Though it's hard to tell from the game's cover, Mercury Meltdown is quite a bit more fun and complex than your momma's marble rolling game... which, considering it was probably just "marbles," may not be the ringing endorsement we originally thought. But still - the game is good.
In this sequel to the PSP launch title Archer Maclean's Mercury, you use the PSP's mini thumbstick to tilt game boards and safely maneuver a gooey blob of the silver stuff through more than 160 Rube Goldberg-style space mazes… mazes full of tunnels, obstacles and narrow passages teeming with predators.
Yeah, it's tricky. Luckily, your wad o' shiny liquid metal can break into smaller, speedier pieces, roll faster and slower, turn colors and even become a solid pinball while rolling around the 3D, multi-tiered levels. You'll need these powers to keep as much of the toxic glob intact as possible without letting the whole thing drip over unguarded edges or die at the metaphorical teeth of nasty baddies like Mercoids, Spectoids and Jerkoids (we really didn't make up that last one). For those who've played the first title and don't recall all of those creatures, you're right: there are more. Apparently, evolution has yielded additional organisms whose physiologies revolve around the consumption and metabolism of liquid metal. Too bad they don't live inside tuna fish...
The trickiest puzzles involve simultaneously maneuvering multiple balls of mercury, turning each one a specific color to unlock color-coded doors and finally land each one on a specific goal.
Meltdown 's beauty, however, is not just in its cartoony, cell-shaded look but in its layers of deceptive complexity.
Initially, this appears to be a straightforward puzzle game with simplistic controls that can be mastered in minutes. After a few levels, however, you'll discover that learning the best strategies to conquer increasingly complicated and challenging levels, collecting every item and finishing in time requires quite a bit of creative thinking, divided attention and patience.
Misjudge a ledge or tilt a little to much and your glob will literally slip off the board, leaving you with but a drop of your former existence. And because no one likes to be belittled and the levels are pretty fun, you'll want to repeatedly return to each scene to try and prove your worth to both the game and to yourself for a rewarding sense of accomplishment.
Although the puzzles range from easy to downright frustrating, we couldn't find any that were impossible to complete with the right tactic such as conceding a bit of ego and cutting down your doughy mass to tread the thinnest ramps. The developer has done a good job increasing the difficulty between the levels and interspersing easier boards for a brief stress break. Also, by taking away the dead stop when time runs out, you have all the time you need to explore each board and not throw down the system when you are stopped a drip away from the finish line.
The camera controls, however, do their best to get in the way. They quickly whip the view around the board with a button press while instantly reorienting the controls. We appreciate the flexibility, but it takes a lot of practice and patience to master the camera changes and continue rolling your doughy mass without missing a beat.
In fact, you might wish you were playing Meltdown on the Nintendo DS instead. The gameplay seems more naturally suited for a stylus and touch screen, or at least a motion sensitive tilt adapter. Indeed, we've heard rumors of a USB tilt-sensor since before the original game launched, though none ever materialized. Just don't play it while riding in a moving vehicle or you'll become completely annoyed trying to perform subtle movements with the PSP's tiny touchy thumbstick.
Of course, if you're racing an opponent via the added ad-hoc multiplayer support to see who can finish a level more quickly, the field is even.
Ultimately, Meltdown's plethora of content offers more than enough gooey puzzling fun to keep a gamer busy for quite a while. There should be even more arriving in the form of downloadable content. The cel-shaded cartoon graphics (new to this sequel) look fantastic.