I just can't WAIT to be king
Mercenary Kings is a Kickstarter success story that has finally made its way into the consumer’s hands. Combining elements from games like Monster Hunter and Metal Slug, Kings attempts to capture player’s hearts with its retro look and lighthearted feel.
Also you can make a gun that is a cat and goes "mew!" when you fire it.
Mercenary Kings (PC [reviewed], PS4)
The plot is Mercenary Kings is a bit thin, basically amounting to forming a group of renegades to take down the evil corporation CLAW. It’s a basic setup for the missions, but the inter-mission dialogue that takes place is genuinely amazing. The characters are charming and the dialogue is wonderfully written, which help add to the relaxed-yet-super-serious tone of the game.
Gameplay is akin to action games like Contra and Metal Slug. The player can shoot in four directions, jump, crouch, and roll. Jumping is locked into an arc, but is also pressure-sensitive, allowing for some degree of control. Players also have a melee attack that hits directly in front of them to help stack on some occasional extra damage. Speed and jump are affected by weight, which depends on the equipped weapons. Ammo is unlimited, and there is an active-reload system, rewarding players for reloading perfectly.
There is a playable tutorial that new players start in that goes over just about everything. However, the tutorial is very easy to skip on accident. While in the tutorial area, I meandered into the area that ended the mission and that was that. Luckily, there is also a “How to Play” section of the main menu that goes over everything via pictures and text.
The difficulty gradually increases as the player completes missions, and feels like a very natural progression. Despite its old-timey inspiration, the game starts off casual enough that just about anybody should feel comfortable runnin’ and gunnin’ with the rest of them. Eventually, the game challenges the player enough that the time and life limit on missions actually come into play.
Mercenary Kings is structured like Monster Hunter. The player takes a single mission at a time and can “rank up” to take on more challenging missions. The mission objectives vary, but generally fall along the lines of: kill people, find stuff, kill bosses, capture bosses. Occasionally missions will have side-missions and secret missions that also fall under the same umbrella. The objectives aren't ever interesting in any meaningful way, but that rarely detracts from the game itself.
Doing missions rewards the player with rank points, money, and materials. Rank points allow players to increase their rank, which allows them to then take on more challenging missions. Money and materials allow the player to craft and purchase a variety of goods from the main hub, which is where the player will be spending their time when not in a mission.
Players can use the materials picked up in a mission to craft new guns, weapons, armor, knives, and “mods,” which are more akin to perks from various other titles. It’s an incredibly addictive system, as players will likely find themselves anxiously anticipating each material dropped from a killed enemy, hoping it can help them build their dream weapon. Some players may also feel the need to replay specific missions just to get a specific drop from a specific enemy, most likely a boss.
Crafting new guns and perks can completely alter the way a player approaches enemies. Some guns, like shotguns for example, don't often have bullets that travel long distances or accurately, so players will be in the face of most enemies. However, with the extreme customization options of the guns, there's nothing stopping a player from adding a sniper stock and scope onto a shotgun to get some weird "shiper" hybrid.
Ammo can also be altered to go through armor, do elemental damage, or even shoot homing rockets, but not every ammo is compatible with every gun. The gun creation system could be a little better, since it's impossible to know the stats of a complete set before actually buying the entire set. A system to create an entire gun before actually purchasing would be a welcome change.
Boss fights stand out from the other mission types and are easily the best experiences. Bosses can spawn in various marked areas on the map, but if the player fails to kill the boss in a specific amount of time, it will leave and go to one of the other marked areas. The bosses harken back to the big bads of the NES days; players will have to observe a pattern and attack when the weak spot is exposed. Once a foe is encountered, the player cannot leave the area, so it’s mano-a-mano. Until they decide to flee, that is.
Enemy variety throughout missions is a glaring weak point in Mercenary Kings’ design. New types of enemies are trickled in while progressing through the ranks, but even from early on there’s a strong sense of “sameness” in the enemies. You'll start to memorize the patterns of certain enemy types pretty quickly, only to find out that the next level introduces the same enemy with a new skin and more health. It’s painfully obvious and, combined with the uninspired mission objectives, can leave players with a strong sense of deja vu at times.
Local and online multiplayer are included, and playing with friends or strangers is an absolute blast. Players can drop in and out of both online and local games while in the starting hub, though playing online doesn't seem to attempt to match players of equal rank together, so there can be a huge gap in player skill and equipment. Playing multiplayer makes gathering or hostage missions instantly easier and faster since players can split up. Multiplayer is still a blast in the more linear missions, but it’s significantly less helpful.
To put it simply, the art is gorgeous. Every character oozes personality just from their design and animation alone. Environment and enemy art is equally as gorgeous, making this an outstanding showing from the art and animation team. The sound and music is equally as commendable. The music has to be good, really, since players will spend a lot of time in each level. Luckily, a few of the tunes got stuck in my head in the best way possible instead of grating on the ears.
Mercenary Kings is a game that keeps on giving with its breadth of content. Combining the mission structure from Monster Hunter with the gameplay of Metal Slug is a brilliant idea, and one that has paid off in spades. The bland mission objectives and lack of enemy variety quickly become obvious, but the constant pull of making better and better equipment is incredibly strong and will keep players coming back for more. A wonderful aesthetic and strong sense of progression make Mercenary Kings an excellent experience, whether playing alone or with friends.
THE VERDICT - Mercenary Kings
Reviewed by Patrick Hancock