Mercury Meltdown Revolution Wii
The problem faced by inventing some new technological gloop is that you then have to invent some contrived scenario in which to put it, to deliver fun to the paying public. It’s much easier to seed a game from an intriguing idea that then demands some technical ingenuity. However things don’t always turn out how you would have planned them and this is the challenge that may well have faced Archer MacLean with his Mercury project when it was conceived. How to best let people play with his new technological toy?
Let’s get this straight, the blob of mercury you tilt and tip around the maze is thoroughly the star of the game. He, let’s call it a he, is there in the opening credits, he is dancing in the selection menu and at just about every other turn. MacLean is obviously proud of the little fellow. And why shouldn’t he be. This is possibly one of the strongest video game characters I have come across in a long time. It literally oozes identity as it slips over surfaces, flows down walls and pours off drops. And all this is delivered without a quirky name, or hair-do, in fact without a body or head at all. It all comes out of the quality and accuracy of the inherent physics around which the game is built.
If you haven’t come across the series before, on its PSP or PS2 outings, you control a maze by tipping and tilting to guide a malleable blob of mercury from the start to the finish. Before you can get there you will have to pass through a variety of obstacles and hazards. One of which is the coloured doors which must match the colour of the mercury for you to use. This is further complicated by the fact that some doors require a complex mix of colours to access. This brings us onto the most clever point of the physics and the gameplay; you can divide your blob of mercury by rolling into a sharp corner of the maze. This enables you to colour the different portions and then recombine to create the required complex of colours. It also enables you to send different parts of the blob in different directions; although you still control them both by tilting, due to the laws of momentum the smaller blobs move faster than the larger ones so that with some care you can guide them through subtly different routes.
As the folklore goes, this game was originally intended to be sold with a tilt peripheral on the PSP, but due to market forces this was not to be. Its release on the Wii therefore is something of a homecoming; it finally obtains its fabled tilt sensor in the form of the Wii-mote. The controller is held horizontally and tilted or rocked to control the surface of the maze. Time has been well spent here as it proves to be a joy to control. So much so that you are often so transfixed by the maze-based conundrums that you forget all about the novel controller altogether; perhaps the highest praise for any control scheme.
This controller homecoming does much to hide the fact that this is another PS2 port to the Wii. Attention is appropriately drawn away from the depressing proposition of more inbound games from Nintendo’s previous nemesis. However, Mercury Revolution can’t escape these comparisons on the graphical front. The game has the same pseudo-cell shaded art style of its most recent outing on PS2/PSP. This fits the style of play pretty well but its busy screens could deter the more casual gamer not used to the way these things usually look. This is something that may be more of an issue with the open seas market of the Wii than it was with the gamer audience of Sony’s machines. The sounds too come across pretty much untouched. Again they do their job without really adding an awful lot to proceedings. In amongst all this there are plenty of graphical and audio glances back to the glory days of 16 Bit game development, again something for the hardened gamer rather than mum, dad or grandma.
The game starts out pretty easy, slowly introducing different elements into the mix. The mazes are organised into laboratories, each with their own theme. You select a particular test-tube from the lab to start a level. I found the progression to be about right, and quickly cottoned on to the various techniques I was being asked to perform. It reminded me of a common trick used in films, where you are shown something which appears inconsequential at the time, but later on will be crucial to unravelling the plot. The early levels in Mercury Revolution are much like this and, although easy at the time, need to be remembered and put to good use as the difficulty starts to ramp up.
It wasn’t until I saw a friend playing the game, who didn’t have the shared background in gaming that Archer MacLean seems to assume. They missed some of the visual clues along the way and before long got themselves pretty stuck and frustrated. They eventually found the going too tough, put the controller down and walked away to do something else. Admittedly, this anecdotal evidence doesn’t really prove anything, but I think it does ask some questions as to whether the Wii’s audience will take as quickly to the game as the publishers hope.
Overall, I was both overjoyed to see this game finally get the controls it deserved, but disappointed that the opportunity was missed to broaden the game itself. It would have been great to see the Wii’s simplicity and clean designs applied here. What the controls can’t hide is that this is a straightforward port from the PS2/PSP. This must have saved a stack load of money, but is a risky strategy for the franchise. I hope that it sells in enough to warrant a proper re-imagining of the game for the Wii, or even the other next generation console with waggle.
If you haven’t played the other games and are a solid old time gamer, then this is almost a must buy.