While playing through Mercenary Kings, I can’t help but think of some of my favorite games. There’s aspects from nearly all of the classics in here somewhere, from the running and gunning of Mega Man to the frantic multiplayer action of Metal Slug. Even the reload mechanic is ripped straight out of Gears of War. Fortunately for Mercenary Kings, most of these elements mesh together in way that results in a fun experience rather than a cheap imitation.
Mercenary Kings, developed by Tribute Games, feels like, well, a tribute or an homage to some of the best games from the 90s. You play as a member of the Kings, an elite group of soldiers who are brought back to life by a magical formula harvested from a tropical island. Unfortunately, there’s a terrorist group on this island causing havoc and just generally being evil, so it’s your job to stop them. Let’s be honest here, the story merely serves as a backdrop to place you in some interesting situations and areas. There are some entertaining dialogue exchanges at some points, such as the talking helicopter, but for the most part the story is unimportant.
Mercenary Kings is strikingly similar to the Metal Slug games. You are a lone soldier (in singleplayer, at least) and in front of you are hordes of faceless enemies. You’ll be wandering around a decently large map, blasting all sorts of enemies, rescuing hostages, and fulfilling objectives. While the core mechanics might be similar to Metal Slug, Mercenary Kings is by no means identical. For example, Mercenary Kings has missions which place you in very large, open areas with little guidance. There are a variety of objectives to complete as well, from “Kill X of this enemy” to “Destroy Barricade” to “Rescue the hostages”. Needless to say, you’ll have plenty of goals. There are also optional objectives, as well as secret objectives that you’ll have to discover on your own. In return for completing your goals and killing enemies, you’ll be rewarded with materials that you can use to make different items.
Along with the open-ended levels, there’s also a time limit. This really kind of kills the point of exploring each map, but many levels are nearly identical so there’s not a huge point in exploring. I can totally understand why the timer was added. It adds a sense of urgency to each mission, and helps move the player along without wasting their time. There are some missions that are hampered by the time limit, but for the most part it is a useful game mechanic. It also records your fastest time for each mission so it is good for speedrunners.
In Mercenary Kings, you are only as strong as your gun. Luckily for you, you can craft each piece of your gun to change the overall feel and look of your weapon. Want a shotgun with the range of a sniper rifle? You can do that. How about a SMG with the clipsize of a minigun, that also shoots corrosive bullets? You bet. The possibilities really do feel limitless, and there are hundreds of different items to craft. That’s not even getting into the different player upgrades, knives, or armors.
Fortuantely for Mercenary Kings, the controls are tight and responsive enough to feel as though any deaths are your fault rather than the game cutting corners. Depending on the weight of your weapon, your speed and jump height will vary meaning that there’s constantly a give-and-take between raw damage and mobility. Although with heavier automatic weapons, it’s possible to use their recoil as a pseudo-glider. The only problem with the controls is that it’s impossible to shoot diagonally. This is irritating to no end because you’ll constantly see enemies shooting diagonally at you, but you can’t do anything to fight back unless you get on their level. There are ways to shoot slightly above or below you, but these are from the guns accuracy or ammo type and can only help so much.
If you know me or read any of my previous reviews, you’ll know I’m not really one to bash a game for having a lot of content. I prefer to get my moneys worth out of games, and it irks me when games don’t even have a dozen hours of playtime before I’ve seen everything. Well, Mercenary Kings does not have that problem. There is so much content here that I don’t know what to do with it all, and it can easily last someone dozens of hours if you want to find all the trophies or craft every item. The problem I have with this, in regards to Mercenary Kings, is that the gameplay starts to become a chore as you progress through the missions. There are over 100 missions in the game with some of them taking up to 25 minutes to finish. Simply put, it’s exhausting and it gets repetitive. Not to mention, some missions use the same maps so you’re trudging through the same areas to kill enemies you’ve killed countless times before. This is why I can only play a few missions at a time whenever I start playing. I have no doubt I’ll eventually finish them all, but I don’t have the willpower to play Mercenary Kings for more than an hour or two at a time.
Buy, Try, or Avoid?
Mercenary Kings is an homage to classic gaming conventions, but remodeled for the 21st century. It takes elements from Metal Slug, Mega Man, and other arcade classics to deliver a lasting experience that fans of shoot ’em ups will adore. While the lack of diagonal shooting and eventual repetitiveness are unfortunate, the overall package is a finely crafted labor of love from Tribute. I highly recommend you pick Mercenary Kings up on PC or Playstation 4.
You can find Mercenary Kings on Steam and PSN. It’s currently free for PS+ subscribers.