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Archer MacLeanís Mercury
Score: 97%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Ignition Entertainment USA
Developer: Ignition Entertainment USA
Media: UMD/1
Players: 1 - 2
Genre: Puzzle/ Platformer (3D)

Graphics & Sound:
Much like Lumines, Archer MacLeanís Mercury can also be considered a step up from the average puzzle game. And if Lumines is the next generationís Tetris, then Mercury is the next generationís Marble Madness.

The visuals of Mercury are outstanding. The centerpiece of the game (the blob of mercury a.k.a. you) looks beautiful no matter what color or size it is in. The highly reflective surface and morphing squashed ball look comes across perfectly. Aside from the main attraction, the gameís levels each have a unique look and feel, but not so completely different that you canít see how it fits in with the rest of the world.

The other really graphically-impressive aspect of Mercury are the in-game menus. When you press Start (or end a level), a tie-dyed curtain drops in front of the screen. As you select various options, the curtain flips back and forth to show the next set of options. This effect adds a nice touch to what could easily be just another drab menu.

The sound effects and music of Mercury also hit the spot. The glooping and sloshing sounds created by your blob are complemented perfectly by the chomping, zapping, and stomping sounds of the levelsí enemies and obstacles. As for the music, each world has its own style that helps to bring out the mood of the world. For instance, Neon (the tutorial world) has a very electric and techno feel to it, while Quartzís instrumentals are very earthy with lots of flute-like sounds.


Gameplay:
Itís a common belief that a game is good if it is easy to learn, yet hard to master. Archer MacLeanís Mercury is a prime example of this adage. You control your blob of goo by tilting the level in the direction you want the mercury to move. You have to set off all of the switches on the level in a certain amount of time, while not losing too much mercury. The game is divided into six worlds (each with 12 levels), giving you a grand total of 72 mind-bending challenges (not including the unlockable-bonus levels). Nine levels are weighted to give more importance to one of three types (Race, Percentage, and Tasks). Even if you are better at a certain type of level (for example, the ones that require you to hit multiple switches within a short amount of time with little care for the amount of mercury you have), you have to master the other types to progress because you have to go through each level in a world before unlocking the next world. Once you beat a world, you are also treated to a fully rendered movie that gives an overview of the next world.

There are two types of switches in Mercury: Pressure Switches and Colored Switches. In order to activate Pressure Switches, you need to put a certain amount of mercury on the pad. The other switches donít care how much mercury you put on the switch, but they do require the mercury to be a certain color. So how do you make your blobs change color? There are floating cylinders called Paint Shops in most of the levels. When a blob passes under these devices, it changes to its displayed color. You can also form colors by combining mercury blobs of other colors. For example, combining red and blue mercury yields a magenta blob, blue and green gives you cyan, and green and red results in yellow. Your mercury starts off as silver, and if you ever need to make it silver again, you just need to combine all three primary colors (red, green, and blue).

You also have to pilot your way through vacuum pipes, gears, moving platforms, color-filtering doors, and enemies that either block your path or remove some of your mercury (either by zapping or eating you). There are other obstacles that can help or hurt your mission (depending on how you use them). Teleporters suck you up and move your blobs to another part of the level, while Grav Benders push your mercury to an overhang (and upside down).

You will find that there are many different ways to complete the goals of each level. There are typically shortcuts built into each level Ė nothing like hidden passages or anything so sneaky. Usually these shortcuts involve using Teleporters or Grav Benders to ďhopĒ over walls or throw your mercury across gaps. Improving your time and the amount of mercury you have at the end of each level ups your score Ė who knows, something good might happen if you beat the preset top score.


Difficulty:
Archer MacLeanís Mercury starts off fairly simple as you progress through the first couple of worlds, but with each boss level, you get introduced to one or two new obstacles or mechanics that plague you for the rest of the game. This gives Mercury a nice smooth increase in difficulty. By the time you reach the fourth or fifth world, you will find yourself racking your brain to get past even the lowest levels.

One of the interesting aspects of this game is that even though you know exactly how you are supposed to activate all of the switches, it still takes a lot of skill to navigate your blob. Typically, Mercuryís levels require a precise blend of patience and haste because if you rush too much, you will spill your liquid over the side. But if you take too long, the clock can run out.


Game Mechanics:
Much like the graphics, the major game mechanic of Archer MacLeanís Mercury is the blob of mercury and how it handles and feels as you maneuver it across the different levels. Not only does the mercury look good as it splits apart or globs back together, but it feels right as well. When you have the mercury balanced on a point and you are trying to carefully split it in two (so that you donít lose any of the precious goo), you can feel the tension between the blobs as they break apart. The same feeling is there when you are trying to combine them Ė the two parts sort of rush together as they get closer to each other. Another aspect is how much control you have over the mercury as you try to complete the tasks. The more mercury you have, the easier it is to keep it all together, although itís harder to maneuver. Conversely, if you donít have a lot, then you can zip it around the platforms and narrow tracks, but it can fly apart easily.

Archer MacLeanís Mercury is definitely one of the system-defining launch titles to come out for the PSP. Its unique and innovative style mixed with highly-detailed graphics makes this game a must-have for anyone into puzzle games... or platformers for that matter.


-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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