Shoot. Run. Jump. Switch guns. What more does a 1980s side-scrolling videogame need? How about a storyline involving a mercenary hired to rescue a biologist's daughter, incoming bad guys and robots, and a nefarious plot by an evil scientist who's determined to take over the world with cyborg soldiers? Mix that with pixelated tile-based environments, traditional boss fights, and coins locked in breakable crates, and what do you get? You get MercX, an ode to classic 1980s action titles by the retro-specialist, Alistair Maunder (alillm).
Like some of his previous offerings, MercX is a run-and-gun pixel-based game that draws on classic Castlevania elements of exploring, shooting, collecting, and upgrading. After being dropped off into a combat zone, you control your pink-haired mercenary with the [arrow] keys, and can jump and aim by pressing [up] and [down]. You carry three weapons - a machine gun, a shotgun, and a bazooka, which you fire with [Z] and switch with [X]. Each of the six missions begins with a briefing and a chance to upgrade your health and weapons using cash collected at the end of each mission. The stages are pretty lengthy, but luckily there are checkpoints along the way in case your mercenary bites the dust. Like classic home console games, most missions include a boss fight that requires you to recognize attack patterns and fire away until the enemy's health bar is depleted.
MercX is not a deep game by any means, but it offers players with straightforward retro-gaming goodness that kept us playing late on school nights back in the day. The action is simple, yet satisfying, with predictable enemies you can take down without too much trouble. The parallax-scrolling environments are nicely varied in their simplicity (with neat animated weather effects), while the old-school sounding chiptunes further set you in a classic frame of mind. The pixelly-theme does have a downside in that the text in mission briefings and tutorials can be hard to read, but it is something you get used to after a while. Besides, it's all about the action anyway, right? So channel your inner pixelated Rambo and learn what it's like to live as MercX.