What do you get when Metal Slug has a baby with Monster Hunter? The answer is Mercenary Kings, the platforming, SNES throwback, shooter from Tribute games. After a widely successful Kickstarter campaign and an eternity of Early Access, Mercenary Kings is finally here. Consumers can bask in all of its nuevo-retro glory, filled to the brim with jaw dropping pixelart and abundant gun crafting.
Mercenary Kings is the closest thing we are going to get to a GI Joe game. The thinly lined plot focuses around a group of renegades who assemble to take down the evil CLAW corporation. The team slowly assembles over the course of the game, and gradually becomes more than a thorn in CLAW’s side. The majority of the story is dished out between missions, through conversations delivered via Metal Gear Solid style codec. Every character is charming and well animated, bringing to life the Mercenary Kings camp with witty dialogue. Even though the game feels light hearted, it is serious business when dealing with CLAW and their ultimate goal of world domination.
Mechanically Mercenary Kings plays similar to Metal Slug. Your character can can shoot in four directions as well as jump, duck, and roll. Not being able to shoot in eight directions is frustrating when you are used to being able to hit things at an angle, but this fades with time. The jumping is pressure sensitive, giving you some more control over the character however something seems off with the jump. There is a slight delay where the character bends their knees which makes the platforming feel quite sluggish. The game is definitely a shooter first and a platformer second as player movement is quite clunky. Keep in mind that the weight of your gun affects character movement. Melee attacks keep things away from your face, and are governed by what knife is equipped. Ammo is unlimited, and Tribute has implemented a Gears of War active reload system the gives a slight powerup when you hit it on the sweet spot.
With the technical jargon behind us, the mission structure in Mercenary Kings is quite simple. Prepare your gear in camp, grab a mission from the commander, and get your chopper pilot to take you to the zone. Mission objectives vary from sabotaging enemy assets and exterminating an area, to hostage rescue and enemy capture. Don’t get me wrong, Mercenary Kings has no room for stealth and missions devolve down to ‘kill everything in your path.’ Each mission has a main objective that nets you cash upon completion, but there are also bonus objectives and secret missions that get you some nice goods. Missions are timed and take anywhere from five to twenty minutes, and it is up to you whether or not you want to go out of your way to hit the bonus objectives before the time runs out and the mission is failed.
At first some of the missions feel unfair and overly difficult, but with a solid co-op crew and previous knowledge of the map there is little challenge for most of the game. Mistakes will cost you, and note that the team shares three lives for each mission. It is in your best interests to stay healthy, and try to save downed teammates with a limited-use adrenaline shot. Mission difficulty does not scale with the number of players, so there is no reason to fail an early mission when your King squad is rolling four deep.
Completing missions nets you cash, materials, and rank points. Rank points grant access to more challenging missions, and so the Mercenary Kings positive feedback loop is engaged, ala Monster Hunter. The more important feature is the loot that you find throughout the map. These materials are meaningless alone, but when combined they become the backbone of the Mercenary Kings. Materials can be combined into new guns, weapons, armor, knives, and mods (think perks). This is the most addictive system in the game and is where you will spend half of your time. This also means that every material dropped from an enemy, chest, or animal is the next piece in the puzzle to your BFG-9000. Don’t worry, an item picked up by a teammate goes to all players in the session, so there is no fighting for materials.