Even the most stubbornly loyal Sony fanboy would admit, albeit begrudgingly, that the PSP has a less then stellar reputation for quality software. There are obviously notable exceptions to this - the stunningly addictive Mercury being one such example. Designed to take advantage of the proposed motion-senses capability of the PSP, the original Mercury was hastily re-tooled when it became clear that the console would not come with such a feature. Thankfully the core concept was strong enough to succeed regardless and it quite rightly went on to become one of the more critically acclaimed launch titles.
A sequel was almost inevitable, although the project had to overcome the departure of legendary developer Archer Maclean – an unfortunate event that would have spelt doom to many other games, but ironically seemed to spur the UK-based studio Ignition Banbury onto bigger and better things. This follow-up improved on the original in practically every way and gained plaudits from all corners of the video gaming press.
Fast forward a few months and Ignition Banbury have taken the decision to release Mercury Meltdown on the Wii, cheekily adding ‘Revolution’ to the end of the name in a possible reference to the pre-release codename of Nintendo’s console. In a strange twist of fate, the series has now come full circle and the developers have been granted the opportunity to include what was denied in the original PSP release – true motion-sensing control. This is hardly a massive innovation on the Wii, after all Sega’s Monkey Ball and Hudson’s Kororinpa both showcase similar ‘tilting’ control methods, but Mercury Meltdown Revolution proves to be a more effective and innovative use of the system and easily eclipses the aforementioned titles by some margin - no mean feat when you consider the excellent standard of both games.
The ultimate aim of MMR is to guide your blob of mercury through a maze packed with daunting obstacles and traps by using Wiimote (held sideways, as in Excite Truck) to tilt the landscape, thus effecting the direction the aforementioned blob travels in. The physics engine displayed here is so effective that control soon becomes totally intuitive and practically anyone can pick up the controller and get to grips with things in the space of a few minutes – Nintendo’s dream of the Wii bringing gaming to all walks of life is furthered yet again.
Along the way you encounter a wide range of tricky situations, ranging from colour-coded doors (these can only be passed when you change the colour of your mercury), unfriendly enemies and precariously thin ledges. At times you are even called to ‘split’ your blob in two, and successfully manipulate both sections in order to reach the goal. The excellent in-game tutorial breaks you in slowly, drip-feeding information on the various elements contained within each level and ranks as one of the more effective training modes seen in this kind of game.
There are 150 different levels to progress through, but Ignition Banbury have thankfully resisted the urge to make them painfully frustrating. There are mercifully few difficulty spikes (something that cannot be said about the first game in the series), and even when you do become stuck there’s an undeniable urge to dust yourself off and try again. Sega’s Monkey Ball could get incredibly annoying at times so it’s fortunate that MMR avoids falling into the same trap. The addition of unlockable ‘party’ games is the icing on the cake. These are accessed by successfully collecting various stars that are dotted around each level.
Graphically, things aren’t massively improved from the PSP version, which isn’t really too much of an issue as the game looks fantastic anyway. The cel-shaded design works wonderfully and is a real step up from the rather sparse visuals of the original Mercury. Everything looks and feels solid and there’s a really effective use of colour, tone and shade. Wii owners are finally getting used to the fact that they won’t see PS3-quality visuals on their shiny new console, and it’s games like this that help soften that blow. The entire package is well designed and thoughout – aside from the boxart, which sadly looks as if it was drummed up in the space of half an hour.
MMR represents another excellent addition to the already impressive Wii library. It’s a testament to the quality of the game that MMR feels like a Wii-exclusive, designed from the ground up to fit into Nintendo’s hardware, rather than a PSP title that has been retro-fitted with motion sensing control. It’s hard to see where Ignition Banbury could improve on the sterling work seen here – online multiplayer modes would be nice – but for now, puzzle fans should be more than happy.