Rants and raves about all the latest in video games and other forms of mindless entertainment.

April 24, 2005

Review: Archer McLean's Mercury (PSP) - Like Hg, it flops...




When I first imagined my experience with Mercury, I had envisioned a complex puzzle game where my cognitive strings would be twisted and pulled in every which way. I was looking forward to a deep and engaging puzzler, that lets innovation run free, and fun run wild. I was deceived. Archer McLean needs to learn a lesson or two in game design. Mercury is barely stomachable as a game, and is more of a universal patience test than anything. The entire notion of manipulating a ball of liquid Mercury with realistic fluid dymanics was thrilling. Being a huge fan of Marbel Madness (click if you're ignorant) I was extatic to see the entire genre redesigned with an innovative new mechanic. No more solid rolling newtonian Physics, NO, this was going to be something new, something different, something the industry needs. The silver blob of goo which is affectionately labeled "Mercury" (despite the fact that Mercury is possibly the deadliest substance on earth), will cause you more grief than pleasure in the long run. Mr McLean, if you're reading this...learn how to make games in this day and age before you list your resume bullet points as some sort of means to make a game seem desirable.

The premise of the game is simple. You use the analog nub to tilt the arena which promptly causes gravity to start the blob a rollin'. First let me iterate that the physical way in which the mercury moves and splits, and squashes against surfaces is realistic to the n'th degree. While there are no actual real-time reflections on the shiny Mercury blob itself (merely a single image pasted on to appear that way), the fluid dynamics of the motion of the goo is uncanny. Also, the idea of using this new dynamic in the physical world of games, specifically in this game, is truly innovative. Nothing like this has ever been seen or attempted before. It's a breath of fresh air, as in this day and age, where everything is a "me too" game or movie. Everyone wants to be like the latest Grand Theft Auto, Final Fantasy, Legend of Zelda, or Super Mario. It's heart warming to see some developers still find merit in making it on their own steam, and creating whole new ideas born of the imagination and not the financial success of competing games.

Aurally the game manages to please, if only for a moment. The soundtrack is crisp and clear, and often times soothing depending on the level of play. The "blooerb"s and "plish"s as the Mercury comes into contact with other surfaces and other blobs of mercury are comically enjoyable, and pull off the effect of actual mercury nicely. There isn't much to the sound and sountrack of this game, but what is there is pleasing. Small sound snippets that accompany obscurely original and odd cut-scenes that introduce new "worlds" as you manage to unlock them are played up to make the game seem more worth purchase, and to a degree it succeeeds. Yes, there are indeed cut-scenes in this game. No plot follows them, and they don't make much sense, but it's fun to watch if not just for kicks. The worlds are divided into about 12 stages each, where completing a task, or making it to the finish line with a certain percentage of mercury remaining comprise the majority of the levels, with the latter stages featuring combinations of task/time trials, and inevitably leading to a "boss" stage, which is a combination of every type of stage in the game (time/percentage/task).




That's where the quality ends however. There isn't much to say about the gameplay itself. It sucks. Plain and simple. While the premonition of mercury manipulation is desirable as an idea, the execution is something different. While fine for the simplistically designed levels, the method of play is just plain useless for the harder and more difficult missions. You'll find yourself dropping more than the allowed amount of Mercury over the edge of the arena (thus failing the mission) more times than you can count (literally). This is because of one of many reasons: A) The pathways to move the Mercury are far too narrow. Requiring more than perfect and precise aiming and tilting skills. Though passable, are far too unforgiving. B) The analog nub which you use to manipulate and tilt the arena to move the mercury, is far too touchy and jittery. The extensive sensitivty makes the screen shake and shutter as you snap the analog stick over and over again, just to make sure your glob of silvery goodness doesn't flop over the edge of the pathway which is already too narrow. C) The camera, though adjustable, never actually shows you the perspective you'll need. This is a major piss-off, since 100% of the time, you're under the clock to get finished, and wasting valuable seconds just shifting and angling the camera is not enjoyable in the slightest. D) Stage design: The levels, most of them, are poorly conceived. You'll find yourself fighting the levels atrocious set up rather than figuring out how to solve certain puzzles or activate certain switches. The time alotted is often never enough either. It's also insulting to see the game developers peep in with a text box taunting you with "We can finish the level in 12 seconds, can you?". God damned insulting, and I wish divine punishment upon those who put them into the game.




Tutorials on how to operate the tilt function when the mercury is upside down would have been helpful, and a little more leeway in the forgiving end of the difficulty spectrum would have been a blessing. There is no redeeming value in playing Mercury. Though, these things don't all apply at once to each level exclusively nor does one only apply at a time. It's a mixed bag. Sometimes the stage design is so horrific, just entertaining the idea of continuing play makes you wish Archer McLean were dead. Other times, you'll come out of a level with a smile of determination on your face, as some parts of the game offer up true challenge without cheap failures via crummy game design. You can trudge through the levels over and over again to acheive a high score, but most will test your patience to their limits; to the point where just thinking about such inane ideas is nauseating. The recommendation here is to just rent Mercury. It's appeal is to that of the gamer with hardcore gaming skill, yet even that is a bit of stretch. Even the hardcore gamers will find something to bitch about in Mercury. It's far from enjoyable, it's just entertaining to see such a brilliant idea fail so miserable in execution. To say Archer McLean's Mercury is without merit would be asinine. It has it's moments, but they're so scarce, that they're practically forgettable. It's a sad day when such an innovative concept is lost in execution due to an antiquated game designer striving off the notion that the old school still applies to the new school.

Verdict


6.9

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