Archer Maclean's Mercury was originally released in 2005 for the PlayStation Portable on UMD. However, the game has returned once again and it has been re-released on the PlayStation Network. The game was originally developed by the aptly named Awesome Studios and is essentially a puzzle game that combines an interesting mix of player control and quick thinking.
Initially the game may seem very similar to Marble based puzzle games, but it's actually very different. Since the controlled object isn't a solid, but instead a liquid, it adds a whole new experience to getting around a level. It's very easy, for example, to have the Mercury separated into smaller pieces by going around a corner the wrong way. However, will the mercury stick to together long enough to make it worthy of being a solid title, or will it just slide away over the edge?
The game itself focuses on three major types of level: Race, Percentage and Task. There are also six worlds which can be played on, each with numerous levels. It makes for a good level of variety, as no two levels are the same. Obviously there are only three types, but the nature of achieving the desired objective varies so much it's impressive. For example, it would be easy to assume that Race type levels only require getting from A to B as quickly as possible, but maintaining a certain amount of Mercury is also paramount on some levels, in order to activate pressure switches.
Percentage levels require a more patient approach, as the key to completing this type is to keep as much Mercury as possible. Lose too much, and it won't be possible to complete the level. However, these are ultimately similar to Race, except much more caution is required. The level design itself though continues to impress and although it may seem easy to just get to the end of a level intact, it's anything but.
The final type is Task and this epitomises Mercury to a tee. This type starts to introduce some of the more complicated puzzle elements, as it's possible to change the colour of the Mercury. Gates appear that can only be passed through if the Mercury is a certain colour, and this can be made even more complicated by having to split the Mercury into smaller blobs, changing their colours independently and navigating them through the level at the same time. These different coloured blobs can then be merged to make new colours. It definitely requires a lot of thought and makes for a great challenge.The level design is actually quite adventurous, and the amount of variety is truly impressive. The end levels of each stage try to combine all of the different types and it makes the levels very fulfilling to complete. Enemies appear which try to split the Mercury, or even eat it. So it's fun to try and navigate through the obstacles while trying to maintain as much volume as possible. Some levels - mainly the Race type - don't really have any puzzle elements, but others can be exceedingly complicated. The diversity is definitely commendable and it stops the game from becoming boring.
The developers really nailed the controls on the head. The Mercury flows around just as expected and sliding against walls or going through gaps feels spot on. However, while the actual controls are great, the camera can sometimes cause problems. Sometimes walls completely obscure the Mercury and it's up to the player to manually move the camera numerous times to try and see what's going on, by which time, the Mercury might already be lost.
Graphically the game looks ok. It's obviously a few years old, but it still all looks pretty good. Elements such as a semi-reflective surface on the Mercury help to sell the fact it really is a metallic liquid and the variety of levels is such that there is never a feeling of deja vu. They are all very recognisable and this deserves a high level of praise. The same can't be said for the music though, as it can get quite stale after a while.
For perfectionists, this game offers a lot. Each stage has a high score table, and achieving the highest score unlocks a hidden level. However, this is no easy feat and attaining the required level of performance on every level will take some serious dedication. If the player manages this however, they will unlock an entirely new world. There is also a two-player mode, although it's quite marginalised. It allows two people to race against a ghost with the aim of setting the fastest score. It doesn't really have any depth, but it can be fun for a little while.
Mercury's execution is very precise and it's definitely a challenge to play. The ideas present in the game are unique and inventive and the puzzle element will consistently challenge the minds of player's, especially in the later stages. The camera is a thorn in the side, as it can make the game more challenging than it needs to be sometimes, but the overall package will definitely keep fans of puzzle games entertained.
Finishing the main campaign can be done relatively easily in a day, but achieving all the high scores will take a considerably longer period of time. For those who didn't buy this game when it first came out in 2005 and are looking for a challenge, Archer MacLean's Mercury is definitely a game that should be checked out now that it's available in the PlayStation Store. However, those who did should be quite content with their UMD version.