Developer: Tribute Games
Publisher: Tribute Games
Release Date: March 25, 2014
ESRB: M for Mature
You might not remember it, but in 2012, Tribute Games ran a Kickstarter for an awesome-looking arcade action game called Mercenary Kings. It took a while to release but certainly not as long as some other crowdfunded projects out there. Now that the game is out we can appraise how successful it was at meeting its goals, or more importantly, how fun the game is regardless of intent.
Mercenary Kings is a 2D action platformer with roots in classics such as Metal Slug and Contra. The spirit of these titles is kept alive thanks to pixelated artwork and similarly fast gameplay. After selecting from a list of missions, you set off to a stage to complete its given goal. Usually, orders are pretty simplistic. Find a certain amount of item, person, or take someone out and then head back to home base to select a new mission. The basics are simple enough, but there“s definitely more to it than that.
Between missions the player can upgrade their weapons, get their goods modded, and stock up on other supplies. One weird facet is a simple crafting mechanic which facilitates upgrades. No, it“s not like Minecraft. All you have to do is collect craftable objects during missions and then bring them back. Items are all over the place, either popping out of enemies as they die or locked in easily-breakable chests. Thankfully, there“s no limit to how much of the crafting stuff you can carry. The same is not true for more mission-imperative items.
With that said, you can easily ignore most of this stuff and simply get to shooting up everyone in sight. Enemies come in a handful of types such as sniper, robotic snail, and other obvious cannon fodder. Each has their own tactics for efficient termination, but often you can employ the same general ones. For many characters, simply ducking and waiting between bursts of fire is good enough. It“s a shame that "waiting" is at all a part of the gameplay, though, considering Mercenary Kings wants to be a totally frantic experience.
When the game is at its best, you feel like a real badass. After getting the basic mechanics down it is easy to work through enemies without a scratch. It“s not too hard thanks to the fact that enemy bullets apparently fly in slow motion. For whatever reason, there is an active reload mechanic, though, which can lead to trouble. During each reload session you can cut down on time by hitting the reload button at the right time with an on-screen prompt. Because the prompt always shifts the "best" spot, you“ll need to keep an eye on it. As such, you might be thrown temporarily out of whack with the rampant destruction around you.
This may be just one unfortunate design decision but the more glaring issue is the missions themselves. As previously stated, there are a few types that reoccur a ton. They could effectively be considered "fetch quests" in many instances since you just need to find their markers on the map and head there. With little variety in general gameplay, Mercenary Kings can become a very tiresome experience indeed.
It“s a tremendous shame considering the game otherwise has a great deal of visual polish. With art by famed pixel artist Paul Robertson it stands as one of the most attractive pixelated indie games to date. However, there is a weird proclivity to make nearly every female character in game have tremendous, jiggling breasts despite characters“ otherwise chibi-style frames. If you don“t mind (or, instead, enjoy) that then the art will probably appeal as 100% awesome. The soundtrack is also suitably awesome for a modern 2D action game.
Although the gameplay is incredibly repetitive, you may find it a ton of fun when getting together a group of friends to play. Local co-op includes slots for four players and amps up everything. As bullets spew all over the screen, you“ll find accomplishing missions much easier than before. This changes them from being chore-like to entertaining experiences. You can also play online but, again, you“ll want to set up a time between friends. Strangely, the online player base seemed quite dead - or I was just online at all the wrong times.
There was so much work done to make Mercenary Kings look and feel like a very cool retro game for the modern age. But there are still points where it falters. Those who enjoy (or can look over) repetitive missions cannot ignore the bugginess. On nearly every gameplay session the game would crash. This is purely in regards to the PC version. Thankfully crashes were always upon mission start rather than during one, but it was still an annoyance.
In many ways, Mercenary Kings is a polished, entertaining product. It has excellent artwork, imaginative bosses, and fun references to other games. Gameplay is also easy to get a grasp of. However, thanks to the decisions to limit the game in scope via dull missions, the appeal quickly starts to wear off. Those who have the option to should play local or online co-op to enjoy the entire game. Otherwise, you“ll likely find yourself worn out before long.
+ Mastering the game feels very rewarding
+ Lovingly detailed pixel art
+ Online and local co-op for increased mayhem
- PC version seems prone to crashing
- Missions are far too repetitive
- Active reload mechanic is an unneeded annoyance
Overall Score: 6 (out of 10)
Mercenary Kings had a lot of promise and partially lives up to expectations. Just don“t go into it anticipating the next Metal Slug and it“ll satisfy your 2D action platformer needs.
Disclosure: This game was reviewed using downloadable Steam code provided by the publisher