Mercenary Force
  • Genre:
    • Shoot 'Em Up
  • Platform:
    • Game Boy
  • Developer:
    • Lenar
  • Publishers:
    • JP US Meldac
    • UK Nintendo
  • Released:
    • JP 04/27/1990
    • US October 1990
    • UK 1990
Score: 60%

This review was published on 04/14/2018.

Mercenary Force is a shoot 'em up developed by Lenar and published by Meldac for the Game Boy. It was originally released in Japan on April 27, 1990, North America in October 1990, and Europe in 1990. Not part of any major franchise or made by any notable developers, Mercenary Force is a fairly obscure title. A sequel of sorts was released for the Game Boy in 1992, but only in Japan, and it's a weird visual novel styled adventure game that isn't worth mentioning. What's certainly worth mentioning is Mercenary Force, as it's rather unique. The side-scrolling shooter genre is oversaturated with countless nearly identical games, so it's rare to find something as original as Mercenary Force. Still, as original as it is, Mercenary Force is lacking in the raw quality department. If it weren't for its distinct features, then this wouldn't be a title worth discussing.

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Over one hundred years ago during the mighty Shogun era, the Lord of Darkness sent his fearsome army to terrorize the Japanese countryside. Using the Dark Lord's powerful magic, his evil minions spread famine, plague, and pestilence wherever they went, leaving the peaceful population hopelessly oppressed. All who challenged the wicked Dark Lord were mercilessly slain as a warning to all those who had any further thoughts of rebellion. Then, one day while meditating, the great Shogun, Tokugawa, had a divine vision where he saw a small group of mighty warriors rise up to defeat the Dark Lord. He immediately set out to recruit the five bravest and most skillful fighters in the land. After months of searching, he was finally ready to put his dream into action. It was time to unleash the Mercenary Force. You, the player, will be taking command of this Mercenary Force in hopes of vanquishing the Lord of Darkness.

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This game differs greatly from most side-scrolling shooters in that you aren't just controlling a single unit, but a whole squadron at once. Similar to the Options from Gradius, the units in your squad will move together in specific formations. The B button changes your current formation, and the select button switches the leader of the formation. Using the d-pad, you're able to smoothly move your entire squad in eight directions, and you command them to fire their projectiles with the A button. Unlike most shoot 'em ups, units in your squad don't die in one hit. Instead, each individual unit in your squad has his or her own health points, and they can take as many hits as they have points of health. If the health of a unit hits zero, they'll die and the rest of the squadron must continue on without them. Pressing the A and B buttons simultaneously also causes your squadron leader to execute a powerful kamikaze or suicide attack. You lose if everyone in your squad is dead; there are no lives or continues. It's an intriguing system, but very unforgiving.

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The very first thing you do in Mercenary Force is build your very own mercenary force. Though you're only allowed up to four people on your team, there are five types of mercenaries in the game; servants, samurais, ninjas, monks, and mystics. Servants are armed with a rifle that fires a single bullet that travels the full length of the screen, and their kamikaze attack does damage to all enemies on the screen. Samurais have shorter range, but are capable of firing two projectiles at a time, and their kamikaze attack temporarily transforms them into an invincible fireball that can shoot eight projectiles in different directions. Ninjas also have short range, but they have the highest rate of fire in the game, plus their kamikaze attack briefly transforms them into an invincible spirit with a rotating shuriken shield. Monks shoot two projectiles that travel in diagonals, and their kamikaze attack allows you to skip a good chunk of the stage. Mystics only shoot above and below them, but their kamikaze attack launches projectiles that bounce all over the screen. Building your own mercenary force is the best part of Mercenary Force.

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You begin the game with 5,000 yen, but every enemy you kill will also drop a little bit of money. Money is primarily used to hire mercenaries for your force, as they won't join for free. After building your force at the start of the game, you have the opportunity to hire additional mercenaries prior to starting each stage, usually to replace dead ones. Besides spending money to hire mercenaries, there are also shops scattered throughout the game with stuff to buy. Most of these shops sell items to increase the health of your mercenaries. While every mercenary begins with a different amount of health, all of them are capable of having up to a maximum of thirty health points through the use of items sold at stores. Some stores will also sell items to change your preexisting mercenaries into monks or ninjas, as these are basically the best ones to have. Money management is a big deal in Mercenary Force, because once you run out, you're toast. It's just like real life!

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Like most horizontally scrolling shooters, this game will scroll horizontally at a constant pace. However, unlike most shooters, you aren't a tiny spaceship that flies through the air. Rather, your mercenaries have their boots on the ground. Touching the environment doesn't result in injury or death like it does in most other shooters, thankfully. As a result of that, the focus of each stage is the army of enemies approaching you from the right side of the screen. Unfortunately, this is where the game sort of drops the ball. The stages just aren't that compelling to play through. They all scroll at a slow rate and the enemy formations appear to have no thought put into them. It's also impossible to avoid taking damage in certain situations. Additionally, in order to get the best ending, you must bring a single mystic with you, which is tough to do because mystics suck.

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Constructing your own force of mercenaries with limited funds is a neat idea, but the action portions of the game are simply too slow paced and dull. It's an interesting concept wrapped around a mediocre game. Mercenary Force may be worth mentioning due to its originality, but it's not really worth playing.

Word Count: 1,068

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