The PSP's "launch window" contains very few games not based on existing series. One of the few games with an original concept is Archer Maclean's Mercury, an enjoyable puzzle game, but one that may prove to be too shallow for some, and too frustrating for others.
Mercury is best described as a mix between Marble Madness and Super Monkey Ball. As the title suggests, you'll be guiding mercury through 6 worlds and 72 intricate levels suspended in mid-air. In some levels your main foe is the clock, while others force you to retain a certain amount of your blob's mass. They all involve tilting the level to get your mercury to the goal in a certain amount of time, so they don't feel much different.
Mercury's difficulty stems from the many hazards, traps, and gadgets that increase in number and complexity as the game progresses. These include teleporters, color changers, and gravity doors, as well as hazards like holes in the floor, conveyer belts, electricity, and roaming balls that munch on your mercury if you come too close. As you get further in the game, the levels become larger, the tasks more challenging, and the frustration greater. Moving multiple pieces of mercury while avoiding holes and traps isn't fun; it's a pain in the rear. The sections where you have to move the mercury around on the ceiling, which essentially inverts the controls, are interesting, and add a cool dimension to the way the game plays.
When moving the mercury, the game requires precision movements, and for the most part, the analog stick is both responsive and precise while tilting the level. You can rotate the camera view 90 degrees, up and down, closer and further away, but it can be troublesome when individual globs move far apart, and the camera zooms further and further away, making it nearly impossible to see what's going on.
One of Mercury's biggest flaws is that there's no real incentive to progress, and no sense of accomplishment once you beat a level. You just move on to the next thing, which is more of the same, just a bit harder. There's not enough variety to the gameplay – the multi-player, where you race the other person's ghost is lame, and there aren't any mini-games or variations to spice things up either.
There's nothing wrong with Mercury's graphics, but other than the nicely rendered FMV introducing each level, the visuals are simple and uninspired. The levels are rather plain, and there aren't many effects to jazz things up. There is some slowdown at times, but it's not often an issue since the game's pace isn't very fast. The mercury moves very realistically, sliding and jiggling just like it does in real life. In screenshots it appears that the mercury has real time reflections, but it's just a visual trick.
I had to go back and play the game again before writing about the music, because it was simply that unmemorable. It's nothing horrible, but it's little more than electronica that plays far off in the distance. There aren't a whole lot of sound effects, other than the sounds of mercury, and the few noises the traps, hazards and teleporters make.
If Mercury had twice the amount of puzzles, a decent multi-player mode and some mini-games or other challenges, it'd be a great game. As it stands now, it's a decent diversion that lasts 3-5 hours, but one not worth $40.