The periodic table's never got us particularly excited. We distinctly remember it hanging on the wall in the science lab at school, surrounded by various drawings and exemplary pieces of work designed to make us feel guilty. We'd often try to create rude words out of the elements' codenames. "Take Copper and Nitrogen, but where the hell is element 'T'?" we'd often query.
Mercury Hg transforms the periodic table into something marginally more interesting than a swear word jigsaw. It's based on the Archer Maclean titles that found success on the PSP way back when the system was sparkly, exciting and new. The series channels that age old human obsession of watching liquid move. If you've never played with the remaining spaghetti sauce on your plate, then you probably won't 'get' Mercury Hg.
Like most puzzle games, the initial premise is deviously simplistic. A blob of mercury is splodged onto a maze suspended in mid-air. Instead of taking direct control of the mercury itself, you're instead challenged with the irritatingly satisfying task of pitching the stage itself to move the mercury around. Watching the liquid seep and roll across the surface is an enjoyable past-time in of itself. But there's more to Mercury than that.
At heart this is a puzzle game, so you'll need to navigate stages as quickly as possible, flipping switches and coveting an appropriately themed chequered flag tile that marks the end of the level. Danger comes in the form of unbuffered edges, meaning if you're not delicate with your mercury it'll blob over the edge and you'll lose. You're able to scatter some of your mass and still complete the level, at the expense of a depleted score tally.
Puzzles start straight-forward but get more complex as you progress through the various groups of the periodic table — each element quirkily represents a different stage here. Before long you'll find yourself needing to split your mercury, paint it in various colours and then mix those hues in order to open up doors and flip switches. Various magnets add to the challenge, as they push and pull your mercury around the maze.
Each stage has multiple tiers of challenge. There are items to collect, time quotas to beat, score challenges to pass and mercury mass requirements to achieve. In essence, to pass all four in one attempt you'll need to play a perfect run. Do so and you stand a chance of topping the online leaderboards and your ghost data uploaded, ready to be courted by potential challengers to your throne. You'll also unlock scientific icons that help you to open up more groups of levels and subsequently uncover the entirety of the periodic table.
Presentation is achingly minimalistic, suiting the game's scientific vibe brilliantly. The menus themselves are a thing of beauty, and the in-game presentation is equally lavish. In place of complex back-drops are three-dimensional backdrops, pumping in-time to the music.
Audio is a big component of Mercury Hg, and the game allows you to play your own music while you play. Stages will react to your own tunes just as it does the in-game soundtrack, making it an interactive visualiser of kinds.
In spite of the emphasis on custom audio, Mercury Hg's own soundtrack is no slouch, offering a wide variety of chilled electro tunes that perfectly suit the mood of the game.
Once you're done discovering each of Mercury Hg's elements, there's a variety of bonus levels and a challenge mode to keep you company. Challenge mode extracts existing levels and applies new rules to them, while the bonus levels don't really offer anything particularly new.
Beneath all the mechanics and options, there's a real "one more go" draw to Mercury Hg that's difficult to deny. We found ourselves frequently replaying stages in order to achieve a perfect run before we'd move on. Perhaps that's testament to our own burgeoning OCD, but the game's certainly not blameless.
The minimalistic presentation and simplistic ideals could leave some cold, but we like it. The laid back presentation antithesises the actually quite hectic undertones, and makes for quite an intriguing mix.
The game's also ridiculously cheap. Like, "what were they thinking?" cheap. For under £4 you get access to 120 levels, and all the leaderboards and visualiser features. We think the model's designed to hook people into future DLC packs, but what you're getting up-front is a great deal.
It's a neat little puzzler and a welcome change of pace from all the in-your-face action available elsewhere on PS3. Slick presentation and considered gameplay enhance the experience, concluding in a package that makes the periodic table feel exciting again. Even more exciting than looking for swear words.