IGN Review of Mercury: Meltdown Remix
What a difference a system makes ... On PlayStation Portable, Ignition's innovative liquid puzzle series Mercury was an experience well worth picking up a system for; on the Playstation 2 console, it's just another puzzle game. How is that fair to the PS2, that puzzle games are no longer welcome on it because they're relics from an unwanted past? For that matter, how's that fair to PSP, saying that what's not good enough on PS2 is still great on PSP? Put simply, Mercury Meltdown Remix on PS2 isn't so much a game not good enough for PS2 as it a game not made for it. Despite it being much the same game (with even more levels), much of the charm of the handheld game misses in the console version. This was a game that was made with a lot of love and care on PSP, and the development team attempted to support every major feature of the platform. The console version, in comparison, seems quickly hacked out with no aspirations and no ambition beyond having two versions of the game on the market instead of one. It's not an awful game by any means, but no matter how many more stages this console version has over the portable version, Mercury is a game that is, at the moment, best played on PSP.
On paper, Mercury Meltdown Remix seems to be a worthy conversion (especially since both handheld versions were sleeper sellers at best.) The game, an enhanced port of the second in the series, features all of the stages of Meltdown, with two whole labs added to the game as well as new stages intermixed to bring the lab total to over 200 levels. It also packs in all of the Party Games from PSP, with the same reward system driving you on as you play. And in moving to the home system, the game employs the PS2's DualShock controller, which not only allows a second stick for camera control but also relaxes the limits of movement put upon the PSP game due to the limited range of the analog nub.
So, where does it go wrong? Well, it doesn't really -- again, it's not what went wrong in this conversion so much as what little happened to it to make it right. This port is just a quick remix, and so nothing has changed about it, with all of the flaws amplified by having it on a bigger system. You have more control over your camera now, for instance, but the button configuration is so odd (and unchangeable) that I found myself fighting the camera more on PS2 than I did the handheld. The four main face buttons are ignored -- they don't do a thing, despite one of the most important functions (unlocking your view, when your blob has melted off into many droplets, so you can see the map and all of the blobs) being assigned to the often-forgotten R3 clickable stick. The idea, I guess, is to make it completely playable with just sticks and triggers, but I kept reaching for those buttons anyway when things got sticky, and it would have been nice to have been able to do something with them.
Camera views overall seemed less handy than before, probably because the PSP game was originally widescreen, whereas this PS2 conversion features no widescreen mode. It also doesn't support pro-scan (maybe it's greedy in the next-gen era to demand 16x9, 480p from trusty old PS2, but this is a puzzle game with rather simple graphics, and one made for wide screens in the first place ... it could have used a widescreen mode.) To its technical credit, the loadtimes are amazingly quick, even faster (by maybe half) than the already-quick PSP game ... now, if only they had gotten rid of that danged auto-save reminder every stage.
Moving the game over from PSP to PS2, you get a lot more levels, but the handheld version was plenty packed with stages as it was -- most people only played through maybe half to 75% of the game anyway because the difficulty curve was so devious as you played on. Here, there's just more that you will never play (especially since now it's not portable.) The arrangement of stages is basically the same as the PSP game, but there's a remix of new and old stages here, with an added bonus stage to each Lab if you run through it perfectly. The remixing seems gratuitous, though, since there's an odd imbalance of difficulty still -- sometimes the bonus stage is a regular one you'll recognize from past Mercury play, and often the middle stages in a lab are much harder than this bonus stage. And while it's nice for collectors to have more stages, level balancing is thrown out of whack because of the added stages.
The Party Games are now harder to earn because there are more levels to spread progress out over. Before, new Party Games or unlockable Mercury blob skins always seemed just one or two more stages away, but in this Remix, rewards feel like they take way too long to unlock. Also, the PS2 game has absolutely no multiplayer. Granted, the general two-player mode in the PSP game was probably not used by many, and the puzzle stages weren't any more fun with others than they were by yourself, but Party Mode sure was great with friends. The omission in this mode is a drag, making the Party Games a lot less exciting to earn. And while we're talking omissions, let's mention that this version has no downloadable content feature ... of course, the PSP allows for downloadable content, but there's no downloadable content out there and there's no in-game mode to browse for this bonus content. It would have made sense if the developers had allowed the PS2 game to spin off the extra levels to play on the PSP version, but no such luck -- we're still left waiting and wondering.
What's really wrong with this PS2 conversion is that the feel isn't right with the PS2 controller. On PSP, the feel of tilting stages around like an old wooden labyrinth to guide your gobs around was always fun, but it did feel as though it was being held back (or at least kept conservative) by the analog nub controller. In fact, the development team experimented with a tilt controller add-on with the first game, although that feature was never released. Now that Mercury is on PS2, nothing is physically holding back the control anymore. It should be a more fun game to play with analog sticks, but instead, it feels like it's doing nothing with the added input. The physics system of Mercury seems like it would encourage quick-flips, tossing the blob around like melted butter in a saut? pan, but it never really worked out that way with the PSP controller, and the added motion range of the PS2 doesn't give you any added finesse in tricks like that. The stage doesn't tilt more than it did on PSP, so you get very little tilt for a lot of controller movement -- you don't get the feel for moving the stage, and it also doesn't have that cool look of tipping an entire stage around because movement isn't nearly as drastic and frantic as something like Super Monkey Ball. Gameplay is not any more smooth or fun to play -- it is easier, but now it's too easy. Maybe it was the fact that with PSP, you were staring at a small screen in your hand that moved a little when you moved the controls; with the PS2 game, you get a lot less feel of twisting and turning the floor. It just feels like you're steering the blob like a character rather than moving the stage around the blob to guide it.
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