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Mercury from Archer MacLean has had a bit of a chequered history. Initially slated for a release on the PSP with a motion sensor peripheral, it eventually got released with just joypad controls. Needless to say it didn't shift as many units as it deserved.
In an effort to broaden its appeal it was reworked in a more cell shaded style and released on the PSP and PS2. These releases seemed to be treading water until the game found its home. Not that they were shabby, but they certainly didn't get the attention they deserved. The key element lacking, until now, was the all important tilt controls around which the game had been designed. With the launch of the Wii we final have a platform that can offer inventive controls to match Mercury's complex physics concept.
The coming together of these two elements delivers us Mercury Revolution on the Wii. This is an important release for Ignition as they need to make a big impact and turn the recent string of releases into an ongoing franchise. The question is whether they have already weakened the concept too much by its previous exposure.
The format of the play is the same as previous Mercury outings. Your task is to control a blob of mercury around a maze without falling off or getting zapped. Now, if this was any old solid blob you may not be too interested. However, the genius of the game is the fluidity and elasticity of the lump of mercury. Like playing with a piece of warm putty in your hands, the little shiny fellow somehow oozes personality as it caresses slopes and slips down cracks. If your parents had a mercury puzzle before health and safety meant they were taken off the shelves, you will know the fascinating connection between us humans and these strange lumps of metal that flows. Not only does it flow but it is also infinitely dividable. Put too much out over a ledge and the end will drip off; hit a sharp edge and you will split in two. This divide-ability is put to exactly use in the game's puzzles. These play with the ability to colour the mercury with different light sources, which then lets you roll through the related coloured doors. Some doors require a more complex colour that can only be obtained by dividing your mercury, applying a different colour to each piece then recombining them to create the new mix.
While Mercury makes a good job of adapting itself to the Wii controller it doesn't score so highly in adapting to the Wii's casual gamer demographic.
This works oh so much better with the Wii's motion controller. The previous disconnection between the fluid mercury and the stick controllers is not replaced by a simple Wii-mote held horizontally and tipped or tilted as required. You can then use the 1 and 2 buttons to zoom in and out whilst controlling the camera angle with the D-pad. The controls are so simple that they really let you forget about them and focus on the game itself. The whole thing just gels and demonstrates how much the game was crying out for this sort of implementation.
Graphically, Mercury Revolution picks up on the second PSP game's look and feel. This took the muted tones of the original and imbibed them with much pastel brightness and colour. Whilst the result is somewhat garish, it does mark itself out from the crowd and seem to fit the playful aesthetic of the wider game. Again we are seeing a nod back to the primary colours of the 16-bit days beloved by those of us old enough to remember them. The sound also serves its purpose. In addition to the clanks and bangs from the various levels there is some nice background music. I think the sound could have played more a part in communicating the movement of the mercury with a lot more globbey slobbery noises, but perhaps this is something we can see in later versions, and may be a result of its handheld roots.
While Mercury makes a good job of adapting itself to the Wii controller it doesn't score so highly in adapting to the Wii's casual gamer demographic. Although you can initially pick it up and play pretty quickly the going gets hard at an early stage. There has been little effort to engage with the wider successes of the Wii, namely its strong sales to a wider audience. That said, if you are willing to revel in what is an old style romp then your perseverance will reap dividends. The game positively oozes both direct references to the good old days and game play of its developer Archer MacLean whose history goes right back to the Amiga, C64 and before. If you were playing games back then it really does have the feel of an old friend; I was taken back to playing MacLean's old titles such as Jimmy White's or International Karate. Now while that tickles my retro glands, this may not stand it in such good stead in the wider market.
If Mercury Revolution is going to establish itself as a viable franchise it will need to do more for the wider audience who isn't in on the joke, regardless of how playable it is. The prospect of a Mercury game built from the ground up for the Wii, incorporating Mii's and online play would be something well worth considering for Ignition.
Overall, this is a great game that finally achieves what Archer MacLean set out to do a few years ago on the PSP. If you are up for a challenge, and willing to forego the garish graphics and maybe even relish the ascent to the 90's game style, this is well worth a look.
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