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MERCS

Genre: Run-‘N-Gun Developer: Sega of Japan Publisher: Sega of America Players: 1 Released: 1991

MERCS is a top-down run-‘n-gun a la Ikari Warriors that was released in arcades in the early ’90s. The Genesis version actually 1ups its older sibling by having two separate modes of play: arcade and original. In arcade mode, your mission is to rescue a former U.S. president. In original, you must destroy a foreign nation’s supply of ballistic missiles.

This is a single-player affair only, which is disappointing, considering that the arcade provided for three-player simultaneous gaming. They should have upped the meg count and added that two-player option, as games like this are meant to be played with a friend!

Right away you’ll notice that a good chunk of the screen on the right is used to display health, score, time, and bombs. It doesn’t affect game play, but I would have preferred the standard display at the top of the screen. That big black bar is annoying. The graphics are well done, although character sprites are somewhat small. There’s a decent use of color too, given the Genesis’ capabilities in that department, and while there isn’t any parallax, some nice fog effects appear in a few levels. The game feels very arcadey, and the level of detail is excellent (albeit trimmed down).

Audibly, MERCS is pretty middle-of-the-road, with nothing truly noteworthy. I find Capcom’s in-game music to be hit and miss on the Genesis. Ghouls ‘N Ghosts, Forgotten Worlds, and Strider all had good music, while others (Super Street Fighter anyone?) were just plain “meh.” Put MERCS in the “meh” category.

The sounds are also pretty average, with a few decent explosions every now and then. The grunts your character makes when he’s hit made me chuckle and his death sounds were even funnier. I imagine he merely grunts because he’s too tough to yell. I ain’t got time to bleed!

Only two buttons are used: one to shoot and one for the Mega Crush bomb. Simple, isn’t it? As unattractive as it may sound, this is the way the arcade original played, so there was really no need to complicate things.

Of the two types of play, arcade mode is the more straightforward, and it’s very faithful. Choose from easy, normal, or hard difficulty as you scroll upward, killing all in your path, until you reach the boss. You begin with your standard machine gun but can upgrade your weapon by collecting power ups. Among them are the spread gun, flame thrower, grenade launcher, and laser. Each weapon has its strengths and weaknesses. For example, the flame thrower is slow but can kill many enemies with only one pass. The grenade launcher is also slow but extremely powerful. I myself preferred the spread gun (I’m a big Contra fan) as it’s pretty strong and manageable for clearing the screen.

The Mega Crush bomb annihilates everything on-screen and is especially deadly when used on bosses (three is usually enough to take out most of them). Food items found in boxes can be used to replenish your life meter, as well as the famous Capcom POW which increases weapon power. Medals add to your score and are sometimes hidden in trees or even on suicide attackers!

The best reason to play MERCS, however, is the original mode. With only two levels of difficulty (normal & hard), it’s a bit more challenging. You begin with a single MERC wielding a machine gun. This changes, however, as you advance through the levels entering tents to recruit other MERCS to fight with you. Each of the weapon augments from arcade mode is now used by a separate MERC and they can be interchanged by pressing start. This helps by allowing you to switch out a character who’s near death, giving you time to heal him with power ups. The coolest aspect of the multi-character game play is that weapon and speed power ups are permanent. You’ll have to manage your resources wisely if you want each of your team to make it through to the end. Additional power ups as well as healing items can be purchased in the tents by using the medals you find along the way.

In addition, crates in each stage yield goodies such as a flak jacket to reduce damage, boots to increase speed, and a gas mask (guess what that’s for). Only the MERC who touches them can use them, so you’ll have to decide who needs each item most.

As in arcade mode, vehicles can be confiscated from the enemy for use. Jeeps, tanks, and boats add to the game play by giving you a reprieve from enemy fire, as well as a means to get the heck out of Dodge when the going gets rough (you can pass enemy vehicles and continue upscreen).

I enjoyed MERCS greatly, and can’t recommend it enough. It has great length, simple game play, and is fun as heck. Arcade mode is reason enough to play, and the addition of the original mode makes it a no-brainer. The lack of a two player option hurts, but there’s still a lot here to enjoy.

SCORE: 7 out of 10

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