Though today you can stuff stereoscopic 3D and console-quality graphics into your backpack, that once seemed inconceivable. Handhelds have evolved quickly, but we shouldn’t forget the games that made them great in the first place. Though these games lack raw processing muscle, they have a power all their own.
Back in the day, before all these fancy XboxStation 3000s, we played games on a tiny screen in only one color — green. That’s the Nintendo Game Boy and it was portable, making it five times better than television consoles, at least in some circumstances. With the handheld system came hundreds upon thousands of games and some of those are completely terrible, others are fantastic and the rest of them are just plain fun and enjoyable. Games set in Feudal Japan have been and always will be popular and Mercenary Force being a little known gem from that era.
Mercenary Force was developed by Lenar and published by Meldac back in 1990. It’s basically a side-scrolling shoot’em up featuring five mercenaries. Make up your own team by choosing between a mystic, monk, samurai, servant and ninja. You’ll then travel through various levels filled with enemies until you reach the boss. It’s pretty straightforward and not worth another look unless you inspect everything up close and dive deeper into the entire atmosphere.
Back during its release, Mercenary Force was ahead of its time when it came to side-scrolling shooters. In it, you’re picking which team members you want and can then rotate the order of which they’re standing. This was a very clever way to keep your progress of the game fresh. Since different classes shoot projectiles in various directions, switching formations is key to ridding the screen of every enemy. Each form represents a certain element: you can form a wall (Mountain), a cross (Wind), a square (Forest) or a line (Fire). Depending on which mercenary you choose, you’ll want to fiddle around with the formations. Some, like Fire, are better suited for servants, ninjas and samurai who shoot straight ahead.
Each mercenary also comes with a special power that helps the entire team. These are Spirit Warriors and each one does something different. You should only use these when in dire need, however, as they will permanently remove the user from the party. The servant’s ability destroys all enemies on-screen, ninja’s gives your team temporary invincibility, monk’s allow for you to travel through most of the level at a higher speed, samurai let you continuously fire projectiles until time runs out and the mystic’s Spirit Warrior makes a number of projectiles randomly bounce around the screen. These can help you get through levels more quickly but aren’t necessary to use. Many players have beaten Mercenary Force without using any special attacks.
In addition to gameplay, Mercenary Force packs a lot of detail into strategy. You have to spend money to obtain warriors making you have to think of every factor before even committing to a team. Each of them cost different amounts so you’ll need to choose wisely. During levels there are pit stops that can be made to refuel fighters but of course that costs money as well. There are other items that can help you during battle as well. In addition to the immense amount of strategy there’s actually a lot of detail put in toward the environments. Mercenary Force’s attentive background contains half-dead trees with their roots showing, homes facing the player showing off their doors and windows and some enemies are even more detailed than your heroes. There are also shrines, landmarks and cliffs just to add a few more. They’ve even gone as far as to include three alternate endings in Mercenary Force depending on a few things you try to do.
If you’re ever in the business of wanting a retro shoot’em up to play, make sure you try this one out. It might be tough to find, but it’s worth it. Mercenary Force is challenging for beginners and still puts up a fight for seasoned players. It actually received a sequel in Japan for the Game Boy Color but seemingly ditched its roots. That’s okay, we enjoy the original no matter what ending we get. Mercenary Force can deliver a unique experience every time you play and that’s always a great value.