The PlayStation 2’s Remix brought with it twin analogue stick control that greatly benefited seamless navigation and camera control, but it was only when the Wii version, Mercury Meltdown Revolution, hit the scene that the goal of motion control was finally realised (though admittedly the success of the game allowed for all these iterations to hit within the space of a couple of years). Now, with the establishment of such mini puzzle staples on Sony and Microsoft’s online marketplace for all to sample, Mercury Hg (Hg being the chemical symbol, a nice little nod to the scientific crowd who’ll no doubt get a kick out of the level names being even more inventively named, quasi-elemental, pseudo-terms like “platformium”) arrives to see if the mechanics have aged or are as simplistically addictive as they seemed back in 2005.
With this being the Xbox LIVE Arcade version, it lacks the sixaxis implementation that marks the PlayStation 3’s copy as being in line with the creator’s original vision. Will twin sticks be enough after the delights of the Wii’s revolution, or will sensitivity niggles that some highlighted in that game mean it finds a core traditional puzzler crowd once again with the familiarity of analogue sticks?
If you’ve yet to sample the delights of a Mercury title then fear not, the aesthetic, core mechanics and tutorials are all the very essence of minimalism and simplicity. The menu screen, with its bright white glare and the beeps and pulses of the electronic score should settle you in nicely. The three modes (not including the Tutorial levels) of Discovery, Challenge and Bonus levels guide you well through the quirks and new features that unfold with progression. Your goal is to navigate a blob of Mercury through a course, which can range from a straight line to a labyrinthine route of twist and turns, and hit certain objectives. They are: not losing any Mercury, keeping within the time limit and picking up any bonuses along the way. Easier said than done.
Controls are of the pick-up-and-play variety, one thumbstick moves the pitch and roll of the course (gravity, and the PhysX engine from NVidia do the rest for the quicksilver) whilst the other manipulates the camera angle, spinning around the level and zooming in and out. Only one button is employed – A – used in order to reassemble any split blobs, an act that incurs a time penalty. For a game that was designed for tilt control, the PSN and Wii iterations appear to make it clear that perhaps using it as a rule is not always the best idea, with many complaining that a slight lack of precision led them to favour traditional controls for the trickier moments. If you’ve yet to play with tilt, you’ll not skip a beat when the 360 pad is in your hand.
Discovery Mode will be most players’ base ground and follows the tried-and-tested route of completing the courses to unlock new levels. Choose to whiz through and ignore all the bonuses on offer and you may get a good time but the leader boards that pop up (assuming you’re connected to Live at the time) will show a disparate story of your prowess – quickness alone is not the be-all-and-end-all of a puzzler’s pride. These handy hark-backs to an age of aiming at high scores (though you don’t get to put in rude three letter initials as in the old days) work well to draw you into the quest to pip those ahead of you, and thanks to the data on offer (score, time, and in particular, attempts) you can see just how well you are doing on the curve.
One criticism of earlier titles was the linear progression and strict time limit, well things are still pretty linear, but the time limit is now just a “par” to be aimed for which will give you bonuses. Miss it and you’ll still be fine to proceed and complete the Discovery Mode, so those who favour the “steady as she goes” method of patience can heave a sigh of relief. They may, however, not be so keen on the Challenge Mode, 36 levels, split into groups of 2-5, that not only have pre-set strict requirements for completion, but also spread those over the mini-groups of stages themselves. If you need to finish under 90 seconds and go slowly on the first level, you’ll leave yourself with little chance on the ensuing courses to be run.
The Bonus Mode offers slightly simpler rules, you start with a small blob of Mercury and must find your route within the course in order to collect 100% of the vials containing further amounts of the heavy metal. Punishment is just as strict though – lose an ounce and you’re gone. If this sounds a little Draconian, it isn’t, it merely forces the player to progress beyond the laissez-faire attitude they may have built up swanning about in the Discovery Mode. The difficulty curve is tempered to cater for most abilities, and all but the most petulant controller-throwing ADD-afflicted child should find their ground somewhere in the array of challenges set. With its current incarnation as downloadable content there is the real feeling that the game has been evolving towards this more casual, take-me-as-you-find-me, attitude of gentle complexity.
The game contains a great amount of obstacles: magnetrons pull you in, anti-magnetrons push you out, conveyor belts speed you up, angles split you into multiple blobs. However, the multitude of combinations seemingly offered by such a large box of tricks is never explored to a satisfactory conclusion. You’ll quickly note that most obstacles and pitfalls (holes in the floor, moving platforms) appear in some kind of systematic conjunction, rarely are they truly mixed-and-matched to nefarious ends, which is a shame. The result is a set of puzzles that relies more on the gamer’s need to better himself, having checked the leader boards, or a set of parameters that force you into play, rather than the challenge being just the completion of a devilishly constructed course. Whether you see that as a glass half full (inclusive and accessible) or glass half empty (where are the courses you’d struggle to finish?), it’s a pity that the latter M C Escher-esque geometrical optical illusions of rising platforms and skewed perspectives are in the minority.
The characterful score can charm you into continuous play, the effect of synaesthesia, particularly on a large screen with the lights out and played through a good sound system, seems well implemented and spurs and relaxes at the right moments, but the score will not be to everyone’s liking. Many, myself included, will delight in the inventive electronic beats (if you’re a fan of Rez, or funnily enough the more avant-garde offerings from the mercury Music Prize), but thankfully for those who prefer a good old fashioned three-chord track there’s the option to play your own music, either store on your hard drive or on disc.
Far from a handy gimmick, this seems perhaps the most suitable pairing of the custom soundtrack and game we’ve seen in recent years. The foregrounds, backgrounds and tiles you’re on, jump and twitch to the timing of the beats, so if you’re feeling averse to being influenced through a level by the tempo of what’s on offer, whack on a bit of OK Computer and gently roll that little metal blob in a soporific stupor of relaxation.
The puzzles/courses may lack the real “aargh” factor some so masochistically crave from their brain-bending games of dexterity, but there are enough modes, coupled with the inclusion of custom soundtracks and how that syncs in with the levels, to make this more a play-it-how-you-like title, and at a competitive price, that’s a combination that’ll surely find a market. It may be an easy entry into the series, but since when was being popularist and accessible a bad thing? Who amongst us didn’t finish Rez? Choose your music - uptempo to spur you on for fast high scores or subdued strains to keep your heart-rate in check and collect those vials – turn up the volume and play.
- Pick-up-and-play appeal
- Good use of custom soundtracks
- Range of goals makes for an inclusive difficulty curve
- Levels can be become formulaic
- Relaxed difficulty lessens satisfaction
Mercury Hg Xbox 360 Review
The Mercury series hits the online marketplaces of the two big hitters and appears as, well, mercurial as ever. A gentle difficulty curve aids the casual player, but Challenge Mode gives as good as it gets, whilst the custom soundtrack option marries your tunes with the levels in a heady dose of synaesthesia that demands you play in the dark with the volume cranked up.
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