Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Genesis Game Reviews: Mega Turrican

The Turrican franchise is one of those often forgotten classics, at least here in the United States where the Commodore Amiga and other home computers didn't really take off. Instead we played our home consoles, like the stalwart Sega Genesis that this site is dedicated to. Thanks in-part to the 2012 Neo Geo and Dreamcast releases of NG:DEV.TEAM's Gunlord, a love-letter clone of the Turrican saga, awareness of the franchise has been slightly raised in North America (at least among the retro gaming community).

Originally designed almost completely by German programmer Manfred Trenz, Turrican was released for the Commodore 64 and with his help ported to the graphically superior Amiga by Factor 5 (a now defunct developer known mostly today for the Star Wars: Rogue Squadron series). The Amiga version and its sequel, Turrican 2 which is often called the masterpiece of the series, are seen by many Amiga fans to be the most iconic titles in the series.

So just what the hell is a "Turrican" and what does it have to do with our beloved Genesis? I'm glad you asked. Turrican (which actualy refers to our hero's Turrican assault suit) is a side-scrolling run'n gun game mixed with lots of platforming elements and exploration. You control an armored warrior whose fate is to blast through countless hordes of strange enemies. It's been described by many as Contra meets Metroid which is about as apt a description I could give. The unforgiving breakneck action and various weapon power-ups reminds one of Contra while the platforming, hidden secrets and sprawling levels will call Metroid to mind. The hero can even transform into a ball that drops bombs like Metroid's Samus Aran.

The first game was ported to the Genesis by Code Monkeys but unfortunately suffers from lazy sound work and is ultimately inferior to the Amiga original. The second much more polished and popular game suffered an even worse fate. It was released on the Genesis as the movie tie-in game, Universal Soldier. Some of the game is intact but the graphics were butchered and levels were removed and replaced with poorly designed ones.

The gameplay of the elder Turrican titles had a few eccentricities unfamiliar to console gamers of the time. Instead of bouncing back when you're hit and having temporary invincibility like most games, in Turrican you'd take constant damage while in contact with an enemy making the game highly difficult until you got used to it.

With the exception of programming a version of Turrican for the NES by himself (called Super Turrican but unrelated to the SNES game), Manfred Trenz was essentially done with the franchise after Turrican 2. Factor 5 took it upon themselves to continue the saga and they initially chose the Genesis as their platform. The result was Mega Turrican, our subject for today. This caused some ire among the faithful Amiga fans who demanded their own Turrican 3 and Factor 5 obliged. The result was an altered port of Mega Turrican, renamed Turrican 3: Payment Day.

Up until this point Turrican still didn't really have a good showing on home consoles and for better or worse, Mega Turrican seems to be designed to cater more towards the taste of Genesis owners than to fans of the Commodore computer originals. The most controversial difference is the level design. While many stages still have a good bit of space for exploring, most are considerably more straightforward action affairs than its predecessors. Mega Turrican borrows more from the book of Contra than Metroid. One advantage of this is that Factor 5 managed to give us some impressive set pieces with wonderful boss battles. The graphics are all very highly detailed and up until this point the franchise had never looked better. The old Turrican gameplay is mostly intact with some concessions to console gamers such as now getting knocked back when you're hit. For me this was a welcome change and more in-line with the kind of action gaming that I'm used to.

Like previous Turrican games you still have three different weapons to collect and power-up. Your Contra style spread shot, a mostly useless bouncing shot that follows the walls and a straight-shooting powerful shot perfect for taking down bosses. You also have a screen clearing bomb and the ability to transform into a spiky ball and drop bombs. Unlike Turrican 2, you're limited in how long you can stay in your ball form by a meter that only replenishes between levels or when a life is lost. This helps keep the game from becoming too easy and forces you to use the ball transformation more tactically. Another useful weapon is a homing missile that isn't very powerful but makes up for your character's inability to shoot up or down like Mega Man.

Other than the less expansive levels the biggest change in Mega Turrican is the removal of the lightning whip, a powerful weapon that you could only use while standing still but aim in any direction. Considering your primary weapons only shoot forward it was a very useful tool. In its place is a grappling hook, giving the game some Bionic Commando styled flair. It's difficult to use at first and arguably still clumsy even when you become practiced at it but it's an interesting addition and in my opinion one that's utilized well by the level design. Mastering it will become key to making your way through the game.

One of my favorite parts in the game is the junk yard level, which is one of the more straight left-to-right stages, because it contains a few beat-up bosses from previous Turrican games. Presumably this is because you sent them there! These kind of continuity nods never fail to make me smile since it shows the developer really cares about their product and its history.

Since Factor 5 made this game themselves with Turrican 1 and 2's composer Chris Huelsbeck the music is spot on. Mega Turrican shockingly has some of the better tunes on the Sega Genesis. The rocking soundtrack comes at even more of a surprise when you consider the criticism that western developed games for the system usually receive in the aural department. The sound effects also do a keen job and the few voice samples present are quite clear.

The story is simple and follows up on the second game. To put it briefly you're Bren MacGuire, the hero of Turrican 2 (the first game was a completely different, unnamed character in the Turrican suit) and you've received a distress call from a beautiful woman informing you that The Machine, your arch nemesis and destroyer of worlds, who even kind of looks like Galactus from Marvel Comics, has returned and regrouped his forces. It's up to you to save the girl and the universe from this menace one last time.

Other video games and comic characters aren't the only thing derivative about this game, though not in a bad way. One level borrows liberally from the Alien film franchise, going as far as pitting you against the xenomorphic creatures and face-hugging terrors of cinema fame. Considering this film franchise was also a big inspiration for Contra and Metroid the shout-out feels kind of natural.

While Mega Turrican is likely not a game you're going to beat the first time you sit down with it, the challenge is fair. If you spend the time to hunt down the copious number of extra-lives hidden throughout the levels you should be able to give yourself the edge needed to eventually clear the game. You don't want to spend too much time exploring because you are being timed, but unlike the previous Turrican games you should have little trouble beating levels within the limit since the area to explore usually isn't very large. Like other games of its type, its all about getting boss patterns down and learning how to deal with certain enemies. It also pays to learn which weapons perform better in a given situation.

Ultimately this game gets a hearty recommendation to anyone who is into the run'n genre. It's the complete package with great graphics, sound and action. If you've played all the well known titles to death but ignored Mega Turrican you should consider it as your next stop.

I feel like Mega Turrican is a great jumping on point for people looking to get into the franchise. It's more tuned towards what console gamers expect from this type of game but still holds some of the platforming elements that made the earlier Turrican titles a unique experience. Super Turrican on the SNES takes elements from both this game and Turrican 2 though it drops the grappling hook of Mega Turrican which many people see as a plus. Unfortunately that game is also short and anti-climactic. Apparently Factor 5 was forced to use a smaller capacity cartridge than they were expecting causing some levels to be cut out. The game ends after fighting an alien queen boss that is also present in Mega Turrican and you never have a confrontation with the series antagonist, The Machine, even though he appears in the ending.

This was somewhat rectified by a sequel, Super Turrican 2, which was a late release on the SNES and as such is unfortunately rare and expensive. Super Turrican 2 pushes the graphics of the SNES to its limits but is even more linear than Mega Turrican. As a straight-up action title it's an amazing game though some have said it's Turrican in name only. It also brought back Mega Turrican's grappling hook mechanic to mixed opinions. Unfortunately in 1995 this was also the final game in the Turrican line, relegating the series to the status of "almost forgotten classic." Though there were attempts to give the series a 3D update that were never brought into fruition, the death of developer Factor 5 has also essentially sealed Turrican's fate.

As mentioned earlier, the independent game Gunlord has kept the the game alive in what is practically a spiritual sequel. You know now that I think about it, developer WayForward made the fantastic Contra 4 for the DS, as well as the amazing "Metroidvania" game Aliens Infestation. I wonder what they could do if they got a hold of the Turrican license? A man can dream can't he?

Presentation: 9 The intro is a little wonky with some really terrible artwork that attempts to have a Japanese flare to it despite being a European game. Other than that however the presentation is great and the game has a wonderful atmosphere. The box art, front and back, is really stunning in my opinion.  I'm just going to come out and say it, Mega Turrican has my favorite box art any Genesis game.

Gameplay: 8 While extremely fun there are a few hitches that keep it from being perfect. The grappling hook mechanic never really becomes second nature though you'll become decent at it with practice. The ball transformation can also be awkward and hard to control. Some levels are better designed than others but when it comes down to it the shooting is fun and the controls are responsive.

Graphics: 10 I know graphics can get better than this on the Genesis, but lets face it, not by much. I feel like more care and detail were put into the graphics of this title than the first Super Turrican game for the SNES. The sprites and backgrounds get equal attention, there are a few parts with some nice parallax scrolling, and the bosses are mostly big and menacing and the explosions are every bit as satisfying as games like Contra Hard Corps. The animation doesn't slouch either.

Sound: 10 The sound effects are satisfying, the voice samples are clear and understandable and the music is some of the best you could ask for. I'd be doing a disservice by not giving it a 10.

Lasting Appeal: 8 There's not much to come back to once you've beaten it unfortunately and the game is kind of short. It's a fairly difficult game so probably one you won't beat on your first play, however it's not so difficult that you won't breeze through it once you've found where the 1-ups are hidden and you have a feeling for the controls. Regardless, it's simply a fun game and one you'll likely revisit if you enjoy the run'n gun genre.

Overall Average: 9/10


Collector: Mega Turrican was originally made for the Genesis and ported to the Amiga and in my opinion this is the superior version since some graphics were removed on the Amiga port. With great box art, an affordable price and the fact that it's one of the best run'n guns on the console this should be a no-brainer.

Gamer: If you've already played Contra Hard Corps, mastered Gunstar Heroes or you're just a fan of the run'n gun genre you should be kicking yourself if you haven't played this yet. It's more of a straightforward action title than its predecessors and a good place to start with the Turrican franchise for genre fans. Avoid the first game's Genesis port and pick this up instead. The Super Turrican games on "that other console" are worth checking out as well. Best of all I believe all three of these games are available on the Wii Virtual Console.

If you're interested in how the older Turrican games played you can find the pretty good PC version of Turrican 2 on many abandonware sites and it works perfectly with DOS Box.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Peripheral Review: Competition PRO, Series III Controller (SG-18)

Third-party controllers, some are great, some are awful and almost all of us have used them in one form or another. Whether it was to get a cheap second player pad for our new console or to try and enhance our gameplay they've been with us since at least the days of the Atari 2600. The Genesis is no stranger to peripherals designed by other companies, and today I'd like to talk about one.

If you own a Sega Genesis, you're well aware that having a six-button controller is a must, especially if you're a fighting game fan though many other genres make use of the extra buttons too. Sega's first official offering is considered fantastic by a lot of people, including myself, but for some reason I always enjoyed the size and shape of the original three-button pad more. Anyone with long, skinny fingers like mine probably feels the same. This lead me on a search that eventually ended with a purchase of the Competition PRO, Series III controller by Honey Bee (model number SG-18).

At first I was a bit apprehensive, their earlier Competition PRO controller (which was adopted by Tectoy as the Genesis model 3 pack-in controller) was a bit cheap feeling and with a poor directional pad. It also had very loose buttons that would rattle when the controller was shaken. The controller also had the look of the three-button pad, but it was unfortunately quite a bit smaller.

Thankfully when designing the Series III they made some great improvements as well as some cool additions that have made it my controller of choice. This time the controller is the same size and shape of the official three-button, though slighty thicker. The buttons are smaller than the three-button controller but are all the same size as each other and aligned diagonally as you'd expect. The spacing might be a bit too far for some people, so keep that in mind if you already have trouble hitting all the buttons you need to on the standard controllers.

I find the build quality to be generally good. The buttons still rattle when the controller is shaken but when in use they're firm and deliver acceptable feedback. The directional pad is also great, almost on par with the stellar official one. The mode button is also situated on the controller's right shoulder much like Sega's original six-button design.

If this were all the controller offered I would already be sold. For someone looking for the feel of the three-button pad and the functionality of the six-button one, I haven't come across any other controller that has delivered better than this one. However, this brings us to one of the coolest features of the controller: the turbo switches!

Most of these third-party controllers come with a turbo feature but it's almost always an all-or-nothing affair. You turn turbo on and you have to deal with turbo effecting all of your controls. This can be pretty nerve wracking if you need to be jumping and shooting with turbo, but the turbo switch cripples your jumping ability. This controller shares a feature with Sega's six-button arcade stick by having a specific switch for each button meaning you can customize which buttons will turbo fire and which buttons won't. Very cool and occasionally very useful. The switches also have a third setting for auto-fire which is another great and slightly more uncommon feature.

You may have noticed by now the varying colors of the switches and buttons and as you might have guessed they're color coded which means matching a switch to a button takes only a split second. This is a very simple idea that I thought was very helpful and clever.

The final feature is the useless but obligatory slow function which is essentially just turbo-fire for your start button. The switch for this  is oddly located on the back of the controller and I didn't even realize it had a slow function at first. Nevertheless it's there in-case you were worried about it.

My controller states that it's the registered U.K. design. I'm not sure if it was ever officially released in the United States but it works fine on machines from any region and it's not too tough to hunt down or too expensive. If you're comfortable with your current six-button controller this one isn't a must buy, but if you're like me and want that three-button feel then this is a great purchase and it might just become your primary Genesis pad. The turbo and auto-fire features are a great plus as well. Overall the Competition PRO, Series III gets a worthy thumbs up.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Genesis Game Reviews: Splatterhouse 3

This is what box art looked like in the 90's, and we loved it.

October is one of my favorite times of the year. Here in Pennsylvania it's not too cold and not too warm, the leaves turn beautiful colors, and it's just a great time to go out and enjoy life. On top of that there's Halloween, a time of year where people indulge in make-believe through costumes, eat lots of candy, and take the time to enjoy the entertainment value in horror. Why is it that we like terrifying and disgusting ourselves? Is it adrenaline, is it dark fantasy? While there may be no single answer to that question the fact of the matter is sometimes we enjoy scaring ourselves silly.

Oh gosh a big spooky mansion, what could go wrong?

In celebration of this October we're going to look at a game for the Sega Genesis that revels in the horror genre, Splatterhouse 3.

In the 1980's a phenomenon occurred in the motion picture industry, the golden age of the slasher flick. In these movies a seemingly unstoppable and sometimes supernatural murderous psycho would go around slaughtering hapless victims, usually annoying teenagers who almost always have it coming. At the end the murderous monster would be defeated with hints that he probably survived and that there would be a sequel. And there would be sequels. Dozens of them. Movie franchises like Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Halloween would see sequels, one after the other. Their villains Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and Michael Myers would become pop culture icons equal to characters like Batman and Spider-Man. They became heroes for being bad and audiences couldn't wait to see how these madmen would dismember their next teenage victim.

And you thought Mortal Kombat had violent uppercuts.

is the direct result of the popularity of slasher flicks and an attempt to design a game with the same kind of feel and atmosphere. The game itself is an arcade beat'em up from Namco. Originating as an arcade cabinet in 1988, the first game's most popular home port landed on the TurboGrafx-16 where it was heavily edited in the west. The sequel, Splatterhouse 2, was made specifically for the Mega Drive/Genesis where Sega, with their "mature gamer" image, allowed them to run hog wild in terms of blood and gore.

A creature hunched in a corner eating naked, broken corpses. Genesis does what Nintendon't!

Before we discuss the third game, which I feel is the pinnacle of the series, it's important that we cover the other two. The story of Splatterhouse starts with two college sweethearts Rick and Jennifer. In standard "save the princess" fashion Jennifer is kidnapped and Rick is left for dead. Lucky for Rick he's revived by a magical, possibly a little evil, mask that imbues him with the power he'll need to fight through hordes of monsters and save his beloved Jennifer. Also the mask bears a striking resemblance to the hockey mask of Jason Voorhees in a not-so-subtle reference.

The magic voodoo mask brings you back to life.

The first two games are very simplistic side scrollers. You can move back and forth, you can jump and you can attack. That's it. What set the game apart from other beat'em ups is it's shock value. The monsters are grotesque and blood soaked, they spew slime and other fluids when you smash them with your fists or various weapons and gory body parts litter most of the stages. The violence for its day, and even by today's standards, is pretty intense and over the top. Unfortunately once you got over the all of the game's chunky, meaty graphical tidbits the games themselves were pretty mediocre.

The digitized photos that tell the story make the game feel even more like a campy 80's horror movie.

Then came Splatterhouse 3 which was a major departure from the original games. In this sequel Rick and Jennifer have moved on with their lives, settled down and even had a son named David. Or course this is too good to last and all hell breaks loose forcing rick to once again don his cursed mask and protect his family from an onslaught of grotesque creatures.

The most immediate change one will notice is the game has more of a focus on the story, using digitized images of actors to tell the game's narrative which is all very corny but in keeping with its slasher flick origins. You're also no longer limited in your movement and can now maneuver up and down as well, giving you additional planes to walk and fight on like most games in the genre. This instantly makes the game feel much less restrictive than its predecessors and brings the gameplay closer to something like Streets of Rage.

Your mask talks to you? No you're not crazy. Please put down that meat cleaver.

You're also given the freedom to explore with a map of your location that marks the end of the level. You're able to work your way through however you like which is a major improvement compared to the stale scrolling of the first two games. I wish more beat'em ups would use a system like this because it adds an additional layer of interest to a traditionally shallow genre. You can't just fart around however because you're on a time limit to reach and defeat the boss otherwise you might lose one of your dear family members, or worse. Surprisingly the time is actually allowed to run out and you can continue playing. This changes which ending you'll get, of which there are four, and it's another great addition that adds to the replay value of what could have been just another boring punch-fest.

When he's not fighting Satan's minions, Rick makes his living as a butcher. Just don't ask what kind of meat.

Graphics wise the game is a bit brighter than its predecessors with better defined sprites. Regardless, the majority of the game is still dark and dingy with the exception of bright reds and greens for the blood and slime you'll be pounding out of monsters. The enemies don't have health bars but the more you beat on them the more bloody and mauled they'll become until they're finally vanquished. Some of the bosses explode like overinflated blood balloons and enemies will die in different, horrific ways if you're using a weapon on them like a meat cleaver or a baseball bat. The enemy designs themselves range from terrifying to downright bizarre from decapitated zombies to guys with giant noses. I can't say they're the most spectacular graphics on the Genesis but they do their job well and convey the campy horror atmosphere perfectly.

Time fer whoopins!

The gameplay itself is pretty simple. You have an attack button, a jump button and, new to the series, a button that puts your mask into overdrive, transforming you into a musclebound behemoth who both absorbs and dishes out more damage thanks to power you gain from collecting orbs on the ground. This adds a bit more strategy to the fighting which on its own becomes bland and repetitive pretty quickly. You can also occasionally regain health by picking up the still-beating hearts of some of your foes. Brutal.

Yes that is a demonically possessed teddy bear.

Occasionally you'll run into rooms full of traps like ghostly animated furniture or giant demon hands bursting out of the ground and it's difficult to dodge these things with your slow-moving Jason wannabe. While these segments break up the monotony of constant fighting and often look cool they were usually frustrating to traverse. Another problem I have with the gameplay, and it's not really the fault of this game since it wasn't designed to be multiplayer, is that I really like playing beat'em up games with friends. If this game had a two-player mode it would probably be one of my all time favorite games for the Genesis. I guess you can't have everything.


The game features six levels that aren't terribly lengthy especially if you take the path of least resistance to reach the bosses. It's also fairly easy to beat the game if you're persistent since you're granted both unlimited continues and a password system. This isn't a bad thing really since the game ends as soon as it starts to feel like it's dragging. The previously mentioned multiple endings and different rooms to explore also give you good reason to replay the game several times.

Sound design is pretty good, the music ranges from haunting to pulse pounding depending on the situation. It's probably nothing you'll be humming later though. Punches and grunts sound painful and enemies make some nice splatting noises. There's really nothing to complain about here.

Rick is just having one of those days.

For some reason in 2010 Namco decided it was time to revisit Splatterhouse with a remake of the original game for the Playstation 3 and X-Box 360. The game met mixed reviews due to the repetitive nature of the beat'em up genre though some praised its careless 80's horror movie shock value. Splatterhouse 3 was included as a bonus with the new game, though the cheesy digitized photo storyboards were edited out apparently for legal reasons. Still, this is a great way to play the game on a modern console.

Delicious monster hearts.

Splatterhouse 3 is a celebration of 80's horror with its gratuitous violence, blood and gore. While its shock value may not be as intact as it was when it was released it's still not for the easily queasy. The game was one of the first titles to receive a mature rating of M.A.-13 from Sega's proprietary Videogame Rating Council, and for good reason. If you're a fan of corny 80's horror, and I know I am, and you enjoy beat'em up games, then Splatterhouse 3 might be right up your alley. Just don't go up any dark alleys, especially this time of year.



Presentation: 9
Everything about this title screams 80's horror cheese. The blood and gore is completely outrageous and some parts of the game are downright sickening. The digitized photo story segments add an additional layer of camp that really captures the feeling that this game is trying to accomplish. I judge the presentation based on what the goals of the developer were, and in the case of Splatterhouse 3 and its 80's horror vibe, they came close to perfection

Gameplay: 7 While it's a fun beat'em up with a few unique tidbits like the transformation system, the fighting is really on the simplistic side and grows tiresome quickly. Pummeling enemies into a bloody pulp is so satisfying that you should still remain distracted most of the way through the game.

Graphics: 8 It's not the most fantastic thing you'll see on the Genesis and it's a little rougher than the arcade version but overall it's colorful, attractive and detailed.

Sound: 8 Nice spooky music, good grunts and groans and not much else to say here.

Lasting Appeal: 7 For those who love the horror genre, this might end up one of their favorite Genesis games. Not everybody will appreciate the over-the-top violence however and even though this game is leaps and bounds over the first two and has multiple endings you'll eventually find yourself tiring of the repetitive combat. If only it were two-player!

Overall Average: 7.8/10


Collector: Probably the best game in the Splatterhouse franchise. Given that it was edited for the 2010 re-release there's still some value in owning an original cartridge. It's gotten really pricey these days though so be prepared to empty your wallet.

Gamer: If you're a fan of horror, or beat'em ups, or especially both, then you should really give this game a try. It's probably too expensive for the casual player to pick up unless they're a serious fan of the genre but It's available as a bonus on the 2010 Splatterhouse or as always you can put on your pirate hat and fire up an emulator.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Rise from your grave!

Yes, I'm alive! Sort of. Hopefully there will be more Sega Genesis reviews in this space in the near future. I've been suffering through some major medical problems including a few very serious surgeries so I wasn't able to put as much effort into this blog as I originally intended.

Fear not though, for my love of Sega's magical 16-bit joy-machine has not faded during my time of suffering and I still want to share with the world my opinions on some of the system's obscure titles. Updates may be a bit infrequent as I continue to recover from my health concerns so please try to bare with me.

On a side note I updated the links to my last two reviews so they aim towards the proper pages on the new Sega-16 site. Other than that, keep on blast processing and I'll see you soon!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Genesis Game Reviews: Chase H.Q. II

Another review posted at Sega-16, this time it's Taito's Chase H.Q. II! Next review will probably be directly on the blog as I have no more pending reviews on Sega-16 at this time.

Click here to read the review!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Genesis Game Reviews: Phantom 2040

Today's review of Phantom 2040 was written by me for Sega-16.com, the best and most complete source for Sega Genesis information on the net.

Click here to read the review!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Genesis Game Reviews: Mercs

Suspenders are badass in this universe.
Suspenders are badass in this universe.

The recent fad of releasing sequels to classic games like Contra 4, Mega Man 9 and even Sonic the Hedgehog 4 was responsible for a fun but forgettable sequel to Capcom's classic arcade title Commando in the form of Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3. It was named this because "Wolf of the Battlefield" is the English translation of Commando's Japanese name, Senjō no Ōkami. This still left some people wondering; where the hell was Commando 2?

Well it was in arcades of course, and for our purposes it was lovingly ported to the Sega Genesis. The only problem is the game wasn't brought to the west as Commando 2 but under the completely new moniker, Mercs, which is short for mercenaries also known as guns for hire or soldiers of fortune. Though this name fits pretty well with the the game's mercenary soldier storyline it makes little sense that Capcom didn't call it Commando 2 as the original was a well loved arcade classic and surely it would have gotten a lot more attention if it were branded with that title. Was it because they had already billed Bionic Commando for the NES as a spiritual sequel? No matter what the case is I've heard many people call Mercs a good Commando clone only to be genuinely surprised to find out that the game is actually the honest-to-goodness Commando 2.

Because calling it Commando 2 was too boring?
Because calling it Commando 2 was too boring?

For those unfamiliar with Commando it was an originally an arcade game released by Capcom in 1985. It is considered the father of the top-down view "run'n gun" genre. You take the role of Super Joe, a generic soldier, and scroll vertically up the screen with a rifle and and grenades to fight off waves of attacking soldiers. This simple concept inspired many imitators such as SNK's Ikari Warriors franchise and the game was ported to just about every home gaming machine of the era.

That helicopter just swoops in and takes the president. Seriously.

Commando's follow-up, Mercs, came in 1991 and was ported to the Genesis that same year. While the game isn't vastly different in the sense that you still scroll upwards and shoot at enemy soldiers indiscriminately, it was a major overhaul from the simple design of the original. Capcom took inspiration from other "shoot'em up" games of the time incorporating different weapons and power ups instead of just a simple rifle. You could now upgrade the power of your base rifle, a wider spread shot, a powerful bazooka and even a flame thrower. In a further nod to shmup game design the grenades were replaced with a bomb that killed all enemies on-screen. Other than weapons, power-ups and bombs you also found items that lengthened your health bar or restored your heath such as medical kits and food. Speaking of which, the health-bar is another major change from the original Commando where you died in one hit and it's a very welcome one that makes the game a lot more manageable. The gameplay also focuses more on dodging than Commando which had a greater emphasis on taking cover behind objects.

A nice beach outing ruined by soldiers in bright orange.
A nice beach outing ruined by soldiers in bright orange.

You also aren't limited to fighting enemy soldiers who themselves come in different varieties with different weapons. Hard to destroy enemy vehicles and powerful bosses at the end of every level also stand in your way. You're not entirely outmatched however as occasionally you stumble across empty vehicles like Jeeps and even tanks as well as fixed gun emplacements which you can use against your enemies, a neat innovation to the genre.

It takes a psycho to attack a Harrier jet head-on.
It takes a psycho to attack a Harrier jet head-on.

The levels are fairly short, as is the game. Your mission is simply to rescue the president of the United States from terrorists of some fictional country. Once you manage to acquire the dodging and shooting skills needed to complete the game there's about 20-30 minutes of game time from start to finish. The difficulty level is adjustable and you've got a few continues to help you get through the game. Don't let the length put you off however because Mercs is arcade fun at its finest and is one of those games you'll pick up and play through time and time again. The biggest gripe against Mercs is its lack of multiplayer support which was possibly done due to technical limitations. I imagine slowdown may have occurred with more than one player. This is unfortunate because the three-player mode is one of the main draws of the Mercs arcade cabinet.

It takes a man's man to blow it up.
It takes man's man to blow it up.

But wait, the game's arcade mode isn't the only thing offered here! Mercs also comes with an "original mode" which takes the graphics and bosses of the arcade mode and mixes them into new levels with added gameplay elements. With no continues, original mode is more difficult than the arcade mode but includes additional characters you can rescue and switch between. Each character has a different weapon with your first character wielding the default machine gun. Between levels you can access a weapon shop and spend money you've earned from defeating enemies to upgrade your weapons. The story is different and instead of rescuing the president it revolves around invading a hostile nation to prevent them from becoming a threat to world peace. Honestly I prefer playing through the quick and simple arcade mode more but the original mode was a decent effort to add more longevity to the home version of the game.

Motorcycle gang trying to enforce a bridge toll?
Motorcycle gang trying to enforce a bridge toll?

The graphics of Mercs are as to be expected. They're slightly pixelated and less colorful than the arcade version but manage to look great. I still found the game to be very colorful and detailed just not as colorful as it looks in the arcade. Using the flamethrower to light enemy soldiers on fire and reduce them to ashes is really something that needs to be seen in action to be appreciated. Most of the bosses are big and attractive and the explosions are plentiful and satisfying. Much of the environment is destructible and some vehicles and bosses have several phases of destructibility to them. I really have no complaints here. The graphics expertly convey the game's chaotic action and even your little soldier guy is well animated.

I find rockets more effective than beeping.
I find rockets more effective than beeping my horn.

The sound is mostly good though the majority of the sound effects are rather weak and undistinguished. The music is classic Capcom greatness and will really get you into the game.

Mercs is an awesome arcade style shooting game and a fantastic, near perfect port. It takes elements from the original Commando and contemporary shmups and creates a wild experience with hordes of enemies and brutal bosses. The arcade mode is short and sweet and the original mode is a serious challenge. Mercs is one of the standout titles of the top down "run'n gun" genre and is still loads of fun to waste the occasional half hour on.

Flamethrowers should be required in all video games.
Flamethrowers should be required in all video games.


Presentation: 8
It's got a generic story but at least it tries. The original mode adds a map between levels and an item shop and tries to add some depth to the game. The arcade mode tries to add a little story by marking the level bosses as important objectives. It translates the arcade game faithfully and there's not much else you really need from a game like this.

Gameplay: 8 Mercs is incredibly fun especially if you're a fan of the genre. The four weapons each have their uses and get cooler as they upgrade. The bosses are neat and fun to fight and blowing away wave after wave of grunts is very satisfying. Especially with the flamethrower. My only complaints are that the length of the levels is really too short and I had to take another point off for the lack of multiplayer which was a major feature in the arcade original.

Graphics: 8 It's not the most fantastic thing you'll see on the Genesis and it's a little rougher than the arcade version but overall it's colorful, attractive and detailed.

Sound: 8 The sound effects aren't memorable for better or worse but it's got a rocking soundtrack courtesy of the musical mastery of Capcom's composers.

Lasting Appeal: 8 This is not a game you're going to sit down and play for hours at a time but it is a game you'll most likely pick up when you're bored for a quick and satisfying play-through. It's a timeless arcade action title that you'll find yourself coming back to each time you peruse your Genesis collection.

Overall Average: 8/10


Collector: Mercs is yet another port of a classic arcade game to the Genesis and is the sequel to the incredibly influential Commando. It can be had for only a few bucks so it should join your collection as soon as possible.

Gamer: Hardcore shooter fans will really love this one and even gamers who are new to the genre should be able to handle the arcade mode after a little practice. I say it's definitely worth a shot. You can rarely go wrong with Capcom.