Mercenary King’s is a bullshit game made by people with their heads up their asses. Every ten minutes there is some glaring flaw that should have been caught by someone who had half a brain. And I’m just about done with it and haven’t been able to put it down. Lets break it down shall we:
Mercenary Kings borrows from about a dozen different games. At the front is Metal Slug, because both games have stunning pixel art, and involve going ‘bang bang bang’ until something dies. Instead of a 1 hit kill, you have a health bar, making things more fair. Yay.
Next, it takes every shitty stupid part from Monster Hunter. First you pick a mission - and already this bothers me - you pick the mission you want to do, then you have to talk to the helicopter guy to go on the mission. Why not just start the mission? Well depending on what mission you are taking, you might need different gear. You can heal yourself, trap enemies, throw grenades - all that good stuff. Unlike Monster Hunter though, you only get 2 inventory slots. Didn’t bring the right equipment? You now have to scrounge the map for it, or you can order in an air drop. You get about 2 air drops per level. Some levels have 5 or more doors you have to blow up just to navigate to the end. Oh, and you can only carry 1 block of C4. So you find 2 in the wild, schlep your way out to a blow up point, blow it up, schlep your way back, pick up more C4. Why not allow a larger inventory? Or more stacks? Because this game hates you. Personally. It saw you eye banging the pixel art, and it is pissed.
In all fairness, the game knows you would hit it
So let’s talk about the bosses. They can spawn at one of multiple locations on your map, marked by a skull icon. You can buy an upgrade that tells you which one. So after you check three locations, and have narrowed it down to the fourth, you can finally fight the damn boss. Now, in all fairness, the bosses are really good. I want to throw out Dark Souls, but a super light version of it. The bosses all have excellent tells, easy to identify patterns, and almost always give the feeling that if you were the best player you could be, you could beat them without taking any damage. I was constantly excited to find out what the new boss would be so I could study it. And if you die while fighting one, you get 3 mans per stage, so you can trek back through the stage to get to the boss and have another go (while still keeping all damage done). My favorite so far was a series of bosses. They introduce them one at a time, and they all have the same patterns, so you get a good feel for each of their fights. Then you fight all 3 at once, and it turns into this beautiful mayhem. It was mentally taxing trying to remember each action required to dodge each pattern, and while I get my ass handed to me multiple times, I always wanted to come back and give it another go.
Now, in Monster Hunter style, you can capture some bosses when their health is critical. This requires a capture grenade, which we hope you brought. You didn’t? You can air drop two in! Missed those? Well, just restart the whole level again, you can get it next time champ. Just replay the whole level, drain most of the bosses health, and try again. We just want to give the option to waste an enormous amount of your time. Speaking of which, you know what feature in Monster Hunter was literally the worst? Monsters running away. Yeah, they do that here, too, but worse. See, in Monster Hunter, you could tell ‘oh hey, its going into a cave, I can go into that cave and find it’. In this game? Nah, it just went, like, wherever. So you have to cross more goons, pit traps, and pixel-hating jumps, then you can fight him again. If you take long enough to get there though, he may have just up and left anyway though! You can spend ten minutes just chasing down a boss, all while using up your limited health items and/or lives. It. Sucks.
So let’s talk about one other influence for the game: anything 8 bit that made you pull your hair out! Respawning enemies? Done. Medusa head flying enemies? Done! Environmental traps? Tons! Environmental traps with medusa heads, and oh yeah, the medusa heads can phase through walls where you can’t possibly shoot them? You better believe we got that covered. You can scroll the screen in any direction to see what is coming up, and sometimes you can use this to ‘snipe’ enemies at the edge before they aggro (again, very Dark Souls-y). Sometimes, you scroll the screen all the way right, then a swarm of enemies spawns from the left. Which you literally (and not that figurative kind of literal, either) just cleared out 2 seconds ago. Welp, guess you just have to take that hit. Some areas don’t let you scroll the screen, such as when a ladder goes to another ‘section’ of the level that they didn’t want to spoil with your damned scrolling. And sometimes, there are enemies just off screen on these segments. So you literally have no way of knowing they are there. Even if you are playing hyper cautious, you just have to eat that damage. They also do this with electric traps, spike pits, flame pits, etc. As long as I’m kvetching, some enemies like to hang out just above where you can shoot them with your gun when attacking you, forcing you to do this weird half hop thing to be able to shoot them. Pretty much every area there is something new like this that you have to commit to memory and go ‘really?...REALLY?’.
Just this small screenshot has sent strong willed men to their graves
The game also wanted to throw in crafting, in that you can make your own gun parts, and you can mix and match. While this sounds great, it sucks pretty bad. First off, you have to use whatever drops off of enemies to craft a gun. What drops copper, you ask? Who the hell knows. So you google ‘Mercenary Kings Copper Farming’, listen to some “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” and go back 30 missions to kill the same boss eight times so you can make a better gun. So, see above on the time sink front. It would be lovely if you could buy stuff you don’t have at an enormous premium - I am not doing anything with the cash from all the missions I beat. So what gun do you want to build? Well, you have about 100 options on 5 different parts, so I hope you like the sound of scrolling! I”m not a game designer, so I can’t tell you how to organize the parts, but this game didn’t do it right. Hell, even Borderlands did it better somehow. Yeah, I said it. Now to give the devil his due, the guns are really fun. The different ammo types are fun to play with (but armor piercing is overpowered, as it pierces the environment meaning you can cheese a toooooon of enemies.) There are quite a fun guns that have a nice look to them, and having a machine gun that fires heat seeking missiles is always nice.
Some other complains that I didn’t want to put anywhere else...duck is mapped to down on the d-pad. Makes sense. Pick up is also mapped to down. If you pick something up, not only do you stop shooting, you also stay standing. Any boss with adds means that the floor is now littered in crap that you either have to pick up, or run away from when time comes to duck. Just map ‘pick up’ to something else. Something not combat essential. BAM. Problem solved.
At the end of the day though, I only have 2 bosses and 1 set of missions left to go through before I’m done with the game. The pixel art is amazing - most of the dog robots are genuinely ‘aww’ inspiring, and the characters really harken to Scott PIlgrim. It has a lot of character, and a lot of charm, but lacks the fundamentals to support them.
d'aww I can't stay that mad at you
Since I wrote all this, I actually did manage to beat the game. The last few missions give a real sense of ‘looking back’ that was really well done. You fight 8 of the first boss of the game in one mission, and I think 8 of a boss from the mission sets prior. It was a great tone setting for the very end of the game. They even let you do something super special that I wont spoil, but suffice to say it felt really good. The last boss himself was pretty cool (in that he didn’t have a level to mosey through, just a walk up to his room). Overall, I’m glad to put it past me. I would have to know the gamer very well in order for me to recommend this game. It takes a lot of patience and acceptance to make it through, but there are some damn fun times to be had inbetween.