Back in 1984 a revolutionary arcade game was released. Using a trackball, players were required to roll a marble through various levels, attempting not to fall off a ledge, end up in acid, or get eaten by weird green things. Wow, was it fun. It was a short game, only six levels, and despite playing for weeks on end I never beat the uphill level. Seriously, it was hard. In fact, the whole thing was sheer madness and that’s probably where the name came from: Marble Madness.

Over the years various emulations and re-releases have been issued; it was even packaged in Midway Arcade Treasures, which appeared as late as the PS2 generation of game systems (though that port didn’t use a trackball). An article on Wikipedia states that there is hope that due to its motion-sensing controllers the game will (or ought to) appear on the Nintendo Wii. Even if Marble Madness doesn’t appear on the Wii, fans will probably be okay as a version Mercury Meltdown, this one titled Mercury Meltdown Revolution, will appear.

Mercury Meltdown Remix, the PS2 version of the game, is a wonderfully fun update of Marble Madness (though, to be clear, it is in no way an official update, it’s just an incredibly similar concept done for the current generation of video game machines). Even the box art for Mercury Meltdown Remix makes it appear as though the player controls a marble ball, as in Marble Madness, and the background used is Marble Madness-esque.

The game plays out in a similar fashion: a blob of mercury must be conducted from a starting point to an ending point on a level, all the while negotiating a series of traps and not falling off the board. The most significant changes from Marble Madness are that rather than the object in question being a ball it is a blob that can break into smaller blobs, and that it is the board that tilts in order to move the piece rather than the player rolling the marble.

And guess what? The game forces me to gnash my teeth, pull my hair, and have just as much fun as I ever did playing Marble Madness. It is easy enough figuring out how to tilt the board using the controller, and how tilting the board will move the blob of mercury, but that in no way makes it easy to force the mercury to do what you want it to do or go where you want it to go.

Mercury Meltdown Remix has far more levels than Marble Madness, and they are arranged into various “labs,” which as far as I can tell really just denote the type of traps the player will have to bypass and a rapid rise in difficulty. There are bonus levels too, but the main “bonus” in them seems to be the complete and utter impossibility of ever, ever beating them.

As stated above, one of the main differences in this game versus Marble Madness is the ability of the mercury to break into smaller blobs. This allows for many different possibilities to play out in the game. First off, the requirement is not just that the player bring the mercury to the finish point, but that a certain quantity of mercury must survive (some mercury can fall off the edge of the game board, and points are determined by how much mercury survives). Additionally, the mercury pieces can be changed into various different colors (by putting them under different machines), so that should the mercury need to be purple to pass through a given gate, the mercury can be divided into two globules which can be turned blue and red respectively and then recombined in order to pass through the gate (red and blue make purple).

The gameplay is truly deceptively simple and provides enjoyment for both young and old. The puzzles that have to be solved to move the mercury from one end of the game board to another take little time to understand, but far longer to master. And, despite that, rarely does the game prove unbeatable or overly frustrating.

The graphics used in Mercury Meltdown Remix are nothing special; they truly do seem just like an updated version of Marble Madness, but they work for what the game is. This is a puzzle game that presents itself as somewhat visually stimulating but in no way requires top of the line graphics in order to lay out its puzzle. In fact, such graphics might prove detrimental to the game as a whole, serving solely to pull the player away from the game play itself.

There are “party” games included as well, some of which have to be unlocked via playing the levels, but as the game is a one-player affair (even the party ones), there’s not truly much “party” to be had.

Still though, if you fondly recall the days of Marble Madness, or enjoy puzzle games, Mercury Meltdown is more than worth your time.

Mercury Meltdown Remix is rated E for Everyone by the ESRB.

Four stars.