With Mercenary Kings, looks are deceiving. Glimpse a few screenshots and you’ll likely assume that the Tribute Games’ title honors classic run ‘n guns like Bionic Commando and Contra. Certainly, Paul Robertson’s (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game, Wizorb) delightfully drawn spritework channels gaming’s golden era, with every frame of animation radiating effervescent charm. Occasionally, there are fleeting flashes of comical violence that are destined to delight anyone who has ever enjoyed the Metal Slug series.
For anyone familiar with the genre, Mercenaries Kings Reloaded oozes familiarity. Characters jump with arcade-born athleticism, clearing wide gaps with an instinctive pull of the analog stick and press of the jump button. Like Mega Man, tension stems from asymmetric abilities. Enemies can fire in eight different directions, others have projectile deflecting shielding, and some like Pike Men can thrust their weapons through the platforms above or below. As a reinvigorated soldier brought back to life with bionic abilities, you move with an urgency and determination absent from your adversaries, even if you can only shoot in a quartet of different directions. Essentially, they’re numerous and dumb, but you’re nimble and destined for dominance.
Any experience with mechanically similar titles will make Mercenaries Kings feel intuitive. Sure, there’s the timeworn habit of foes to respawn once you’ve forced the screen to scroll. But other than that quirk, dashing across platforms, shimmy up ladders, and firing at any hostiles will all feel quite instinctual, permitting progress with only the briefest of tutorials. And when Kings throws its cavalcade of boss battles at players, everything just falls into place, as you scrutinize elevated enemies for weaknesses as they hurl a multitude of offensives at players.
Yet, there are also many ways that Mercenary Kings breaks away from run ‘n gun tradition. Unlike the games of old, where progress was usually made in a linear fashion, Tribute’s title extends a sprawling landscape for players. After a brief introduction, you’ll be dropped off at an operation base, where you’ll accept missions, upgrade your Mercenary and their arsenal, and well as craft an array of weaponry. Essentially, assignments rift on three basic tasks: rescuing captives, securing quantities of materials, and hunting down specific enemies.
Whereas many traditional run ‘n guns diminished tedium with concise campaigns and uncomplicated trajectory, there are moments where Mercenary Kings just shuffles along. Instead of succinct stages were every moment has been engineered for excitement, autonomously wandering through a variety of zones doesn’t convey a constant sense of threat. Instead, you’ll retread across many of the same areas across the game’s collection of over a hundred missions, which can induce a bit of tedium. And while the game’s environments are vast and incorporate a variety of milieu, occasionally Reloaded can feel padded- most likely in an effort to increase playtime.
To offset this sensation, there’s an emphasis on crafting. With resources found in scattered crates and dropped by defeated enemies, you’ll amass a horde of raw materials that can be used to augment your arsenal or even bolster your bionic capabilities. Here, Tribute Games deserves compliment, because there’s Borderlands-like variety to be found. Favor a shotgun that fires in rapid succession or a pistol with an excessively sized magazine? You’ll be able to make either and a myriad of different firearms, each catering to your preferred play-style. Pleasingly, there’s balance to your builds. Create a bulky, overwhelming machine gun and you’ll feel the effect of having to carry the massive gun, with Reloaded reducing your maneuverability. Likewise, you can add character perks as well, increasingly the likelihood of finding rare items or even slowing your descent when you fall.
Unsurprisingly, cooperative play is where Mercenary Kings really shines. Up to three additional partners can assist with missions, which will likely be needed as players approach the endgame. Pleasingly, each combatant is free to split up, and while getting a quarter of the Switch’s diminutive screen makes for some tight-knit huddles, it’s gratifying to see unhindered performance, even in undocked mode.
Generously, the enhancements of Reloaded are offered free for PC, Vita, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One owners who previously purchased the game. For Switch players than means an array of new guns and knives are craftable, there’s two new playable characters, C-Zar and Frigg, as well as an entertaining new mission, entitled “Soldier Smash”. Newcomers won’t notice all the tweaks and bug fixes, but there are a handful, such as indicators that show NPC have something to say, to the ability to melee on zip lines.
Fans of classic run n’ gun games as well as those seeking a spirited cooperative experience will most likely applaud Mercenary Kings Reloaded. Individuals might find a modicum of monotony and some exasperating late-game missions, but if they’re willing to put up with those two issues, they’ll discover an enjoyable take on a classic genre.
Mercenary Kings Reloaded was played on the Switch
with review code provided by the publisher.
Platform: Switch, also on PC, PlayStation 4, PS Vita, and Xbox One
Developer: Tribute Games
Publisher: Tribute Games
Release date: February 6th, 2018
Price: $19.99 via physical and digital download