Version tested: Wii
As everyone who's reading this sentence for the second time knows, Mercury was originally designed to work with a PSP motion sensor that never made it into production, so Mercury Meltdown Revolution is a very logical release. Other developers have had to sit around making up reasons for you to flap your arms; Ignition Banbury already had one, and a very good one, too. Critically acclaimed on the PSP even without the sensor, the second game won itself 9/10 just a few short months ago, as we reasoned that while it may be good at raising your temperature, it's still a timeless example of how to pit player against environment. Can it repeat the trick on the console that might as well be its home?
Some early Wii titles have taken as much as an hour to explain their controls, but Mercury is so simple that the optional tutorial can afford to spend most of its time talking about other things. You hold the Wiimote in both hands like a traditional game controller with the buttons facing upward, and as you tilt it the ground beneath the blob of silvery mercury on-screen follows suit. A tiny dead-zone in the centre ensures that accidental twitches don't send the mercury flying off-course, and outside of that dead-zone the reaction is perfectly judged. The only things that take getting used to are rotating the camera 90 degrees left and right with the d-pad, using A and B to zoom in and out, and reaching for the minus button to bring up the free-look mode, which allows you to examine the level design at your leisure and decide on the best route to the goal. Beyond that, the consistency of the physics and the game's reaction to your input put you firm control, resulting in one of the most intuitive Wii games you'll ever play. The developers have chosen not to restrict players to using the Wiimote either, offering the Classic Controller's analogue stick as an alternative. It's a testament to the developer's mastery of the Wii hardware that neither offers a big advantage over the other.
The Wii version also introduces several new levels, and changes the order in which you encounter some of the existing ones to help smooth out the difficulty curve. In many respects though it's the same game that we liked so much on PSP, and that's no bad thing. Full of charm and enterprise, each of the game's more-than 150 levels asks you to navigate narrow platforms, throw switches to open gates, and eventually make your way to a chequered square at the end. Bonuses like unlockable mini-games are offered to players who can collect all of a level's stars, get to the end with 100% of the blob intact, or make it through with time still on the clock. The game won't penalise you if run into trouble, either. Large numbers of levels are unlocked at once, and you don't need to finish all of them to reach the later stages. Nor do you need to start again if the time runs out; the only thing that kills you is falling off the level into the abyss, or having all of your mercury zapped away in one of the level's traps.
While it's not crucial to focus on all of a level's goals at once, doing so is the best way to ensure you receive a high score. There is no online leaderboard component to speak of, but Mercury is compelling enough that it will probably see plenty of gloating emails tossed back and forth in the aftermath of the game's release, swapping totals. Level design is consistently strong, too, and there are plenty memorable enough to justify the sort of repeat play that underpins a decent high-scores community. There will be frustration, but it's the healthy kind: with plenty of colour-coded doors and finishing posts, undulating platforms, narrow ledges and other obstacles to throw you off, it's a game where patience and skill need to go hand in hand. Thankfully only a few elements wind you up (like little bricks that need to be ushered onto switches, and pachinko-style layouts that confuse the camera), and the developer has made every effort to accommodate the player. The camera is very rarely blocked by the level design, a colour chart in the top-right corner helps you remember which colours need to be mixed together to get you through a coded door, and the game is smart enough to reward endeavour - discover a shortcut that significantly reduces your finishing time and your score skyrockets.
Where it falters it does so forgivably. It feels a bit awkward directing the free-view camera mode by tilting the Wiimote, but then it's hard to see how else it could be done without confusing the player or sacrificing camera rotation. Elsewhere the unlockable mini-games remain a bit short-lived in their appeal, and haven't been retooled with new Wiimote controls in some cases despite their obvious potential, while two-player head-to-head is also missing from the main game. Mind you, Ignition has been able to retain the recording features of the other console versions, allowing you to save your actions and play them back, either as a showcase, or to help analyse differences in your technique by watching a ghost move alongside you. The fact that the game offers both options reflects its generous presentation: rather like OutRun 2006, it's rare that you're forced to do something counter-intuitive in a menu, and even rarer that you find yourself longing for a feature that isn't there. As an example, all the navigation menus, even on the between-level screens, include thumbnails of the levels before and after so that you can see at-a-glance what's coming up and identify whether you've played it before or not.
By the usual superficial standards, it's hard to imagine Mercury selling consoles on its own, but the high standards of design - and in particular the game's ability to appeal to players at both ends of the skill spectrum - are the sorts of characteristics that a system-seller should aspire to encompass. It's a substantial undertaking, too, with breadth as well as depth, and with a control system that demonstrates the Wiimote's capabilities more fully than its direct competitors. It's hard to think of reasons not to recommend it. It might make you cross every now and then, but you never die unless it's your own fault, and the level of respect it has for players is something that gamers of all tastes will be able to appreciate.
9 / 10