Sega Master System / Mark III / Game Gear
After Oli North and Fawn Hall it's hard to dismiss any plot, but it's still a bit dodgy to find a former US President sneaking around Central Africa negotiating peace with incredibly critical military secrets in his briefcase. Anyway he is and sure enough some nasty rebels kidnap him to torture him to death.But rather than just levelling the country, as in Grenada, Panama and Iraq, the Americans send a couple of mercenaries — Mercs.
So here we are, or rather you alone: due to budgetary limitations, the coin-op's two-player mode has been dropped. There are still seven overhead-view multidirectionally scrolling levels including a hush-hush mission across an enemy ship, a swim through treacherous waters stealing enemy rafts and a battle past cannons to neutralise a missile base. The final level has an original touch: you shoot an enemy plane to stop it taking off with the Prez on board.
You're equipped with a trusty M16, a stock of Megabombs, a healthy supply of energy and a time limit. Most are boosted by walking over wooden crates. For weapons freaks there's the usual range of collectable hardware: a machine gun, flame thrower, rocket launcher and shotgun, all with limited ammo (unlike the M-16!). You can even climb into an abandoned leap to mow down the enemy!
Oddly, the opposition walk straight past their own crated hardware, instead banging away furiously with riﬂes and throwing loads of grenades. To make things even harder (aaarrrrgh!) there's an abundance of huge tanks and gun emplacements to fill the screen with even more deadly fire.
At the end of each level it's mega-baddie-confrontation time. On Level One a giant hovering jet appears. You need to chuck just about everything at it to blow it to smithereens. This same format applies on later levels. The enemy send anything from an armoured vehicle to a helicopter, a battleship to a railroad cannon. These super-vehicles are very well done. As in the coin-op they impress for their size and detail. They're certainly tough, and you sure need those continue-plays.
Even so, the normal Arcade game isn't that tough — Level Four is soon reached. For real arcade experts there's the special Original Mode with longer levels, a different plot and some enemies changed. Combine this with no continue-plays and lastability is vastly increased. Other options include three skill levels, choice of control method for shots, sound test and a rapid fire facility.
Whichever Mode you play, the MD game is blessed with lots of beautifully drawn, colourful graphics. Sound is gritty and atmospheric and gameplay is certainly challenging. A game you'll come back to time and time again.
Sadly Master System Mercs is professionally executed dullness. Graphics are clear and colourful but not very large. Sound is below par with a dire title tune, weak in-game ditties and sparse FX.
Worst of all, the game's far too easy. There's a few static gun emplacements and tanks but mostly it's just troops. Rather graciously these only attack in pairs, firing just a few shots and throwing the odd grenade. Sometimes it's possible to run through the shortened levels, pressing the fire button without being hit once. Challenging to play? Is it heck!
Okay, there is a harder level of play, but the easier level shouldn't be that easy! One member of our reviewing team (who shall remain nameless for fear of giving him a big head!) completed all seven stages on his first go!
That, I guess, is the key to MS Mercs – it's for youngsters who haven't played this sort of game dozens of times before and haven't got those arcade reflexes finely honed yet.
Playing MS Mercs instils a feeling of, 'been there, done that, bought the T-shirt'. It really is old hat and not a patch on the frenetic action of the MD game. It amazes me Sega have the audacity to release it at such an exorbitant price. Mercenary or what?!
MD Mercs is simply brilliant. Sega have made it fast, hard and incredibly playable. There really are hordes of enemy troops filling the screen – you daren't even blink for fear of getting hit. The action may be unoriginal – with eight-way scrolling borrowed from Commando, vehicle and water sections from Ikari Warriors, and power-ups from Victory Road – but it's so well executed and playable. A truly classic blast with a massive challenge to keep you coming back for more. My only slight gripe is the omission of the coin-op's brill two-player mode.
Tru, also, of the MS game, but it's a pale imitation of its big brother, with virtually no challenge whatsoever. The enemies are totally thick and have little firepower to worry about. Although generally well drawn, the end-of-level baddies are also a cinch to defeat. Even the 'Hard' skill level isn't so difficult, and the end sequence (yes, I'm the mega-talented one who completed it!) is just as disappointing.
[The review score section for the Master System game is missing from the magazine.]
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