Archer MacLean’s Mercury PSP Review

When I was asked to review Archer MacLean’s Mercury by Chris, Console Obsession’s long-suffering deadline lion-tamer, two questions popped into my head. Firstly, what sort of name is Archer MacLean’s Mercury for a game, and secondly, who the hell is Archer MacLean?

When I think of games with famous names attached, I think Tony Hawks, Marc Ecko, Tiger Woods, Stephen Spielberg. If I have to Google the famous name attached to a game, then I would consider that endorsement a failure. Turns out that Mr. MacLean is a British games developer, most commonly linked to a series of snooker and pool games. Even so, is that famous enough to entice people to pick up a PSP puzzle game?

Anyway, the game is focused around rolling a little blob of mercury around a platform. The aim is to get the little ball of mercury to the finish point of the level without losing too much over the sides of the platform within a certain time limit. There are puzzles along the way, using the colour of the little blob of mercury to pass through gates and hit buttons. You progress from stage to stage in a strict linear series, unable to move forward if you struggle to pass a level. There are seven worlds to pass through, with a grand total of 72 puzzles to complete. Each level has a high score table, with the amount of mercury you manage to get to the finish as well as the time left on the clock converted into points to rank you on the leader board. You get three characters and no more to imprint your name upon this record of achievement.

If this sounds at all old-school, well, that’s because it is. You see, Archer MacLean’s Mercury feels like it’s locked firmly in the last decade of video-games design. More modern puzzle games take fresher approaches to the genre, pushing a bit of character and life into their otherwise drab basic concepts. Without the loveable blobs and the sense of humour, World of Goo would have been an exercise in sticking little balls to pegs to reach a goal. Without the loveable blobs and the sense of humour, LocoRoco would have been an exercise in rolling little balls from one end of a level to the other. Without loveable blobs and a sense of humour, Mercury feels stale and dead where it could have been quirky and cute. Unlike LocoRoco, where the loss of a single blob left me nearly inconsolable with grief, the loss of a smidgen of mercury over the edge of yet another platform left me frustrated and angry.

Indeed, if I were to take two emotions to summarize my experience of Archer MacLean’s Mercury, frustration and anger would be the two that I would select. The control scheme is too twitchy for fine control over the tilt of the platforms, leaving the player to franticly flick the analogue switch back and forth to progress in even a vaguely forwardly direction. Interestingly, the game was intended to be controlled by a never-released tilt sensor which would plug into the PSP’s USB port. In other words, this game would be more suited to a release on the iPhone rather than the PSP, except that there’s already plenty of superior contenders for the tilt puzzle audience on that platform.

The gameplay is further hindered by the camera. To be perfectly honest, the camera is horrible, rotated and zoomed by the face and shoulder buttons. Rotation is confined to only 4 angles, and the camera has no option to enter an overhead view, which would have been very helpful in navigating the trickier sections of the game. The actual, unchangeable pitch of the camera is exactly the wrong angle to allow the player to easily see what’s going on where the path is narrow with walls on either side. This may sound a minor complaint, but it’s a situation that the game loves to throw at players.

The final nail in the coffin, in this reviewer’s opinion, was the decision to make players progress linearly through the stages. I spent a frustrating half-hour at least playing the ‘boss’ level of the tutorial world. It was impossible to play any other stage that I had not already completed at this stage, given that the next up world was locked out until the boss stage of the previous world was completed. The temptation to give up was strong, and not even the sense of accomplishment gained by competing the level could make up with that degree of dissatisfaction. It’s hard to see how a game in which even the tutorial stages can lead to game-breaking levels of frustration could possibly hope to reach out to the masses.

If you’ve been browsing through the PlayStation Store for a puzzle game to play on your PSP, seen this game on offer there, and been even slightly tempted to pick it up, let me help you with your decision. Save your money. Buy something more enjoyable. LocoRoco is great. Archer MacLean’s Mercury is not.