Mercury Hg Review (Xbox360)

While it didn’t sell a ton, I had some good times with a little game called Archer Maclean’s Mercury on the PSP – and now anyone who missed out on that early release for Sony’s handheld have a new chance to experience this unique and interesting title by way of the puzzler’s new native home – downloads via Xbox Live Arcade and PlayStation Network.

Now titled Mercury Hg (Hg is the atomic symbol for Mercury, so the title strangely is technically Mercury Mercury), the title is literally an upgraded, tweaked, improved and expanded version of the title that grabbed my interest on the PSP back in 2005 but at a bargain basement price and with some rather pretty looking HD graphics.

A big, fat blob of Mercury, the game’s namesake

Mercury can probably be easiest compared to SEGA’s platform-and-puzzler mash-up Super Monkey Ball mixed with a touch of the classic title Marble Madness in that like those two titles it involves navigating your avatar – in this particular title a blob of silvery mercury – through mazes and puzzles.

That probably sounds entirely like Marble Madness, but the twist here is that instead of directly controlling that blob of Mercury you’re instead tilting the board, table or level the blob is on – which in turn is more similar to SEGA’s Super Monkey Ball. The design of the game makes it more addictive and fun to play than Super Monkey Ball, though.

You’re obviously not collecting bananas or really focusing on passing through the game’s 60 levels for progression – it’s instead a game based around bettering your timing, mastering levels and control to post a better time. At a point the game becomes about muscle memory, reactions and calm control in equal measure – which makes for a hell of an addictive experience.

Obviously there’s more to the game than just getting to the other side of a level without sending your blob of Mercury over the edge – there’s doors, ramps, magnets and all sorts of other positive and negative effects that will help and hinder you throughout levels as you try to post better times. New level elements are introduced in an even spread across the game’s levels, ensuring players who haven’t tried out Mercury or something of its ilk before aren’t overwhelmed early on.

One of the more unique aspects of Mercury’s gameplay comes thanks to the name. With Mercury being a thick, metallic-like liquid it can split and act in interesting ways. ‘Drops’ of Mercury can be lost over the side of the level, reducing the size of the blob and essentially functioning as health, for instance.

More interesting is that the blob can be split into multiple blobs – required for some puzzles – making you have to worry about multiple objects. Colour coded doors and switches mean you’ll have to touch blocks that change the colour of blobs to unlock them. These elements go a long way to help make things more interesting and challenging.

While the game is primarily about mastering that sense of accomplishment of completing levels ‘perfectly’ with a top notch amount of time left the actual progression through the included levels gets difficult enough to prove more than a little challenging. The above mentioned obstacles combine with even more distractions and often fiendishly cruel time limits later on to give the game the proper level of challenge for those who don’t want to breeze through levels and merely concentrate on bettering their times.

Levels get complex, and will have you worrying about multiple blobs at once

The game has some rather robust support for custom soundtracks, with a feature that will make level backgrounds and flooring pulses and bulges in time with your own music. The game looks rather pretty with its minimalist art style and bright colours, though sometimes I felt like the actual Mercury itself could’ve been modelled better – but I’ll also confess that I’m not exactly versed in how the heavy element moves in real life.

Each level has atoms to collect, and they function as currency for unlocking the next sets of levels to play on. These are rewarded for various things including merely completing the level, picking up bonus items and beating a set time on each level.

Thankfully, Mercury Hg is designed in such a way that’s merciful – even later levels are small enough that having to face them again after a failure – even the nearest of them – isn’t a daunting task. Hitting restart didn’t leave me irritated or angry even after failing on a level some fifteen times consecutively.

That speaks volumes about the best quality of the game, which is simply how easy and quick it is to jump in, enjoy a few level attempts and then jump right back out. XBLA and PSN games have been increasing in size and scope almost exponentially over the past few years, so it’s refreshing to see a game that is as easy to get in and out of and mess around with as Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved was back at the Xbox 360’s launch – in many ways as the download service has evolved this is a call back to what XBLA was intended to be.

That, in turn, brings me around to the price – which also feels like it’s fallen out of 2006. At 400 points – under £4 or $5 in real money – it falls at the lower end of the online price structure and really feels like a bit of a bargain to me.

There’s definitely stuff wrong with Mercury Hg – the default music that plays throughout levels is so awful that it’s borderline offensive - so get a playlist ready - and the way the game telegraphs that DLC is already on the way does, as always, leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Atoms must be grabbed quickly to unlock more levels

The scope of the gameplay is also limited even in comparison to some other Mercury games, which had mini-games and other modes, and the Mercury formula, while fun, is about due for an evolution in how levels are played and can be completed – even if that’s just in the form of a larger variety of obstacles and traps.

With all that said, there’s an important sense of perspective to take here – Mercury Hg is only five dollars. At that price the amount of levels and content is actually rather impressive. If you’re looking for a game to get stuck into that can be played in smaller chunks as a fun little time-sink, this is a really good way to spend that 5 bucks. Go without a coffee today.