[Originally posted on PopMatters]
Nothing is out of bounds creatively; a good work of art can be about anything if it’s done right. At least, that seems to be the approach that Eiconic Games took with Mercury Hg, a musical puzzle-platformer based around the periodic table. The premise, however, is more intriguing than the execution of this downloadable title.
Mercury Hg features over 60 levels, one for each element on the periodic table, save for the unknown metals that are yet to be released as DLC levels. In each level, the player must maneuver a blob of mercury through obstacles toward a goal, collecting tokens along the way. The player moves the blob by tilting the stage around, balancing it on the level and saving at least some of it to reach the goal at the end. Occasionally, to activate switches, the blob’s color must be changed by using special panels or the blob must be split up along different paths and be reunited at the end to properly traverse a level. Ultimately though, Mercury Hg is a “get from point A to point B” formula that mostly works well but has a few hiccups along the way.
One of the novelties of the game is that the backgrounds of the stages pulse and move along with the beat of the music, sometimes the stages themselves are altered by the rhythm of whatever song is playing. Using the Xbox’s media player, the stages can beat to a custom playlist from the player’s own library. It’s an interesting aesthetic choice, but it doesn’t actually affect the gameplay as much as the game’s developers seem to think that it does. Those playing without their own library, however, will find that the default music for the game is actually pretty solid and is varied just enough to avoid getting stale.
But whether it’s the default soundtrack or a custom one, the levels are too short for most songs to ever get past the first twenty seconds of a track. Failing a stage means restarting it and moving onto the next track. It’s good that the levels are challenging, but for a game that boasts that music is a central part of the experience, it never lets the player enjoy any.
The difficulty curve of the game is well adjusted, always getting harder but never getting unreasonable. Each level awards bonus points for collecting all the stray tokens, completing the level with the blob completely intact and for reaching the goal within a certain time limit. The game also informs the player of where they stand on the overall leaderboards and tracking your score against other players adds a layer of competition to the game. There are a lot of objectives packed into such small and straightforward levels and the attempt to add depth pays off.
However, the game doesn’t always feel totally at home on a console. Tilting the stage with the left stick to indirectly control the blob eventually feels natural enough, but when it becomes necessary to change the camera angle with the right stick, the constant angle adjustments become dizzying, even nauseating. Puzzle games work best when they’re so engaging that the player wants to play “just one more,” but the headaches caused by the blurring colours and disorienting camera force it to be put down. It’s the kind of thing that might work better on a smartphone where the player can look up or keep track of everything at once rather than on a large screen.
Mercury Hg offers a lot, but it doesn’t deliver in every way. The levels are a good challenge and the element of competition adds some depth, but the much touted musical element is empty and the awkward camera might be a deal breaker for what is otherwise a solid game. It’s worth a try for puzzle game fans and it’s worth the $5.00 that it costs, but it isn’t a must-play.
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