At a glance...

Reviewer Platform Publisher Developer Players Screenshots
Matt Bailey PSP Ignition Entertainment Ignition Banbury 1-2 (Ad-hoc) Here
Requirements Also on... Buy from Amazon.co.uk
Memory Stick Duo: 832KB Minimum PS2 (as MM Remix), Wii (as MM Revolution) Click here to buy Mercury Meltdown.

Mercury Meltdown review

Arthur Maclean's Mercury was a launch title for Sony's first handheld, the PSP. Puzzle games have always been a natural fit for on-the-go gameplay, and Ignition's went up against the excellent Lumines for the puzzle crown. While Ubisoft's game came off better in sales, Mercury was still considered enough of a success to warrant a sequel, where some of the minor issues that plagued the original could be sorted, despite Arthur Maclean himself leaving the development studio.

Like its predecessor, Mercury Meltdown involves a blob of element Hg, which as anyone who, like me, did Chemistry A-Level will know, is a liquid at room temperature. What this means is that it is perfect for rolling around surfaces, including crazy mazes full of traps, switches, and various other interactive objects. The basic aim is get all your mercury to the finish, trying not to lose it off edges along the way, with bonuses available en route for extra points. Through its journey, mercury may need to be split up, changed colour, and then combined back again to form different colours in order to pass through gates. Levels have to be completed in a limited time, and sometimes there is also a minimum amount of mercury required to succeed.

All of this made up the Maclean original, so what's new here? The main change is the addition of three 'states' for the mercury, though these aren't the usual solid, liquid and gas. As well as the 'normal' state which the mercury has always been in, there's now the ability to heat it up into a state which is faster and more easily split, the ability to cool it to do the opposite, or go even further with the cooling to produce a solid ball of mercury which can then traverse rails. This seems to be the only significant change to the gameplay itself, but with the original formula working so well, it seems fair to not risk spoiling it and instead concentrate on the things that the original did get wrong.

This is especially true in the interface department. While the original didn't exactly have an awful presentation, Meltdown clearly excels, and its bright and colourful design should bring mass appeal to a more niche concept. The original was dark and gloomy, but here the overhaul has been part of a complete rebuild of the graphics, which are now more welcoming, and make important information more easy to find. Additions such as the colour guide, which helps with the splitting and merging, are key to this, as is the face icon on the left which changes according to success or failure. In fact, the graphical update gives the whole game a more impressive gleam, with great animations playing an important role in the energetic environments the game likes to present.

A minor, but important, change is the auto-saving. It may not seem much, but having the game save between each level (even if it does present a Sony-imposed nag screen about not removing the MS Duo) saves on much frustration generated by lost progress. In a game which can become very hard, and requiring a large amount of retries, not losing even a single completed level is most welcome. In fact, difficulty itself has received a much-needed tweak here too. While the game's fiddly-yet-addictive nature often leads to fail-retry-fail-retry syndrome, there were times in the original when the imbalance of difficulty left you with levels which would take a very long time to pass, even early on in the game, followed by others which were completed in a matter of seconds. Meltdown hopes to resolve the issue with a more steady progression of difficulty, and mostly achieves this, though there is still room for improvement. Another change it has done in this area is exchanging the "Worlds" for themed "Labs", with test-tubes making up the level selection, each filled with mercury according to your progress in that level (e.g. a 75% filled tube indicates you completed the level with 75% mercury). There are 10 of these labs, each containing around 16+ stages, giving 168 in total, up from 83 in the original, thus making the game more than double in size. However, the game's increasing difficulty means a lot of players may not see the later stages, but at least there are hours of fun to be had before this point.

Progression across stages eventually unlocks new labs, and also new party games. These bonuses are different from normal play, offering their own set of challenges against an A.I., or they can alternatively be played via the game's wireless ad-hoc support. There's no online play, but these challenges can be an enjoyable break, even if they do require both of you to own a copy for multiplayer. Downloadable content has been promised, though it has yet to materialise. You can share a demo of Meltdown with a friend, but unfortunately not ghosts created by the game's new replay mode. The game also has some more subtle changes like the removal of the time limit as an 'end game' factor; while stages still retain a such a limit, it is now there as a points-scoring mechanism, and a requirement for achieving 100% on a level. Load times are also cut down, which is particularly important for the amount of times you'll be heading to restart.

Ratings

Graphics The new visual style may not be popular with some fans of the original, but it's bright and bold colours provide a more mass-appeal design, alongside some impressive animation. 8/10
Gameplay Enjoyable, addictive, but sometimes frustrating. You'll always come back for more, though, especially now that the difficulty curve is more welcoming. Other tweaks also overcome annoyances from the first game. 9/10
Value A large pack of content which is especially impressive if you pick it up for under £20. 9/10
Lifespan The increasingly difficult 168 stages ought to steal a large chunk of your time, and while the party games are a nice distraction, the multiplayer could have been more exciting. The playground, where you can mess around with the game's physics, is an interesting addition. 9/10
Audio The soundtrack is fine, but its repetitiveness can get annoying over time. 6/10
Overall Mercury Meltdown takes the wonderful concept of the original, irons out most of the issues, and presents a complete package that every PSP puzzle fan should own. 9/10

Click here to buy Mercury Meltdown from Amazon.co.uk.

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