If I were to compile an account of games that influenced me as a kid, Metal Slug would be pretty high on the list. I remember going down to the local skating rink, and instead of roller blading like all the other kids, I would be busy spending all of my parents’ pocket change at the Neo Geo combo machine. I wasn’t very athletic. Anyway, when I saw Mercenary Kings on Steam, I had to check it out. The gameplay looked very reminiscent of Metal Slug, and after reading about the gun crafting system and co-op multiplayer, I was sold.
Mercenary Kings is a 2D side-scrolling platformer/shooter, and is developed by Tribute Games, who brought us Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, and Wizorb. The game consists of jumping, gunning, and knifing your way through a plethora of enemies, who in turn drop materials for you to use to craft weapons and armor. You can also use said materials to upgrade your base, adding new features. The missions you receive from your commander have a specific objective to meet, and doing so will complete it, awarding you money and bonus materials. It sounds like pretty standard fare for a game like this, but the weapon crafting system is where Mercenary Kings truly shines. You are able to customize every part of your weapon, from the receiver to the magazine, and there are many different combinations that you can utilize, to varying degrees of effectiveness. You can potentially run around with a toilet gun that shoots out of a trombone barrel, which is just downright silly and awesome.
The gameplay in Mercenary Kings is stellar, with a few minor annoyances here and there. Running and gunning enemy soldiers is satisfying, especially with your shiny new acid machine gun, and will rarely leave you wanting. As far as the controls go, they’re tight for the most part — but occasionally ducking can be a problem. Crouching in Mercenary Kings is a gamble for two reasons. Reason one is that ducking is the way to pick up materials that enemies drop, which has a little animation of your character reaching down. This can be annoying, especially when you’re trying to avoid enemy gunfire by hitting the dirt and your character decides instead that they want to pick up the rusty pin lying on the floor. Reason two is ladders. If you’re at the top of a ladder and try to crouch, your character will begin the slow-as-molasses animation of descending the ladder, almost always causing you to accrue some unwanted damage. Those are pretty minor complaints, but after clocking several hours into the game, they started to wear on me a bit. Other than that, though, this game will leave you quite satisfied in regards to gameplay, as blowing people up with grenades, and shooting giant robots in their weak points for massive damage rarely gets old.
As far as story goes, this game is pretty bare-bones, which isn’t too unexpected. You play as the Mercenary Kings, who are the best guns for hire on Earth. However, the evil forces of CLAW have stolen a giant top secret Laboratory Base, and are using it for their own devices. And as you might have guessed, it’s up to you to stop them. Pretty simple, but it manages to find its own charm, mainly in that the story is told through Metal Gear Solid-esque green codec screens. It could stand to be a little deeper, but it is still in pre-release stages, so I’m expecting them to up the ante a little bit.
The graphics and animation in this game are truly worthy of praise. Paul Robertson, who did all the sprite work for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game, lends his talent, and his work is excellent as usual. From the character models to the backgrounds, his vibrant and colorful artwork is truly awe-inspiring. The sound is almost equally as good, featuring catchy chiptunes and satisfying gunfire/explosions. I found myself humming along to the beats of the various stages, and my friends, who were in the room while I was playing, did the same.
Now, for the negative aspects of the game. I mentioned the problem with crouching earlier, but that’s a minor complaint. One of the most frustrating aspects of Mercenary Kings to me is the incredibly vague mission briefings. They’re a sentence at most, and will tell you, “Go kill this many guys,” or, “Collect this many of, (insert specific item here)” and that seems simple enough. The rage-inducing part is that the game often won’t tell you where the specific guys are that you have to kill, or where the bosses are located, leading you to wander aimlessly around the levels until you find them. It would be alright if you weren’t always timed, but zero instructions coupled with a strict time limit does not make for a fun experience. Additionally, some people will undoubtedly find the boss farming and material gathering quite tedious, although this reviewer was used to that kind of thing from playing years of Monster Hunter.
All in all, Mercenary Kings is a solid title, with some incredible art and music, and generally fluid gameplay. There are a couple issues with the game that prevent me from singing its praises from the tallest mountain, but overall I’d recommend it for fans of Metal Slug, and to a lesser extent, fans of Monster Hunter. If you’re looking for a solid co-op experience, or just really like side-scrollers, pick this game up, as you’re certain to enjoy the ride. If you didn’t like anything I described in this review, and you’re into Barbie Horse Adventures, then that’s cool too, man. Live your life. I won’t judge.
You can purchase Mercenary Kings on Steam for $14.99 for early access to the game.