Mazes have been a part of gaming for a while. Some might consider Pac-Man as one of the first maze games. Others might remember Marble Madness fondly. Even shooters these days could be considered a maze, with a starting point and an exit. The old wood Labyrinth puzzles could be considered one of the original takes on the maze. It’s a simple concept that has been around for a while, but it can also be very challenging depending on its complexity. Putting a unique twist on a maze could be very difficult. That’s what Awesome Studios and Ignition Entertainment has tried to do with Archer Maclean’s Mercury.
In Archer Maclean’s Mercury, you control a little blob of mercury that has the ability to change colors. The object is to get this blob of mercury from point A to point B. The trick is that you don’t want to lose much mercury to the edges and you want to get it done in the fastest time possible. This may sound easy, but with the traps and objects, it’s easier said than done.
Everything in Mercury has a liquid feel to it. Most obvious is the mercury blob that you control. It moves with the right amount of fluidity to it. You can see it start to roll a bit as it starts to move from the angle of the environment. The blob even reflects a bit of the environment and shines in a specific area of the blob. When the blob splits, the remaining blobs have the right feel of fluidity and mass.
The environments shimmer with a futuristic feel. You could say that they are clean. The sprays of the paint shops give off nice particle effects when it changes the color of your blob. The flux lines connect to beacons and the arrows that show off their direction to what they activate flow evenly. The backgrounds have spaciousness to them with a foggy, surreal feel. It’s as if they go on forever.
Still, the graphics of Mercury are relatively simple. The tiles of the levels look nice, and they are varied enough that you won’t get bored with them right away. They also have multiple levels often and they are easy to distinguish within the levels.
The music in Mercury is light. The music uses synthesizer with light percussion. It almost has a bit of an 80’s feel to it. It constantly moves and gives you a big feeling of getting to the finish line.
The sound effects are pretty minimal. You hear effects when you get your blob painted, move over a colored switch, or are situated on a pressure switch. They let you know that you have accomplished something, but they aren’t anything spectacular. They do get the job though.
Most of the game is controlled using the analog nub. Moving the analog nub controls the direction the environment tilts. The L and R buttons zoom out and in on the environment. Square and Circle rotate the camera left and right. Triangle and X raise and lower the camera view. The D-pad also switches between a single-blob focus and a multi-blob focus and which blob it focuses on.
The game controls are tough at times because of how sensitive the analog nub is. A lot of times it’s not too bad, but it does take some getting used to. Once you do get the hang of it though, you can move pretty carefully through the environment. The developers did the best they could with the controls of the PSP.
Mercury starts out with six different “worlds.” Each world has 12 levels: three time-based, three percentage based, three task-based, two combo levels, and then a “boss” level. The time-based levels you want to reach the finish as soon as you can to complete the level. The percentage levels are completed when you reach the end with a certain amount of your blob. Lose too much and you have to restart. Task levels have beacons that need to be activated. They are activated by using devices like pressure switches and colored switches. Once they are all activated you can reach the exit. Combo levels require a certain percentage at the finish within a time limit or completion of a number of tasks while keeping a certain percentage of your blob on the field. Finally, the boss level combines all three types of levels. Once the boss level is completed, you open up the next world.
Getting to the end requires several movements. Certain areas can only be passed through if you are a specific color. Some switches can only be activated by a specific color. Sometimes a paint shop will color you the right color right away. Other times you might be required to split the blob up and then combine colors. For example blue and red turn into magenta. Blue and green turn into cyan. Blue, red, and green combine into silver. There do seem to be paint shops available with the right colors.
Sometimes getting from one place to another uses more than just gravity. Sometimes pipes can take you to an area that you might not normally be able to get to. Others have conveyer belts. Sometimes you might find an elevator or teleporter to move across the stage. A spinner has an area that spins depending on how the level is tilted. You might actually want to sacrifice portions of your blob because the smaller it is the faster it goes.
That doesn’t mean that there aren’t obstacles in your way. Pushers will try to push you off of the level. Stan is a massive cube that rolls around and changes direction and can impede your path. Jacob’s Ladder strikes your mercury blob with electricity and can vaporize it into nothing slowly. Mercoids move towards mercury blobs and try to eat them up.
Getting through each level is a bit of a puzzle. Sometimes it is easier if you focus on the task required, but you get more points the faster you complete the level, the more mercury you have, and the number of tasks completed.
The biggest issue with the game is how difficult the game can get when you get to later levels. Even some of the tutorial missions can be a challenge because you have to control more than one mercury blob at the same time. Sometimes the levels really have to zoom out far to see both. It’s a challenge to keep both blobs on the level at the same time.
The other issue with the game is progression. The later levels are incredibly hard and frustrating. If you are stuck on a level, especially one of the later levels, you can’t play the easier levels in the other worlds and try the level you are stuck on later.
The game does have a lot of replay value if you are the type who wants to try to complete each level with as high of a score as possible. The game takes a while if you just want to complete the level, and by the time you get towards the end of the game, you will probably just be playing to complete each level.
The game does have a two-player mode, but you need to both have a copy of the game to play. You also can’t play online, so you need to find a friend to play the game close by with.Archer Maclean’s Mercury has a lot going for it. The game is a lot of fun at first, and the puzzle elements of the game have some creativity behind them. Unfortunately the difficulty of the game ramps up the frustration factor quickly. It sounds like Ignition is trying to fix some of these issues with the upcoming Mercury Meltdown. If you are up for a challenge on the road, you might want to give Mercury a look.