Mercs

words manifested by: AJ Johnson

A game by Sega for Genesis, originally released in 1991, based on the Capcom arcade game from 1990.

Title
Console
Publisher
Developer
Players
Year

Mercs
Genesis
SEGA Enterprises Ltd.
Capcom Co., Ltd.
1P
1991


CONTEXT
Mercs was originally released to arcades in 1990, and supported 3-player simultaneous play. The game was later ported to home consoles, with the standout port being the Genesis version. While the Genesis version dropped the 3-player in favor of a solo outing, it also offered an Original Mode, which offered a new story, a longer campaign, new bosses, and an RPG-style upgrade system.

U.S. players who found themselves in front of the Mercs cabinet – or who played one of the home console ports – may have felt that the game borrowed a great deal from its predecessors, Ikari Warriors and Commando. The comparison to Commando is more than justified, given that Mercs is actually its direct sequel. Commando was originally released in Japan under the title Senjou no Ookami. The followup, Senjou no Ookami 2, came to the U.S. as Mercs. This is why the American Commando series numbering jumps from 1 to 3.






PREMISE
From the instruction manual:

The world is faced with the worst outbreak of revolutions and terrorism that it has ever seen. The forces that seek to corrupt peace will stop at nothing to get what they want!

The U.S. government has tried its best to eliminate these threats using the military. But the military is ineffective against the guerilla warfare and terrorist tactics of the enemy. The U.S. government can not afford to take sides in the rapidly changing power structures of war-torn countries. The government needs a way to accomplish its missions with a minimum of casualties.

No, the decision is made to send a group of professional mercenaries, known as the Mercs, who are well-trained in anti-terrorist activities.

As a Merc, you must penetrate enemy lines to accomplish secret missions for the U.S. government. You must battle through treacherous displays of enemy war machinery where no ordinary soldier would dare to go!




CONTROLS


Fire weapon
Fire a mega crash bomb
Fire weapon

Button functions may be changed in the Options menu.



MECHANICS
At the outset, Mercs looks like a pretty ordinary military-themed vertical shooter. A lone (shirtless) mercenary goes behind enemy lines to fight against incredible odds and save the day, or in this case, rescue the former President of the United States of America from African revolutionaries. However, there are a few things that set this game apart from other “cookie-cutter” entries in the genre.



For one, the environments are highly destructible. The very first level sees you blowing up trees and huts, and watching a giant section of a cliff wall come sliding down and crashing to pieces on the ground in front of you.



Lots of shooters have things you can blow up, but few take it to the level that Mercs does. You’ll find yourself blowing up enormous structures, walls, buildings, barricades, etc. that you’d never think could be damaged. Anything that flashes white when hit can be destroyed… and there are even a few secret destructibles in Original Mode that open up additional powerups.



The second thing that sets Mercs apart is the vehicles. One of the highlights of the Mercs experience, both in the arcades and in the home console port, is the ability to hop inside certain vehicles and turn them against your enemies. When you encounter one of these enemies, you can kill the operator and take over the vehicle, using it until it is destroyed. (NB: Only certain vehicles may be commandeered, generally restricted to a single vehicle per level.)



Each vehicle has its own “endurance gauge” (i.e. life bar) which depletes as it takes damage. The merc within the vehicle is invincible during this time, allowing him to dispense some additional firepower without sacrificing his own health. Each vehicle comes equipped with its own unique weapon, which is generally more powerful than the standard weapons available to the player while on foot. Also, drivable vehicles can still be used to break open crates and pick up powerups, weapons, and restorative items while the player is otherwise indestructible.

Jeep – The Jeep, like the other drivable vehicles, allows you to run over infantry, as well as shoot rockets in 8 directions. It is very fast, but also a bit difficult to control. Like Jackal before it, the Jeep goes through an animation when it turns around, meaning that performing a 180 degree turn will result in the Jeep turning in a half-circle before changing directions.



Turret – OK, so the turret isn’t really a vehicle, although it does rotate 360 degrees. The turret is equipped with a spread gun, which is good for sweeping the screen of enemies, but its inability to move also makes it a target for enemy rockets and grenades, and it can be quickly destroyed.



Boat – The boat allows you to move much more quickly through the water (as opposed to slogging through it waist deep when on foot), and it fires torpedoes.



Tank – The tank is very powerful, but also fairly slow. It is also restricted to only facing forward. This isn’t too terrible, given that this is a vertically-scrolling game, and most enemies will be coming from the top of the screen, but it does mean that you won’t be sneaking in any diagonal shots to take down your enemies. You’re basically restricted to a head-on brute force approach.



Another feature that sets Mercs apart is the way that weapons and powerups work. All weapons picked up in the game have unlimited ammunition (with the exception of the mega crash bomb), and they can all be powered up numerous times. There are also pickups that permanently increase the player’s life bar. Weapons and powerups stay with the player for the duration of the game, so the player doesn’t return to having an underpowered weapon when using a continue.

There are a wide variety of weapons available to the player throughout the game. In Arcade Mode, the player can break open crates to acquire new types of weapons, and the weapons can also be upgraded by collecting POW icons.

The assault rifle is the player’s starting weapon. It fires a thin stream of bullets in a straight line in 8 directions. It can be upgraded multiple times, granting larger projectiles and multiple bullets firing simultaneously in a wider stream.



The flamethrower is introduced near the beginning of the second level, and its operation is vastly different from the standard machine gun. This weapon’s range is much shorter, but it causes continuous damage in a straight line. Also, rather than firing in 8 directions, it can be “swung” between any of the 8 directions, allowing it to act as a sort-of whip that can wipe out numerous surrounding enemies.



It can also be fired directly through solid objects. Oddly, it also continues firing for a few seconds after the player lets off of the fire button. Although, with unlimited ammunition and no friendlies, it’s wise to just continue holding the fire button down at all times. The flamethrower is particularly useful against infantry who erupt into a satisfying burst of flames when hit.



The shotgun, as the instruction manual calls it, appears at the beginning of the second level as well, and is in a crate right next to the flamethrower. It’s interesting that the game is designed to force players to go through the first level with just a machine gun, and then immediately gives them the choice between 2 very different types of weapons, which drastically affect the way the player tackles the level. Level 2 is also filled to the bloody brim with tanks that are very powerful, shoot quickly, and can absorb a ton of damage, so the wrong strategy in this level can mean a quick Game Over screen before the player ever sees level 3. Despite its name, the shotgun basically acts like the spread gun from Contra. Upgrades increase the number and size of bullets, and width of the spread.



The grenade launcher requires some precision on the part of the player in order to be used properly. Grenades are extremely powerful, and even give off splash damage that can harm nearby enemies. But, it’s balanced by the fact that you’re limited to the number of projectiles you can have on the screen, thus giving it a very slow rate of fire. It’s a poor choice when dealing with infantry (which are plentiful), but it can make fights against armored units and bosses all the more easy. It is further balanced by having a fairly short range.

The mega crash bomb is your emergency backup plan. You start the game with 3, and you’ll start each level with a minimum of 3. You can pick them up from crates scattered about the levels, and you can stockpile them to carry from level to level. This weapon can destroy most enemies in a single hit (except bosses, which only take some damage), and essentially acts like a smart bomb. Using it also clears all enemy projectiles on the screen, making it great for those tight escapes. For some reason, mega crash bombs look like computer terminals with the letter “M” on the screen.



In Original Mode, the player does not pick up guns within the level, but rather recruits soldiers that each have their own unique weapons. And, since soldiers can be switched between at will, this essentially allows the player to pull out their weapon of choice at any point in the level. This reduces the danger of having the wrong weapon for a given situation.



Three of the weapons are the same as their counterparts in the Arcade Mode, which include the assault rifle, flamethrower, and grenade launcher, as well as the mega crash bombs, which are available to all soldiers. Sadly, the shot/spread gun is not available here; instead 2 new weapons are available:

Laser – The laser fires a single slow-moving beam in a straight line. It has a long range and causes pretty high damage, but you have to wait until it leaves the screen before you can fire another, making this another slow fire-rate weapon. Also, given the narrow width of the beam, and the strict 8-directional firing, this weapon can make dealing with infantry a real pain. Best to hold this one for armored enemies and bosses. In a bizarre twist of fate (and/or laziness in character naming), the Mohawk-coiffed guy who wields the laser is named… Laser.



Homing missile – The homing missile is the last weapon that becomes available, and it’s carried by a soldier named Stet (according to the manual anyway), which is a strange name given that “stet” is an editorial term meaning to disregard previous editorial markups. This makes one wonder if his name was originally crossed out and someone wrote “stet” next to the markup, and his name got changed… Guess we’ll leave that as a mystery for the ages. At any rate, Stet can fire heat-seeking rockets at a moderate pace, with a moderate level of tracking. This can make dealing with infantry somewhat difficult, since rockets tend to meander in short arcs which don’t always hit a target, and there is some delay before you can fire another. Still, they’re very powerful when they do make contact, and they allow the player to simply walk through many areas in a straight line, letting his missiles do the talking.



So, let’s talk a bit about Original Mode. Original Mode is unique to the Genesis port of Mercs. The Arcade Mode is a pretty faithful reproduction of the original arcade game which, like most arcade games, is difficult and short. While plenty of companies have brought quarter-munching arcade design to home consoles without significantly altering the mechanics, Capcom decided to give Genesis owners something extra.



Original Mode is basically a completely separate game, set in the same world as the Arcade Mode. It has a different story line (what little of it there is), a between-level progress map, remixed environments, new bosses, a longer campaign, and most importantly, the ability to recruit soldiers to go into the battle with you.



At the outset of Original Mode, you have one soldier wielding an assault rifle. Get killed, and it’s game over… there are no continues. Instead, your “lives” are the soldiers that you recruit as you play. Early into the game, you’ll encounter a friendly hideout where you’ll meet the first of your recruits, a flamethrower-wielding soldier named Burner. Upon leaving the hideout, you can switch between your soldiers at will, and if one is killed, you can switch to any remaining. There are 5 soldiers in all, each with their own unique weapon.



What’s more interesting is that each soldier can be powered up independently. The assault rifle, flamethrower, and grenade launcher each have 10 stages of upgrade, the laser has 4 stages, and the homing missile has 3. Upgrades increase the size of projectiles and/or their destructive capability.



Just as in Arcade Mode, upgrades are attained by walking over a POW icon, but the upgrade is given to whichever soldier you are using at the time, opening up a huge amount of strategy in how you go about tackling the game. But weapons aren’t the only thing that works this way…
  • Restorative health items affect the soldier in play at that moment, allowing you to switch to an ailing member of your team if you happen to find a medkit or a tasty roasted chicken sitting on a plate out on the battlefield.
  • As in the Arcade Mode, there are items that permanently increase your life bar, affecting the selected soldier.
  • Boots increase the soldier’s speed, and can be upgraded to several stages per soldier.
  • The bullet-proof vest is a rare pickup that reduces the damage inflicted by the enemy, and are best given to your ace gunner.
  • The gas mask reduces damage caused by a weapon that is unique to the Original Mode: the poisonous gas rocket. Upon detonation, this rocket emits a green cloud of extremely harmful gas that slowly eats your health until you leave the affected area.


The player can also collect medals throughout the levels, which go into a pot and can be spent in hideouts. Hideouts offer an RPG-style upgrade system where you can purchase restorative items and other upgrades. Also, this is the only place where you can get an Elixer, which allows you to revive a fallen soldier. Oh, and you can also buy “top secret information” documents, which contain some pretty useless game tips if you feel like tossing away some of your hard-earned coin.


Original mode also tosses one other nasty gameplay surprise at you… crates filled with dynamite. Not every crate is safe in the game, so you need to take extra caution before simply firing at a crate and running over it. Late in the game, you will start to find a high percentage of death-filled crates, so you need to be extra careful. But, there are a lot more hidden stockpiles of crates in the Original Mode – which is somewhat less linear than Arcade Mode – allowing you to get some pretty good pickups if you’re really paying attention.



A few other minor differences between Arcade Mode and Original Mode… First, in Arcade Mode, levels are timed, which increases the overall pace of the game, verses Original Mode which has no timer and is played more strategically. Second, in Arcade Mode, beating a level rewards the player with the restoration of some of their life bar, whereas Original Mode requires that the player manage the health of each of his soldiers by picking up restoratives from crates and shops.



Overall, there are still a few gripes to be had. First off, this is definitely still an arcade game at its core. It’s easy to die and find yourself starting back at the beginning of the game, particularly in Arcade Mode, where you are limited to 5 continues. Lots of enemies are capable of dropping a third of your life bar in one hit, and there are lots of situations – especially during boss fights – where you can go from a full life bar to death in just a few seconds.

Also, there are some issues with the “margins” for scrolling the screen. This is a vertically-scrolling shooter, so there’s plenty of space ahead of you at all times, and you can’t go back, so there’s no margin on the bottom. However, most levels require you to move to the left and right, scrolling the screen with you as you go. But the margins on the left and right are very narrow, making it easy to inadvertently walk into danger. This is exacerbated in Arcade Mode, where the levels are much more linear and require you to scroll horizontally to continue, and some speed is needed given that the levels are timed.


BASTARD CLASS ENEMIES (What's this?)

Infantry Wow, really? The most populous enemy in the game, and the very first enemy type you encounter… that’s your BCE? Why, yes it is. The infantry in this game seem to pour from the edges of the screen with the frequency of your typical baton-wielding Smash TV bullet cushions. OK, so it’s not quite that bad, but Mercs isn’t an arena combat game; it’s a vertically-scrolling shooter.



It doesn’t matter how many infantry you take out; there’s always a few more waiting to get loaded onto the edge of the screen. Top, bottom, left, right… it doesn’t matter. They come from every direction and they’re in every level of the game, including some boss battles. While their bullets are slow, they’re frequent, and you can find yourself in some tight spots if there are three or four firing at you simultaneously. It’s even worse if you’re on a light-colored background, because their yellowish projectiles are nearly invisible in those circumstances.



Worse, the infantry have grenades, which they can chuck from one side of the screen to the other, and getting hit by one takes a good-sized bite out of your precious life bar. The grenades travel in a high arc, making it somewhat difficult to tell where they’re going to land. While infantry can all be killed with a single hit from any weapon, they’re particularly dastardly when mixed in with armored enemies, making you wish you’d packed your grenade-proof umbrella.



Tanks This might be the worst of the BCE’s, and they’re introduced in level 2. Not just one, but a whole battalion of them… all at once, all for you. According to the instruction manual, the name of the second level is “Break the enemy tank line.” So, guess how you’ll be spending your time?



Being level 2, your weapons won’t be incredibly powerful, and the tanks can absorb some heavy firepower, so they’ll take a long time to destroy. Of course, they’re mixed in with infantry (see above), and they can fire bullets of their own. So, just dodge and shoot, right? That would be fine if not for the shells they fire at incredible speeds, which are capable of dropping about 1/3 of your life bar in one hit. Plus, getting hit knocks you back and can change the direction you’re firing, making it that much more difficult to take them down.



You might think it’s safer to just run around them than spend the time to take each of them down. Just be sure you don’t get run over by one, because you can get stuck inside of it, causing continuous damage until you are dead. Tanks for nothing. (ed note: this pun is excusable by merit of the number of games that have tank levels called “Tanks Alot”. This type of behavior will not be allowed to continue.)



Pink Pajama Bazooka Squad Yep, those look like pink pajamas all right. Introduced in level 3, and returning at several points thereafter, is a group of bazooka-wielding baddies that have all decided to dress in matching pink outfits. They always come out in groups, and always assume a similar battle formation, spread out across the screen firing rockets down at you. They die quickly, and they are not too menacing on their own, but when 4 of them come charging across the screen at once, you’d better swing whatever weapon you’ve got in their direction before they start pelting your face with rocket-shaped kisses.



Electricity Poor Benjamin Franklin. Little did he know how his discovery would be used by evil guerillas to guard their headquarters. Electricity only appears once in the game (well once in Arcade Mode and once in Original Mode), placed in a hallway of the enemy’s HQ. An observant player will notice the nodes protruding from the walls and say to themselves, “Hey, that looks dangerous.” And indeed, it is. Electricity can wipe out your entire life bar in one hit.



All right, well these affairs are generally timed, right? You just need to wait until the thing fires up, see how long the burst lasts, and then make a run for it when it shuts down. Simple, no? The problem is, these things don’t turn on until you’re about a pixel away from the danger zone. You literally have to walk up to the spot just before certain death before they engage. This means that your first encounter with them will likely result in your instant death. And it’s so close to the end of the game that you could well have depleted your stock of continues. Oh well, there’s always next time.



BOSSES
Given the variances in range and firepower of each weapon, your strategy for dealing with bosses in Arcade Mode really comes down to which weapon you’ve brought with you to the fight. In Original Mode, you have the option of switching between your surviving Mercs and choosing the weapon best suited to the battle.

Bosses of the Arcade Mode:

First boss: A harrier jet rises up from behind a cliff at the end of the first level and fires machine guns down on your position in a “V” shape. It can move left and right across the screen, and all the way up to the top. It will lock in on your position and then fire a stream of bullets in a straight line, while infantry continue to spawn and try to thwart any simple pattern-based attack you wish to use against it.


Second boss: The second boss is an armored war machine, loaded to the gills with hurt. It fires pairs of fast-moving rockets in rapid succession, directly toward your position. Fortunately, these can be destroyed with hits from your weapon. Between rocket barrages, it will shoot blasts of fire from its center turret.



After you have gotten in enough hits, the war machine will begin to show damage, and it will be unable to use its rockets or shoot fire from its main turret. However, it gains some new abilities at this point, including the ability to drive forward and attempt to run you down. It has flamethrowers attached to each of its front corners, and a weapon at the center that tracks you and shoots fireballs pretty quickly.



Third boss: Ah, what would a military-themed shooter be without a helicopter battle? This one comes in from the side of the screen. It has small bullet-firing turrets in the front and back, and it can fire rockets. It occasionally opens up a door to drop infantry, and can fly off the screen to the left and return from the right.




Fourth boss: This boss is a boat that lobs a steady volley of large bullets at you in an arc. Fortunately, they’re fairly easy to dodge, and there are no infantry on the screen to get in the way of your movements. Once it sustains enough damage, the bullet-firing turrets are destroyed, and the center turret acts as a flamethrower.




Fifth boss: This is one of the more interesting – and difficult – bosses in the game, and it’s a multi-stage battle. First, the player boards a platform and is sent on a high speed run down a set of railroad tracks while fast-moving missiles rain down from the top of the screen.



Then, the player faces off against a series of enormous rocket-firing turrets, interspersed with smaller bullet-firing turrets. Not only can the turrets deliver heavy damage with their rockets, but the train can also pull toward the player’s platform (which is not player-controlled) and cause big damage by dragging themselves slowly down the platform. To further add to the fun, these turrets are protected by small blue flamethrowers, which fire up when they are aligned horizontally.



But guess what… you haven’t even made it to the real boss yet. Once the turrets are destroyed, you move further up the train and arrive at a multi-rocket firing section, and the boss’s life bar appears at the top of the screen. This thing fires a whole bunch of rockets off the top of the screen, which come crashing back down quickly with no indication of where they will fall. Fortunately, they can be destroyed by your bullets, giving you the chance to switch your attentions between the rocket showers and giving the boss a first-class, postage-paid delivery of pain (no signature required).



Sixth boss: The sixth boss looks something like a rocket-launching pipe organ. Like the previous train boss, this thing shoots rocket clusters off the top of the screen, which fall back down on your position. But, unlike the previous boss, these rockets cannot be destroyed with your weapons (surprise!). It can fire several volleys in succession, and it's wise to pay attention to when it has stopped, so you can get in close and cause a bit damage before it fires its next set. Your level of patience is likely to determine the outcome of this battle.



Final boss: The final boss is a taxiing plane, called the Hercules transport. There is no level full of enemies to fight through to get to it, just the final battle itself. It can be a bit difficult, because all you know is that you’re supposed to stop it before it takes off.



You might try focusing your firepower on the turrets, or on the body of the plane, but as you do, you’ll notice that it’s moving slowly toward the right side of the screen. And if it takes off… instant game over. Thank you for playing.



What you need to do is focus all of your firepower on the engines. If you managed to hold onto any mega crash bombs, now’s the time to use them up, because you can’t take ‘em with you. The engines will smoke and show damage as you hit them, giving you some idea of how much more you need to damage them. Take down both engines, and you’ve won the game.




Bosses of the Original Mode:

First boss: The first boss is the same harrier jet from the Arcade Mode.

Second boss: Level 2 has you taking on a fortress with 2 infantry-dispensing doors, which can be destroyed, a central turret and gunner, and a row of Pink Pajama Bazooka Squad members.



Third boss: The third boss is the same war machine from level 2 of the Arcade Mode.

Fourth boss: The fourth boss is a hovercraft that can move all around the screen while firing at you. There are 2 gunners who fire bullets, and the hovercraft itself fires seeking rockets. The bullets and rockets are not overly difficult to dodge, but you need to be mindful of movements of the hovercraft, as it can run you down while your movement is restricted by walking through the water.



Fifth boss: The fifth boss is a trio of Super Jeeps. The center jeep shoots fireballs (the same as the war machine), while the 2 jeeps on either side fire rockets. They can also drive toward you to run you down.



Sixth boss: The sixth boss is a variation on the rocket-firing pipe organ from the Arcade Mode. The difference is that it can fire a lot more rockets, some of which are aimed directly at you. The forward facing rockets can be destroyed with your gun, while the rockets that are being launched off the top of the screen are poison gas rockets, which will make your day somewhat less comfortable without a gas mask.



Seventh boss: The 7th level boss is a huge turret-lined ship. The front of the ship is outfitted with bullet-firing turrets and rocket launchers. Once they have been destroyed, the ship pulls forward, revealing the back end which has more turrets and rocket launchers, as well as a door that dispenses Pink Pajama Bazooka Squad members. Finally, you’ll face off against the center flame-throwing turret and its 2 rocket-firing companions.



Final boss: Unlike the Arcade Mode where the final level is just a boss fight, here you have to fight your way through an entire enemy fortress before getting to the final boss. This fight places you in an underground rocket silo, pitted against a huge launching rocket that is defended on either side by a battery of indestructible rocket launchers whose rockets cannot be destroyed by your weapon.



As in Arcade Mode, you need to destroy the rocket before it launches, or it’s an instant Game Over. Time to break out your biggest damage dealer and use up any mega crash bombs you have left.



HERITAGE

Why this game should be part of your 2D heritage:
  • Faithful arcade port, plus a completely new Original Mode with redesigned levels, new bosses, and the addition of RPG elements
  • Decent variety in weaponry, all of which can be upgraded
  • Power-ups and upgrades are permanent
  • Lots of gameplay-altering vehicles
  • Massively destructible environments

The downside:
  • Retains arcade roots of easy deaths
  • Very narrow scrolling margin on the left and right sides of the screen
  • Bullets can sometimes be hard to distinguish against certain backgrounds


3D AFTERMATH
In 2008, after a 16 year hiatus, Capcom decided to resurrect the Commando/Mercs franchise with the release of Wolf of the Battlefield: Commando 3 on PSN and XBLA. This unwieldy title is a mish-mash of the American "Commando" name and a translation of the original Japanese title "Senjou no Ookami". This release was perhaps meant to capitalize on the fans of the games who had recently (re)experienced the series via the 2005 Capcom Classics Collection. Development was farmed out to Backbone Entertainment, who is known mostly for their various ports and remakes.



So, how did the series change with its transition to 3D? The answer is, surprisingly, not much. Visually the developer opted for an overly cartoony look for the character profiles and menus. This look carries over into the 3D environments as well, but it is far more subdued there. Thematically, the game comes across as more of a spoof of “old-school” top-down shooters rather than adopting the more serious military tones of the original games.

The game is still offered in a top-down presentation, or more accurately an angled top-down presentation, staying pretty close to its 2D roots, and not forcing any needless camera buggery into the formula. The game also provides one huge gameplay enhancement over earlier games in that it offers dual analogue control, allowing the player to move in one direction and fire in another. This makes the enemies somewhat easier to deal with, but also gives the developer license to pack in about 3-4 times the number of onscreen infantry you’d normally be used to seeing.

True to Mercs before it, this 3D sequel allows for 3-player co-op, which can be done on the same screen or via online play. Each of the 3 characters – Wolf, Fox, and Coyote – has slightly different statistics in regards to how fast they can move, how much damage they can take, or how many grenades they can carry. However, each of them is permitted to wield any of the available weapons in the game. This mostly evens the characters in terms of cooperative play, and makes them all but interchangeable.



The game retains a majority of the original weapons, including the machine gun, shot/spread gun, flamethrower, and rocket launcher. Each of these weapons is upgradeable – using the familiar POW icons – to 3 power levels. The mega crash bomb is still in place as well (and still represented by a computer with an “M” on the screen), only now the game pauses and shows the face of Wolf, Fox, or Coyote as they deliver a character-specific attack. Like Mercs, these attacks cause significant damage to surrounding enemies and eliminate all onscreen projectiles.

The other available weapon is grenades, but oddly only 2 of the characters are capable of using them. Unlike the mega crash bomb, this weapon causes more localized damage. It is a bit difficult to utilize effectively as the aiming reticule moves while you hold down the button, giving the infantry plenty of time to swarm your position. Still, it can get you out of a tight spot without wasting a mega crash bomb, which are better held for bosses.

Happily, some of the vehicles have made a return as well. Turrets, jeeps, and tanks are available, and each functions basically in the same manner as they did in the previous game, including the fast and willy-nilly controls of the jeep. Tanks have been improved so that they can aim in multiple directions rather than just shooting straight forward. The player has the ability to enter and exit these vehicles at will, which is useful as some threats are better dealt with on foot. In multiplayer mode, all 3 players may enter jeeps or tanks, while turrets are restricted to a single player.

The game only has 5 levels, but they are fairly long, and they each have some hidden areas and prisoners to rescue. Most of the previous game’s pickups are available here as well, including the life bar extender, health refills, and point-awarding medals, and most of the icons are modeled to look like they did in the previous game. Overall this gives the game a feel of being more of a throwback to the previous games rather than an outright sequel, and as mentioned, it goes pretty far into spoof territory with the over-the-top character profiles, and none-too-serious attitude, giving it a different feel from its predecessors. Gameplay-wise, however, the bulk of the mechanics have survived the move to the third dimension.

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