Once upon a time, back before Capcom officially started supporting the Genesis/Mega Drive, Sega acquired licence to reprogram various arcade classics produced by the developer. Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts, Strider and Forgotten Worlds were all brought to the console thanks to Sega’s talented internal teams, and all were fantastic conversions. Mercs (AKA Commando 2, or, in the case of this Virtual Console release, Wolf of the Battlefield: Mercs) was another title that was consummately handled by Sega, and this time around they gave fans a little something extra, too.
But before we get onto the good stuff, let’s cover what’s missing from the arcade version. The three player mode has sadly been jettisoned, for obvious reasons – at the time of release, there was simply no way of connecting three pads to Sega’s machine. However, disappointingly, there’s no two player option, either – something that was well within the limits of the hardware. The appeal of this type of game is increased almost immeasurably when another person is involved.
Graphically there’s obviously a fairly sizeable discrepancy between this and its arcade parent; the game was running on Capcom’s CPS-1 hardware, which was far more powerful than Sega’s home-based 16-bitter. Regardless of this, the game is still a visual treat; the levels are intricate (not to mention varied in design) and the sprites animate well and are packed with detail. Sound-wise it’s a closer match and there are some brilliant tunes here.
Mercs is divided into two modes – Arcade and Original. The former is, as the title would suggest, a straight port of the coin-op. It’s tremendous fun but on the standard difficulty setting is unlikely to present too stern a challenge. It’s the Original mode that is likely to grab the lion’s share of your attention. It contains new levels and additional characters to play as. Sega really should be commended for including this feature – without it, players would quickly get bored with Mercs' standard Arcade portion.
In terms of originality Mercs is hardly set to scoop any awards, but it’s about as fine an example of an old-school arcade blaster as you’re likely to find and shows just how talented Sega’s internal development teams were once upon a time; to take another company’s title and improve it is no meat feat. It’s just a shame that a two-player option wasn’t forthcoming, as this would have made the game a near-essential purchase, but you can’t have everything.