Archer Maclean's Mercury Hands-On

We check out one of the most unique PSP games to roll into the North American lineup.

LAS VEGAS--At Sony's press event today we had the opportunity to test out Ignition Entertainment's upcoming PSP launch title, Archer Maclean's Mercury. The unique game, which is being developed by Awesome Studios, appears to be a simple puzzler that borrows from a classic childhood toy. Your objective in the game is to guide single or multiple blobs of mercury through a 3D maze by tilting the entire level and coaxing your mercury to an end point. However, based on the sampling of levels we played, there's a bit more to it.

The work-in-progress version on display at Sony's event offered three game types to choose from, including race, percentage, and task. Race challenges you to reach your goal before running out of time; percentage requires you to make sure a certain percentage of your mercury ball reaches the end point; task appears to offer multipart puzzles for you to solve while getting your mercury ball to its goal.

As we've mentioned, the actual gameplay mechanics are basic. You'll simply use the analog stick to tilt your maze in any direction with the intention of guiding your malleable ball of mercury along. In that respect, the game reminds us a bit of Sega's Monkey Ball games, which get quite a bit of mileage from a simple control mechanic. However, Mercury mixes up the action a bit more than Sega's puzzler with the inclusion of moving platforms, multipart objectives that require you to infuse your mercury ball with color in order to pass certain obstacles, and the simple fact that your fluid charge can break into smaller blobs, increasing the challenge considerably.

We tried several different mazes in the various game types and were pleasantly surprised by the amount of variety that the game packs. While some mazes have moving platforms or geometry designed to keep your ball from its goal, others have more-involved challenges. For example, one maze has people mover-style stretches of floor that zip your ball around to the goal. The catch is that the route to the goal is blocked by a gate that will only let your blob pass if it's been changed to the proper color, in this case yellow. While a pad on the maze will change your blob to the proper hue, the color shift only lasts a few seconds, forcing you to navigate the right stretches of the moving floor so you can reach your goal before time runs out.

The graphics in the game are a stylized assortment of floating 3D mazes in trippy, multicolored space. However, the centerpiece of the visuals is easily your liquid charge, which is a gooey and reflective piece of eye candy. The blobs eventually come in different color variations, such as blue, red, and green, which you can mush together to get a proud silvery blob.

While the work-in-progress version of Mercury offered us a good taste of what to expect from the promising game, there's still quite a bit that we didn't get to see. The mazes in the game are organized into six uniquely themed worlds. In order to progress to the next world you'll have to make it through the different game types, avoid traps and predators, and face off against level bosses to progress. All told, the game will include over 70 levels to test your skills. In addition, you'll be able to play any of the levels in multiplayer via Wi-Fi, or you'll be able to put your skills to the test in a ghost mode that lets you compete against a friend's times. The game is set to include more than 70 music tracks of ambient music that will be unique to each level. Finally, it appears that the game will also feature support for a motion-sensor peripheral that will let you forgo using the analog pad and just move your PSP to get your blob to its goal.

While many of the titles on display for the PSP cover the expected bases for this genre, Archer Maclean's Mercury is a pleasant surprise with quite a bit of charm. The gameplay is fun and addictive, and the different modes help the game from being a one-trick pony. The addition of Wi-Fi is a nice perk as well. Archer Maclean's Mercury is currently slated to ship for the PSP at the time of the unit's launch, which is currently estimated to be sometime this March.

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