Mercenary Force (Japanese title Tenjin Kaisen) is a Game Boy game released in 1990 by Meldac. Mercenary Force is a Shoot 'em Up but unlike many other genre entries, it's set in feudal Japan and, rather than just one shooter, you have a party of four shooters (more on that in a moment).
According to the manual, the game is set during the Tokugawa Shogunate. The shogun has recruited a force of mercenaries to defeat the Lord of Darkness who has taken over the land with his evil minions. Taking place over six levels with Ratchet Scrolling, you must choose a party of four characters from five available choices. Each character has different starting health, attack power and a special "Transformation", which does a lot of damage to enemies but costs the character's life. Your choices are:
- Servant: The cheapest character to hire. Fires a single projectile from a rifle. Has no transformation attack, simply blowing himself up to damage all on-screen foes.
- Ninja: Fires a shuriken but, unlike the servant, can shoot two onscreen at a time. His projectiles are faster but have a shorter range than the servant. His transformation is the "Spirt of the Wind", a monster that is surrounded by a shield of shurikens.
- Monk: The most expensive character to hire. Fires two projectiles, one up diagonally and down diagonally. His transformation is the "Spirit of Time", which makes you invincible and sends you speeding through the stage at higher speed.
- Samurai: Fires two projectiles straight ahead, one high and one low. His transformation is "the Spirit of Fire", which is similar to the Ninja's but uses a circle of fireballs.
- Mystic: The sole female character. Fires projectiles vertically, one up and one down. Her transformation is "the Spirit of Life", which has projectiles bouncing around the screen.
- Tanuki: A hidden character. Only available on the sixth and final level; you must meet certain conditions to get the Tanuki to join you. Shoots a slow projectile and has no transformation attack.
While you go through levels shooting up Mooks ranging from human foes (samurai, ninja, etc) to animals and mythical creatures, more gameplay elements set this title apart from your typical shoot'em up. During the game, your party of four can take on four different formations: Formation of the Forest, Formation of the Fire, Formation of the Wind and Formation of the Mountain. Each formation has different strengths and weaknesses based on the terrain, how many foes you face, your own party and even their marching order. You must choose wisely throughout the game which of these formations to use, when to switch and how to position your characters. Another challenge is money management. You start out with a small sum of money to buy mercenaries at the start of the game and must collect coins from dead foes as you progress. This money is needed to buy new mercenaries in between levels to replace the dead ones and also to buy restoring items at the cafes you'll pass throughout the game. You have to make sure to not only collect money as you go along, but choose wisely on how to spend it.
This game contains examples of the following tropes:
- All Asians Wear Conical Straw Hats: The servant wears one.
- All There in the Manual: The manual gives the backstory as well as more in-depth information about the five mercenaries such as their blood types, astrological signs and favorite foods. It's also here that it reveals that the Mystic is in fact the Princess, which explains why you need her alive to get the best ending.
- American Kirby Is Hardcore: The US cover, which is a close-up of menacing-looking Japanese warriors with shadowed eyes, admittedly conveys the game's concept a lot better than the Japanese one's more minimalist approach.
- Attack Pattern Alpha: Your selected four mercenaries can assume four attack patterns in the game: Formation of the Forest, Formation of the Fire, Formation of the Wind and Formation of the Mountain.
- Badass Normal: The Servant is this. Whereas all the other characters have different projectiles and a "transformation", all the Servant has is his rifle.
- Cast from Hit Points: The five mercenaries can do a suicide attack (four of them have a "transformation") that damages all onscreen enemies including bosses but will kill them too.
- Cheat Code: There's a cheat code to start out the game with a big sum of 50,000 yen. It's even listed in the manual. However, using it automatically gives you the bad ending.
- Highly Visible Ninja: Another one of your mercenaries.
- Money Spider: Enemies drop coins throughout the game that you need to collect to buy healing items and new mercenaries.
- Multiple Endings: You can get a bad ending, a good ending or a great ending, depending on how you play the game. To get the best ending, you must have the mystic in your party.
- Resources Management Gameplay: Sets this apart from other shooters. You must manage your money, collect more of it and use it wisely in buying items along with more mercenaries to replace the fallen ones.
- Samurai: One of your character choices.
- Secret Character: The Tanuki who also counts as a Sixth Ranger. To get the Tanuki, you must have the mystic try her luck at the shrine in level 2. Then in level 6, you must have an empty slot in your party and a mystic present.
- Smart Bomb: The servant's attack is this since he doesn't have a transformation.
- Smurfette Principle: The mystic is the only female character available in the game.
- Power-Up Food: You can buy tea and sushi to heal your mercenaries as well as medicine to heal your leader at the cafes that are scattered throughout the game.
- Warrior Monk: An Eastern example with this game's monk. Besides having a powerful transformation attack, he fires projectiles diagonally that can strike enemies the forward firing projectiles can miss.