Mercury Meltdown - PSP - Preview 2
Every good niche deserves another. Mercury scored big on the PSP for being a puzzler where you control the world around your character (a ball of mercury) to reach the goal. It didn't matter how good of a player you were – the liquid form never wanted to go precisely where it was directed. Mercury was a tough (sometimes excruciating) game with more missions than several puzzlers combined, amounting to one of the longest-lasting handheld titles around.
Soon gamers will get the chance to do it all over again in Mercury Meltdown – albeit with new puzzles, new features, new types of gameplay, and a shiny new coat of paint. Designed to be a true sequel, not a side release with additional content, Mercury Meltdown is both harder and easier. It's more accessible to the average gamer, yet offers a bigger challenge for players who didn't think the first game had enough bite.
Its diverse, player-friendly puzzles are just as difficult as those featured in the first game. Many of them are even more creative with their use of tricks and multi-tasking necessary to successfully reach the end. To give all players a shot at defeating these tough puzzles, the game does away with time limit restrictions. Meltdown has a time limit, and it's just as haunting as ever. The difference now is that when the clock reaches zero, it doesn't mean you have to give up and start over. Players can continue exploring, experimenting, and try to figure out what the heck needs to be done long after the time has expired.
Bonuses are littered in specific parts of each map, but they may be skipped. Thus, if all you want to do is rush* through the game, you can. To get a rating of 100%, however, you'll need to collect all bonuses and complete the game within the time limit. You'll also have to finish the puzzle with your blob completely intact. Like the first game, the blob can be split up to solve various puzzles, ensuring that you won't often succeed on your first or second attempt. This is very much a puzzle game that has to be analyzed and repeated to understand the mechanics and solution to each problem.
For an even bigger challenge, the game also has blob color changes and new blob mechanics. They include Hot, which makes the blob move faster, break up easier, and is harder to control. Cold form does the opposite, giving you a blob that clings together. Solid form is quite different from those two, turning the blob into a hard ball that rolls and reacts like a Super Monkey Ball.
Among five new party games is Race. It's unlocked through the main missions, and it's completely different from what the series has previously demonstrated. The camera shifts from its top-down, maneuverable view to a third-person perspective. Rather than navigate narrow, puzzling worlds, Race has you pushing forward to roll the ball down a curvaceous track.
Time is not officially limited but it might as well be. The track's many sharp turns will make you want to slow down to avoid rolling so far up the side of the track that you fall off. Doing so could cost you though: I did not succeed on the times when I fell or slowed down for a turn. The game wants you to be fast, but also have good control of your blob.
Whereas the first game had a cold, industrial look (which I was a fan of), Meltdown shoots for mainstream appeal with brighter, more colorful worlds. The game is made to look more like a cartoon with cel-shading, an effect that results in Cel Damage-style visuals. Cel Damage, if you don't remember, was a vehicular combat game from EA released alongside Xbox and GameCube. Meltdown's art style was instantly reminiscent of that title. The change was pretty surprising to me at first, but I could instantly tell that this was a part of the Mercury series.
The game lives up to the promise of shorter load times, with no load screen lasting more than 10 seconds. Ten seconds sounds like a lot but pales in comparison to what the first game (and most other PSP titles) put us through. If you die and try again or decide to re-start the mission, Meltdown. Furthermore, this is only a preview build. It seems pretty far along, but that doesn't mean the developers aren't still tweaking the technical side of the game as well as the gameplay.
*Good luck doing that. Even when ignoring everything except the primary objective, Mercury Meltdown is going to be one of the most challenging, patience-testing puzzlers you'll ever play.