Puzzle games have always been a great fit for handheld gaming, the high score mechanic and low system requirements leading to some of gaming’s finest moments. Whereas Lumines became a new interpretation of the classic Tetris formula, Mercury much like Super Monkey Ball can trace its roots back to marble madness.
The game tasks you with the challenge of moving a blob of mercury from one end of a stage to the other by tilting the stage itself, in a manner very similar to Super Monkey Ball. However the way in which the gelatinous blob of mercury moves couldn’t be more different, sloshing about as you would expect and dividing into smaller blobs upon striking certain objects. The simple idea leading to you attempting to get as much of the original mercury blob from start to finish as possible.
Stages are split into four main types finishing with a final Boss stage which combines elements of all of the stages you have completed to get to that point. The four main stage types are Race, Percentage, Task and Combo with each type subtly changing the way you approach each challenge. Race stages require you to get to the end of the stage as fast as you can. With the emphasis on speed spilling some mercury does not mean game over but will affect your score. Percentage however is all about getting a certain percentage of mercury to the finish line, with a minimum amount required in order to complete the stage and time being irrelevant to how you score. Task stages are all about setting off switches in order to progress through a level, often requiring you to split into multiple blobs of mercury and even changing colour in order to do so. Finally combo levels as the name suggests combine elements of multiple disciplines similar to boss stages but to a lesser extent.
As an extra challenge for the hardcore Ninja levels can be unlocked by beating the top scores of all tables from within a world. As you might expect these levels up the difficulty a notch or two and are welcome additions for players really trying to push themselves.
The pick up and play nature of the game along with the short burst nature of the levels make the game ideal for handheld gaming. Whilst the high score reward structure challenges players to play stages over and again to try and perfect a level, and it is here where the greatness of the level design truly shines. Using the natural momentum and friction of the mercury you begin to traverse routes which initially seemed impossible, taking shortcuts which shave seconds off your previous best attempt. After spotting a possible new route it’s difficult to ignore until you have perfected it.
With everything sounding great so far there is one small caveat, being that this game is not perfect for everyone. If you are not the kind of perfectionist who is willing to play the same level for an hour in an attempt to get that perfect score and unlock the ninja levels you will definitely not be getting the most out of this game. However if like me that sounds like a perfect slice of gaming fun you really are in for a treat. I like to think of it as the thinking man’s Super Monkey Ball and the perfect company for any journey. Originally released on UMD in 2005 it is now out on PSN for £4.79, easily downloaded and installed to your PSP from your PS3, you’d be a fool not to take advantage.
Hi-Score: -Level design, that just one more go appeal
Lo-Score: – Occasionally irksome camera
Final Score: – 8 out of 10