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Fun With Fluids

It must've been a scorching summer day when the game developer stared at his thermometer and realized "Sweet sassy molassey, this would make a helluva game!" How else to explain the existence of the quirky puzzle series Mercury Meltdown?

Debuting on the PSP, the original Mercury Meltdown turned Marble Madness (and, more recently, Marble Mania) on its head as players steered unwieldy liquids — as opposed to unwieldy balls — through mazes and around pitfalls. But to the designers' certain chagrin, the PSP's motion sensor was scrapped, forcing Mercury Meltdown to function with regular old controls instead of its planned tilt functionality.

And then came the Wii.

In the new Mercury Meltdown Revolution, we get the game as God intended it — a fun and challenging nailbiter where the slightest of wrist movements might guide you to the goal or send you splashing off the rails. But if Mercury Meltdown were simply Super Monkey Ball without all the red asses, it wouldn't be worth mentioning. Meltdown's missions, however, put banana collecting to shame.

The hardest part about Mercury Meltdown is simply keeping yourself together. You'll begin each level as a blobby mass of fluid, but sharp corners and hurdles can split you into two droplets... or dozens of them, forcing you to frantically absorb them into the whole again. Spill some coffee on the table and point your desk fan at the mess and you'll understand the concept.

With all this separation anxiety, the game easily could have consisted of "point A to point B" tasks and called it a day. But no, Mercury Meltdown throws in more elements than a periodic table. To pass through red, blue, or green checkpoints, for example, you must first guide your mercury through the appropriate red, blue, or green paint showers. Makes sense, right? Sure, until you encounter a yellow gate. At this point, you'll have to split your mercury in two, paint one blob red and one green, then recombine the blobs to create the new color — while avoiding mercury-eating monsters, gravity traps, and bottomless pits along the way. (Yes, elementary art students everywhere will scream "red and green don't make yellow!" but Mercury Meltdown follows its own color-coded system. Thankfully, there's a color-wheel cheat sheet onscreen to aid in color combinations, so no need to swipe paint swatches from the Home Depot.)

Over the course of the game's 150-plus levels, you will also encounter coolers (which freeze your mercury into an unbreakable ball) and heaters (which render you as runny as a Burger King diet) that offer up even more intriguing logic problems.

Since perfecting levels takes patience and nerves of steel, the game's replayability runs high. And you'll be having your own meltdown as you try to remember, while fighting the clock, what two colors make teal — while trying not to lose a drop of mercury in the process. If you struggled through art and science in grade school, get ready for a panic-induced shit fit in your living room.

The only time Mercury dips below zero is during the "Party Games" mode. The minigames themselves aren't so bad — the Wipeout-esque racer and Tetris knockoff are enjoyable distractions — but they can be played solo only. Of course, a one-person party just ain't a party, and the closest Mercury Meltdown comes to multiplayer action is squaring off against your own high score in "ghost mode."

Despite that drawback and the overzealous name (Revolution? Over a cartoonish puzzle?), Mercury Meltdown Revolution is as fresh and innovative as any puzzle game you've played. You might say it's the most solid liquid game around.

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Chris Ward
Contact: Chris Ward

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