’ll be the same for you, but it does keep me from playing it as much as I would if it weren’t this irritating.

Another criticism, and this is a very small one, is that the presentation could use some polishing. It doesn’t seem like much, but the ugly front end (menus, loading screens, general look, etc.) detracts from Mercury’s replayability. No really, it does. They look like they’ve been lifted from the PSone Pong remake, and don’t fit with the sleek image represented on the cover art or the PSP’s general aura. Different art direction could have saved this game half a grade. Like the difficultly level, it doesn’t kill the game, but play Lumines and you can see how presentation can contribute just as much to the overall experience as the gameplay itself.

If the price paid for tight controls was unattractive visuals, though, it was a fair trade. Mercury handles beautifully, and that’s a necessity in a game this frustrating. If you had to retry a level 30 times because it didn’t do what you wanted it to do, you’d track down Archer Maclean and beat him to death with your PSP (well, not really, you might scratch your screen). But thankfully, the PSP’s analog stick is highly responsive, allowing you to tilt the level with the utmost delicacy. The mercury ball itself moves with a distinct feel, and it soon becomes second nature judging exactly what must be done to manipulate it precisely. Best of all, control over the camera is extensive, so you’ll never have to worry about flying blind. You couldn’t ask for more.

So, is Mercury worth owning? Well, if you are a puzzle fan looking for some to keep your PSP busy, I’d say “yes”. If you ever liked Super Monkey Ball or Marble Madness, I think you’d appreciate this one. If not, if puzzle games aren’t your thing, why start now? Archer Maclean won’t convert you. Just keep in mind that there is a game out there, for PSP, called Lumines, and it is the greatest thing ever. I have to admit, as horrible as it sounds, that 50% of the time I spent “writing” this review I was playing Lumines. As much as I would like to say, “just spend the money on Lumines”, if you already have it, or have enough for both, Mercury’s nice to throw in the pocket as well.

HIGHS:

  • Perfect controls.
  • Wireless multiplayer.
  • Impressive physics engine – the mercury moves just like how you’d expect it to move.
  • Great concept – it’s like a practical tech demo that shows off all aspects of the PSP.

LOWS:

  • Overly difficult, even for a puzzle game.
  • Clunky front end hurts game.
  • It’s no Lumines.

FINAL VERDICT:

Mercury is a great puzzler that’s bound to please fans of the genre. Give it a try; I think you’ll like it. Just make sure you pick up a copy of Lumines while you’re at it.

Overall Score: 7.8

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