This article previously appeared on Crossfader
One of the few, foggy memories I have of my 25th birthday was when I drunkenly played METAL SLUG at a local barcade, the logical conclusion of a generation borne by nostalgia and heavy drinking. I also remember being thankful that METAL SLUG had such a relatively simple concept: shoot the dudes, blow stuff up, and most importantly of all, keep running right. That’s pretty much the depth of game design you need for an arcade game; there’s no need to add open worlds, skill trees, or side quests when completion merely hinges on the amount of quarters you can scrounge up for the continue screen. But when you’ve got more time to invest in a game, say, at home, it helps to add features that appeal to one’s sense of progression, which is exactly what Tribute Games has done with MERCENARY KINGS: RELOADED EDITION.
This becomes a VERY satisfying screen as the game progresses
MERCENARY KINGS is, appropriately enough, a tribute to games like METAL SLUG and CONTRA, featuring a heavily-armed sprite hero or heroine rampaging through various missions in order to defeat evil forces. KINGS originally released in 2014 with two main characters, King and Empress, a menagerie of bad guys, and way too many guns to shoot them with. The updated MERCENARY KINGS: RELOADED EDITION dropped last week, adding two new playable characters for four-player co-op, as well as a crateload of new customizable weapons for your characters to use. Missions center around collecting or destroying enough things, blowing up just one big thing, or reaching a certain location within a time limit, all in the effort of freeing the island of Mandragora from the terrorist cabal CLAW and saving the influential scientist they’ve taken hostage.
There’s a Resistance force, there’s a serum and bio-mods involved, you’ll figure it out
Players earn cash for successfully completing missions that can be used to purchase weapons and supplies from the home base. Die during a mission and you lose a good chunk of money; run out of money and lives and it’s mission failed. Players are also given a time limit to complete each mission, failing when the timer runs out. Better times equal better payouts, and the game encourages players to compete for the best times. Personally, I was more motivated by the loss of funds than the time attack option, because after dying a couple times and returning to the main camp penniless, it really throws a wrench into the whole resupply and redeploy strategy the game presents you with.
KINGS features a fairly in-depth weapon system, allowing players to mix and match barrels, stocks, magazines, etc. in order to create the perfect weapon for their playing style. Players can also choose from a variety of melee weapons provided they have the cash and materials ready to create them, similar to how the guns are created. The endless variety aims to give players a wide breadth of options similar to NEUROVOIDER and its combinations of robot parts and weapons. Certain weapons can only be created through crafting, materials for which can be abundant in certain levels. Also similar to my experience with NEUROVOIDER, KINGS can at first seem a little overwhelming, but even if you aren’t the type to create spreadsheets for your ELEX playthrough, you should be fine.
Yeah, that’s definitely a Nerf gun in the corner there
If the sprites themselves seem reminiscent of artwork by Bryan Lee O’Malley, that’s probably because Tribute Games was formed by many of the developers that worked on SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD: THE GAME. It’s a solid aesthetic choice, seeing as the gamers that are intrigued by retro-style graphics and those that enjoyed any iteration of Scott Pilgrim probably form a solid Venn Diagram. The sprites are oddly endearing and somewhat delightful in motion, which makes it even more macabre to watch their heads explode in bloody defeat. Speaking of delightful, the character dialogue is also equal measures cute, with just the right amount of internet and video game references to prevent eye rolling but encourage gleeful chuckling. You’re not getting a gripping story or deep characters with KINGS, but that’s not really what you came here for. KINGS is aware of its one-note nature and places all of its chips in for maximum action output.
Brand spanking new!!
The controls are simple enough for anyone to figure out (though I’d recommend exploring the tutorial level as thoroughly as possible) which lends itself to four-player co-op shoot-o-rama, and if you’re playing alone, there’s always the option to invite someone via online connection for a team-up. The combination of deep weapon systems and the ease which the game allows multiplayer can confuse the message a little bit, as spending 20 minutes exploring the stats of each individual gun part as it affects your main weapon doesn’t exactly mesh with the high-action shooter the game very much aims to be. Regardless, KINGS does what it does very well, and the endearing characters, combined with the satisfying feels, make it an excellent tribute to the side-scrolling shoot-’em-ups of yore. Packed with missions and weapons to earn and create, MERCENARY KINGS is a good nostalgic rampage through the enemy base, playable with friends, or as a solo mission.
Reviewed on PC