Although the first Mercury on PSP didn't set the world on fire, it was a unique twist on the traditional "rolling puzzle" game with its own unusual charm. I grew to admire the physics of sloshing liquid metal through clever setups, and the abstract aesthetics of its shimmering sheen appealed to the art wonk in me. I would have been quite satisfied with more of the same from its sequel, Mercury Meltdown, but was disappointed to find that it strays too far from a formula that wasn't entirely solid the first time around.
The basic concept is simple. As stated, players are tasked with controlling a blob of mercury and reaching a goal placed somewhere within each level. For the best scoring, it's important to finish quickly while also retaining as much mercury as possible—a challenge since it's all too easy to shear off small amounts while rounding sharp corners or misjudging the width of narrow paths. With these basic rules in mind, the rest of the game is all about the execution. Unfortunately, Ignition Entertainment clutters and complicates the experience, ending up with a product that exchanges elegance for gimmickry.
The heart of the problem is that the puzzles and levels seem aimed more at the high-anxiety, micro-twitch gameplay of Sega's Monkey Ball series than something that caters to the unique, more sedate properties of mercury. Flowing, dripping, and shifting in two dimensions seems to me a more natural fit than Meltdown's tendencies toward poorly-structured challenges and ill-conceived areas navigated vertically.
In Meltdown's case, the graphics are an especially crucial element of gameplay because the ability to visually analyze obstacles instantly is of utmost importance. Combining exceedingly ugly cel-shaded art that fails to illustrate all three dimensions and a camera that isn't able to provide the optimal viewpoint, I was often frustrated trying to get a clear idea of the obstacles in my path, or even where my path was. Worse, sloped surfaces were a nightmare to traverse due to the flat colors and crudely shaded areas disguising which way the angles shunting my mercury into oblivion lay.
Other elements compound the experience such as an over-reliance on painting the mercury different colors, making it hotter, cooler, or a solid, and avoiding different sorts of creatures that pop up occasionally. The early levels start out simply enough, but things start becoming unpleasantly complicated at the midgame and only get worse from there.
Instead of requiring a steady hand and the kind of cerebral processing found in the original Mercury, most of my time was spent spinning the camera around and cursing Meltdown's capricious personality and miscalculated approach. I can understand the logic in trying to craft a sequel that does more than its source material, but the end result is that Mercury Meltdown lacks the simplicity and clean design needed to establish itself as a solid puzzler. Although it had its own share of minor issues, the first Mercury came close. Mercury Meltdown veers off-course and lands squarely in the realm of overdone mediocrity.