Mercenary Kings PC/PS4 Review

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Back in September 2012 Tribute Games successfully funded Mercenary Kings on Kickstarter. Unlike many fully funded and never realized projects from the crowdfunding service, Mercenary Kings has now released on PC and PS4.

The run n’ gun, Co-Op action of a game like Contra has been emulated many times throughout the history of video games, but it’s rare that a real contender emerges from emulation; Mercenary Kings is one of those rare occurrences.

Mercenary Kings offers a sometimes overwhelming tsunami of content in its tiny little pixel package. You may find yourself a bit out-of-sorts when first land on Mandragora Island and start trying to eradicate the insidious miliary group, CLAW.

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At times, Mercenary Kings proves to be nearly as challenging as retro game experiences, and for the most part, the only one to blame for failing is yourself. That being said, annoyances like ultra-frequent enemy spawns and the fact that your dodge/roll ability doesn’t allow you to actually escape bad situations can make Mercenary Kings a frustrating experience. The fact that you’ll be running through parts of a level several times during a mission meant that enemies needed to respawn to keep things moving, but it gets very excessive. When enemies are spawning so quickly that you can’t actually pass the area they guard; there’s something wrong.

Luckily, your arsenal is varied and accurate enough to handle dispatching foes several times over. The ability to aim forward, back, low and high gives you plenty of movement options, but sometimes the real solution is to simply run past the threat.

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Did I mention there’s a truckload of content present in Mercenary Kings? I think I did! Weapons are fully customizable with interchanging receivers, barrels, stocks, ammo types, and more. Meaning you’ll likely spend a good amount of time creating a badass tool of destruction. The ability to customize your characters look, create and install implants to benefit them, and even craft ornaments and banners means Mercenary Kings can become a pretty enjoyable time sink.

It’s rather amazing what Tribute was able to do with pixel art. The character models are insanely dense and detailed. Environments are brimming with character, depth, and color. Sometimes I had to remind myself that I was actually looking at pixel art. The sheer range of enemies types and locations the small indie studio packed into Mercenary Kings is pretty amazing, to say the least.

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At the outset, you’ll have the choice of two skilled mercenaries as your means of dismantling CLAW. First up, the poster child of Mercenary Kings, a modern reincarnation of Rambo, King. The other choice is the female lead, Empress, with her skimpy clothing and bouncing breasts. Either way your dead-set on keeping the findings of the Mandrake project out of the CLAW’s hands. The tone and characters of Mercenary Kings are reminiscent of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, which means they’re pretty awesome. The story exists as a means of furthering your mission progress, which is standard for retro games, but the characters will manage to pull a few smirks out of you along the way.

I played both single player and four-player Co-Op online during my test sessions. I have to say, Co-Op is a ton of fun, but it’s better to play with friends than with random folks. If you don’t know, and can’t hear your teammates, you’ll be missing out on a good portion of the mission. That being said, if you find yourself stuck on a specific mission, going online is the best way to clear it.

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Sound design is another area that just works in Mercenary Kings. There’s nothing astonishing about it, but it simply fits the gameplay style and design very well. Tribute Games focuses wholly on classic game design; and they do it well.

At the end of the day, Mercenary Kings is another shining example of what Kickstarter can do for the games industry. Much like Stoic’s The Banner Saga, Tribute Games was able to create a great looking game, brimming with content via crowdfunding. Like many other games, Mercenary Kings has its weaknesses, but they’re handily outweighed by strengths. Now go blow some shit up!

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Dylan Zellmer

Dylan splits time between games journalism, designing video games, and playing them. Outside of his deep involvement in the games industry, he enjoys It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Shameless, A Song of Ice and Fire, fitness, and family.
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