It is strange going back and playing older games. I forget you didn’t have an expectation to complete them.
Which brings us to MERCS, MERCS is a sod.
The story isn’t terrible, and does shoehorn in some political commentary, but the ultimate aim is… Go kill the evil apartied government in the magical African nation of “Zutula”. You must go and do mercenary type things, and rescue the president/save the world.
On the Megadrive/Genesis version, you got two modes. Arcade mode, which was 7 missions, and involved rescuing the President.
Or, you can play the super awesome Original mode with EIGHT missions.
In Original mode, you are sent to stop the launch of a Nuclear missile, along the way you shoot, pick up power ups, and “stuff”, but the main difference here is the addition of RPG elements.
In Original mode, you gain new men with a different weapons. The men are rather uimaginatively named “Rifle” who, has a rifle… “Burner“, who has flamethrower… Launcher… Laser… and Homing. These guys are effectively extra lives, but each has thier own unique weapon and upgrade path. If you die on Level 1, it is game over, if you die once you get Burner, you lose that guy but carry on with the remaining person.
You can then start purchasing upgrades using the currency (medals), which thankfully include resuscitation.
However, money is hard to come by, and upgrades are expensive. So if you have to resurrect too many men, you won’t be able to purchase the much needed health/weapon/megacrush upgrades, which are all needed for the bosses.
The weapon upgrades work in different ways, the rifle upgrade just adds more bullets (power) and distance. The Flamethrower, again adds power and distance. The Laser, once upgraded is effectively a boss killing machine. Fully upgraded it will burn 1 health bar off a boss per hit. Since bosses have 5 “hit points” it means fully upgraded Laser equals WIN.
The Homing Missiles are a little useless, and since you gain him towards the end of the last level, he can’t be upgraded and is effectvely useless. As a result I didn’t use him. The Launcher guy does decent splash damage, but is slow and lumbering, so, again, I ignored.
I did the whole game using Burner, and Laser, occasionally switching to Rifle, to make use of his speed on some sections.
So, without really noticing, there were tactics, and skills required to this game. I didn’t realise the depth as a child, but revisiting it, I am seeing so much more. There are hidden areas, which are key to getting all the power-ups, and there are alternative routes to take.
There are optimum routes, so repeated playthroughs are required to figure out the best route.
Completing the game
I am not sure why I couldn’t do this as a kid, the bosses are punishingly hard, if you don’t know the precise tactic. The first level, as an example, has you fighting a Harrier Jet.
If you take it on head first, you’ll die, or at least loose a lot of health. The tactic here is to run to the left (or right), shoot it, run to bottom of screen, and then run all the way to opposite side.
Other bosses such as the MASSIVE boat, are insane. I can’t do this boss without popping off all my Megacrushes (7/8), so this is why you need to save your money for upgrades. Well, that, or be good at the game…
Oh, and the last boss, is disappointingly easy, it is a nuclear missile.
The game is fun! It will take about 45-60 minutes to complete, once you know what you’re doing, which will probably take 5-6 hours of play for Original Mode. The arcade mode feels a little more unfair, as you get a lot of cheap deaths (blue guys in swamps), or difficulty spikes (ALL bosses), there are several places where you can’t really avoid taking a hit (fucking train boss), but again will take about 4-5 hours to complete.
This is Capcom in their hayday, doing what they did best (other than Mega Man stuff) and making BITCHIN’ arcade games. Sega deserve a lot fo credit for the home port, and Original Mode.
It is still one of my favourite games, and it is certainly one of the best Megadrive games.
Pros: Fun, decent music, stupid power-ups
Cons: a bit hard at times (that’s what she said). The Final boss.