At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players
Matt Bailey PSP Ignition Entertainment Awesome Studios 1-2 (Ad-hoc WiFi)
Requirements Buy from
256MB Memory Stick Duo space for download Click here to buy Archer Maclean's Mercury.

Archer Maclean's Mercury review

When the PlayStation Portable launched in Europe back in September 2005 the limelight was immediately grabbed by the likes of Sony's brilliant WipEout Pure and Ubisoft's excellent original puzzler Lumines. They stole the public's attention with the marketing budgets of their big publishers, but there was another original puzzle game that equally deserved the attention of the owners of Sony's new handheld. Ignition's Archer Maclean's Mercury bases its gameplay on that of the classic Marble Madness, a game that featured a ball rolling around a maze with the aim of getting to the end without it falling off. Mercury instead features a blob (known as Mercury, even if it doesn't quite share the properties of element Hg) that you must navigate across floating levels reaching the goal.

Reaching that goal isn't easy, however, due to the labyrinth-like levels with plenty of opportunities to fall off the edges. These are navigated solely using the PSP's analogue nub, with the face and shoulder buttons used to control the camera. Along your way you will also need to watch out for the obstacles that will try and push you off, crush you or even, in the case of ramps, leave you travelling faster than you'd expect. Added to this is the need to consider the colour of your Mercury; you can change the colour of the blob at certain spray points. Often you can only choose between the primary colours: red, green and blue, and thus in order to gain such exciting colours as yellow you'll need to mix two other colours. As the sprays only give one colour this is where you need to be particularly cunning; you need to split the Mercury on an edge, colour each part differently, and then merge them to achieve the appropriate secondary colour. The need to consider colour features prominently throughout the game's puzzles, with certain gates only accessible and certain switches only triggered with the right colour Mercury.

In the game's single player mode the levels are split across six themed worlds with names like Neon and Helios. In each of these are a set of levels divided into three categories; race, percentage and objective. As well as reaching objectives you also have to arrive at the destination before the timer runs out and with at least a certain quantity of Mercury. Race levels see you concerned primarily with how fast your can complete them, while percentage demands a much higher quantity of Mercury retained at the end to succeed. Task, meanwhile, emphasises the use of switches and the colour mechanism mentioned earlier. In each world you complete a run of these before reaching combo levels which combine these aspects and aim to test what you've learnt over the previous levels. While the levels are generally rather enjoyable, there are some occasionally rather frustrating additions and the difficulty curve isn't nearly as smooth as it could be, or, in fact, as it is in the sequel, Mercury Meltdown.

That brings us on to the next point: why are we discussing a 4 year old game which already has a sequel? Well, downloadable games are commonplace on the PlayStation Store these days, with original titles, new titles and re-releases of old titles that were previously released on UMD. Mercury falls into the third category, of course, but it's recent appearance on Sony's download system is notable for the fact that it costs £4.79, making it much cheaper than other titles formerly on disc, and right amongst the PSN-exclusive downloadables such as Super Stardust Portable. The low price means you're unlikely to find it for cheaper in the shops too. There's also another upside to the digital purchase; we discovered that load times decreased from an average of 16 seconds on the UMD version, to 9 seconds for the new PSN edition, which is particularly useful for a handheld game. And at 256MB it's not going to steal all your Memory Stick space either.

Should you buy it? Probably; it's fundamentally a good game whose gameplay has only aged due to an impressive sequel. There's even an ad-hoc two player mode allowing you to race to the goal, and this is rather more appealing when two copies can be picked up so cheaply. The difficulty curve was certainly smoothed out in the sequel, the presentation was vastly improved, and there were some new gameplay features too. But at heart this is an enjoyable puzzle game whose only problem was the lack of an auto-save feature meaning you need to watch out before quitting back to the XMB or turning off the PSP. Aside from this niggle you are left with the an excellent PSP puzzle game offering the best value for money.


Overall With its fun and addictive gameplay, Mercury still remains one of the best puzzle games on the PSP, and now it is certainly the best valued. 8/10

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