Tribute Games made their mainstream debut with the smash hit, Scott Pilgrim vs The World, a retro styled beat-em-up sporting the visual prowess of pixel artist, Paul Robertson. Now, almost five years later, the team is back with the crowdfunded Mercenary Kings, a game that’s one part shooter and one part Monster Hunter. Is this game a straight shooter or is fit to be found at the bottom of the barrel?
Mercenary Kings is from the start a game made for the fans. Fans of what? I’m not exactly sure. It could be those looking for more Neo-Geo shmup experiences or those seeking out to finally have a playable version of Kings of Power 4 Billion %. There’s a little of both of those elements in the game’s core. Gameplay sees one to four players taking command of their own mercenaries to take on a variety of open world shooter missions. There are handful of gigantic areas in the game and each mission tasks players with finding hidden objects, hunting down enemies, and rescuing hostages, all before time runs out.
Completing missions and taking down enemies rewards players with experience points, money, and tons of materials. These materials can then be taken back into the starting hub to craft a variety of weapons, tools, and bionic mods, items that buff the stats of characters. Over time, crafting emerges as a huge element of Mercenary Kings’ appeal. Each individual part of the gun can be crafted into a different make and model and combined in thousands of ways. The guns range from standard pistols and rifles to some truly bizarre guns such as one that looks like a cat, or the one I usually used that was shaped like a trombone and made a small honk every time it fired.
While each gun feels different and caters to every type of player out there, it’s very hard to pick out the parts you may actually want or need. Aside from stats such as power and speed, it’s not always clear which part is going to turn you gun into a light pistol with a fast reloading speed and which part is going to turn it into a semi-automatic rifle shotgun. More descriptors or the ability to test out guns before buying them would’ve been greatly appreciated here for sure.
Out in the field, once a good gun is found, the shooting gameplay emerges as the strong point of the game. Taking some of the best elements of modern 3D shooters and classic 2D ones, Mercenary Kings takes a decidedly more nuanced approach to combat. Character placement and movement is imperative to taking down enemies and guns are manually reloaded with a little meter appearing each time to determine just how fast a gun is reloaded. Add onto the fact that you can even apply elements like acid and fire to bullets to plow through enemies and you have one fresh and solid shooter.
Unfortunately, the gameplay doesn’t revolve too much around the shooting and more on the missions themselves. Between areas being way too big and enemies taking more than a little time to dispatch (especially when they seemingly respawn the second they’re off screen) extremely simple missions take way too much time to complete. Missions will give players a time limit of upwards to half and hour at a time, but generally take a few minutes to actually do, even with secret and secondary missions along the way. More often than not, I felt like this time limit was more indicative of how long it simply takes to find objectives over and over again in the same sprawling maps.
In many of the missions involving hunting down and defeating bosses, I spent most of the time limit not only finding out where the boss should’ve been but actually traveling there without being killed by the waves and waves of baddies. By the time I got to the boss and spent about five minutes weakening it down, it literally turns and walks away and warps to another mysterious corner of the map. This happened to me on multiple occasions.
Add to that missions which require specific tools that can be permanently lost in mission or can’t even be found as drops within the mission and you have one frustratingly time-consuming game. When missions go right, it can be loads of fun, make no mistake. However, when I spent seventeen minutes failing to take down an enemy, then tried again going straight to where I then knew it was and succeeding in a minute and a half, it began to feel like the game was working against me half of the time.
Playing locally or online with friends can really help to speed things up for sure, especially with a “divide and conquer” mentality, but many of the same issues arise with the mission structure. The game lends itself well to short bursts of play sessions, but the strings behind the scenes become painfully evident once longer sessions arise.
The game certainly does sport a stylish look with the aforementioned Paul Robertson sprites, with intricate details and hilarious animations given to memorable characters. If you played Scott Pilgrim, the game looks nearly identical to that, but unfortunately does not have the rockin’ Anamanaguchi soundtrack. The 8-bit inspired music on display here is pretty serviceable though.
There are a lot of really cool parts that make up the whole that is Mercenary Kings with its unique art style and gunplay, it’s just that the mission structure doesn’t really support such high octane gameplay. It’s definitely a setup I would to see returned to for a straight action game, but the RPG quest elements make this a game that might not exactly be what many shooter fans may be looking for.
If you don’t mind taking on a few slower quests with a couple of buddies, then Mercenary Kings can certainly help deliver on a fun time shooting bad guys with friends. If you’re more likely to be playing a lone or you seek something with smoother fast paced action gameplay, then you might be best looking elsewhere. Mercenary Kings still provides a solid enough distraction for the former crowd.
[+Finally, a playable and original Paul Robertson game] [+The shooting mechanics are both interesting and fun] [+More guns than you can possibly imagine gives tons of ways to play] [-Reused massive stages are hard to navigate] [-Gameplay begins to become tedious after a while] [-Time limits are not indicative of the time it takes to beat a mission, but just to even find objectives] [-Building guns is incredibly confusing]