Mercenary Kings Review

Old school remixed.

Fresh takes on old ideas can still thrill, but they fail to impress when developers adhere too closely to a template. Mercenary Kings, a 2D platform/shooter hybrid that often plays like classic Mega Man games, avoids such a fate by taking on the appearance of a bloodier Metal Slug and mixing that with item crafting and objectives that more closely resemble newer fare such as Monster Hunter. It's an unusual mix that occasionally works well, but only if you give it the chance it might not immediately seem to deserve.

The adventure begins once you pick a mercenary: either Empress or King, who recently perished in a catastrophic battle against a military organization called CLAW. Both heroes are now alive thanks to experimental science made possible by the Mandragora Project (named after the lush jungle island where the research lab was built). Their enemies hope to use that same precious knowledge not to save lives, but to usher in a horrifying new world that makes the current population superfluous. There are some surprisingly dark themes, offset by cartoony artwork and a fast-paced soundtrack that keep it all from becoming depressing.

Let's play duck, duck, mech!

As your chosen hero, you must complete numerous timed missions for your superior. They almost always take place in sprawling action stages that feature a primary directive--infiltrate, sabotage, capture, neutralize, rendezvous, or gather--along with optional conditions you can satisfy for additional rewards. Despite the stated differences, you're usually just expected to shoot everything that moves until you bring down a boss or grab a key item. There are over 100 stages, arranged in a tiered system by rank and taking place within a limited number of unique areas. A paltry ten core missions walk you along the path to the closing credits, but you might spend 40 or 50 hours navigating overly similar corridors and engaging palette-swapped adversaries in order to access those additional ranks, story missions, and resources. It's a shame there aren't more visually unique environs and enemy units.

A typical stage offers you 15 to 30 minutes to do your damage, but you rarely need that much time. You can bring only a limited number of supplies with you from camp, and you generally need to fill up half your space with C4 or shock bombs, so the real challenge is resource management. You can call in support crates a couple of times per stage, but it's best to save those for emergency situations, such as when you need still more explosives to blast through arbitrary barriers that sometimes await you. For health recovery, you should instead seek out the infirmaries that serve as checkpoints and safe zones. You recuperate while you wait. As you improve your armor, the time required to fill a drained life meter extends past a full minute. There's no option to considerably speed up the pace, either, even if you're prepared to occupy one of your two precious passive ability slots with a regenerative skill.

A paltry 10 core missions walk you along the path to the closing credits, but you spend much of the 40 or 50 hours navigating overly similar corridors and engaging palette-swapped adversaries.

The good news is that when you're playing well and have learned how stages and enemies function, it's relatively easy to go long stretches without taking damage, provided you're patient. Early on, you can almost always avoid enemy shots by simply ducking, or you can deflect them with a well-timed thrust of your chosen blade. A lot of maps also feature showdowns with minibosses or your primary target, but it's easy to learn and predict their attack patterns. Things only get difficult if you let yourself hurry, because then it's common to make costly mistakes.

Mercenary Kings becomes more manageable as you progress. When you first start playing, there's a lot to keep track of, and you might not even realize you have some of the resources you do. The developers don't spend much time introducing you to the basics, which is nice because it allows you to jump right in and start causing mayhem in the name of justice, but you need to pay close attention to the various systems at play. If you don't, you're in for a miserable time and probably missing about half of the game's appeal.

Severe gingivitis never ends well, but this is perhaps a bit much.

The hardest element to overlook is the gun crafting, which provides ample incentive for you to keep completing missions, though it's convoluted. Every enemy may drop a valuable component, such as copper or leather or something rarer, and those goodies let you piece together a slew of weapons. There are machine guns, shotguns, pistols, assault rifles, and more. Optional barrels, scopes, magazines, and stocks affect attack power, range, and even potential for elemental damage. Those can be mixed and matched, if you find complementary parts, and the process is rewarding. It's amazing how much different the same areas feel when you're blazing through them while firing homing missiles, versus taking a more measured approach. The downside is that the stronger you are, the slower you move. If you're overly encumbered, movement is exasperatingly sluggish. There's always a trade-off in Mercenary Kings.

Even the promising multiplayer mode has unfortunate drawbacks. Unless you're playing with a friend, it's difficult to know what to expect. You could easily meet someone who doesn't understand the game like you do, which is frustrating if he or she then shoots a captive you were supposed to free or exterminates a boss the mission clearly calls for you to capture. Voice chat isn’t supported, which could have allowed some much-needed communication. Instead, there are text phrases you can select with your controller, though no option for "Don’t kill him, you idiot!" Additionally, cohorts who fall in combat must resume play from the last checkpoint unless you brought along an adrenaline needle instead of something more useful. In theory, having an ally by your side means you still come out ahead, but not if he's unwittingly sabotaging your efforts and grabbing all of the loot.

Someone probably needs to lay off the espresso.

Technical issues provide another annoyance. Even when you're playing alone, the game sometimes lags. You might be jumping along a series of ledges over a spike-lined pit, and suddenly the game glitches for a crucial second. Or you're fighting a boss and the action pauses, only to resume an instant later as you're taking damage. It doesn't happen persistently, but it's irritating when it does. Then there are the load times. Simply booting up the game takes long enough that you might wonder if your system has frozen. You wait 30 seconds or more as most missions load, and then again when they conclude. If you're frequently entering and exiting missions, it's downright tedious.

Mercenary Kings pays homage to a hodgepodge of classic games hailing from an era when bits were the digital currency. Charming art design, an infectious soundtrack, and compelling weapon crafting supplement the standard action, but too much recycled content, irritating technical issues, and occasionally confounding design prevent the project from ever surpassing its inspiration. The result appeals to an old-school sensibility, but you'll need to overcome some unfortunate obstacles to see the appeal.

The Good
Engaging weapon crafting offers an incentive to keep exploring
Cartoon artwork keeps the grim themes cheery
Fast-paced music fuels the onscreen action
An unusual blend of classic platforming and run-and-gun mayhem
The Bad
There's too much information to keep straight
There aren't enough unique areas or enemies
Load times can be tough to take
Occasional hiccups, even when playing alone
6
Fair
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Jason Venter spent nearly 50 hours exploring Mandragora Island to review Mercenary Kings, which is still a mere fraction of the time he previously enjoyed with many of the 8-bit and 16-bit action games that served as Mercenary Kings' obvious inspiration.

Discussion

51 comments
johnlewis107
johnlewis107

I was really disappointing with this game. I was expecting the constant action of Metal Slug, but Mercenary Kings just feels slow, and you're usually only fighting one stationary enemy at a time.

gruber23
gruber23

Surprised to hear no mention of this game's very frustrating mission design. The first three missions of the game seem unbeatable, not because of high skill, but because of annoying missions where I have to wander around trying to find eight snipers and die because I couldn't find more than six in 20 mins. Just seems like bad design to me.

I get the game wants me to build up better weapons and mods, but I don't think I need to grind to get a better gun when I just can't find that one stray captive. Steal Someone’s Facebook Username and Password

lewishim666
lewishim666

This game is a great deal better then "6.1 fair". It deserves an eight at least. In the "about the author" section it says that the reviewer spent 50 hours with this game which "is still a mere fraction of the time he previously enjoyed with many of the 8-bit and 16-bit action games that served as Mercenary Kings' obvious inspiration." I don't understand how someone can play a game for 50 hours and still say it's just "fair". Any game that you spend that much time with has to be good, at least great. It doesn't take 50 hours to beat this game. There was no reason for him to continue to keep playing after he beat it. Also in the negative column it says "There aren't enough unique areas or enemies". How can he say this is a negative when he apparently played games that take a fraction (2-3 hours) of this time to beat for at least 100 hour. If I remember correctly when you play a game over again you see the same enemies and areas over again. So if you play a game that takes about 2-3 hours to beat for 100 hours total then you are going to see the same areas and enemies over and over again. Even if you played that game for 50 hours you would still see the same areas and enemies like 20 times a piece. Excluding bosses Contra had 1 enemy the whole game. So why is this reviewer okay with seeing the same enemies over and over again in truly retro games but not in Mercenary Kings? At least in Mercenary Kings you have loot which is different every time.

So many people completely missed the point of this game. The loot. It's not repetitive. You're supposed to be focusing on the loot and making better guns. This isn't contra or metal slug. You're not supposed to be thinking of it the same way. You're not supposed to be just running and gunning, trying to complete it as fast as possible. If you're just trying to beat it fast then you're missing the point. Hell if you put as much effort into playing the game as you do complaining you might enjoy it.


The load times are not that long at all. To those calling this an SNES game and complaining about the load times, this is nothing like an SNES game. I know you're just trying to be facetious but you're not. You're just being stupid. If anything it's a NEO-GEO game. SNES never looked this good. Even if it could have achieved this resolution. The color depth is way better in Mercenary Kings. This is pixel art. The difference is that an SNES game is low resolution and this is high resolution. It is just made to look like low resolution graphics. I'm sure all of you know this is pixel art, so why are you acting so stupid? The resolution is nearly 5x that of your average SNES game. The load times are probably so long because this is a small team and they probably only utilized one core, that and the game is  FIVE TIMES the resolution of an SNES game. Optimizing the game for all of the cores would have been a waste of time and money for a game like this. The only thing to be gained by doing this would have been load times since the one core can easily run a 2d game like this at full speed. It  would have made the game cost more so stop complaining about stupid stuff.

psuedospike
psuedospike

Take Contra and mix in some Borderlands and you get Merc Kings.


Personally I think this game is awesome!  Great music, gameplay and retro graphics sold me, but the precise and punishing gameplay kept me coming back for more.  I will say the technical problems are annoying, like why does it take so long to load playing a SNES game on PS4!?  Also, why is the multiplayer so bad at matchmaking and it has crashed on me more than a few times making me lose progress.  Hopefully, these problems will be fixed in future patches, but otherwise I really like this game and since I got it for FREE I can't complain.


Great game - 7.5/10

perphektxero
perphektxero

I get bored playing this game after a few minutes, find it really hard to finish missions.  And I am tired of the "retro" graphics.  I didn't buy a PS4 to play SNES games.

rasterror
rasterror

It's a cool game but only for a short time. I was bored with it after 3 hours. I was excited to play this because it looked like an open world Metal Slug but it just lacks character. If you have a PC get Broforce instead. Maybe if I play it softly more I'll get into it more.

slotheater
slotheater

gorgeous pixel art!..  beautiful game!.

SillySkeleton
SillySkeleton

How can a 2D platformer/shooter have such bad load times? I'll reserve my judgement until I play it, but this alone could make me put the game down long before I otherwise would have.

hitomo
hitomo

oh look, its the 90s again ...

jinzo9988
jinzo9988

There are two ways they could've gone with this.  One was a traditional point-A to point-B romp that's an hour or two long, or a game like this that, while repetitive, offers a lot more hours of play.  Personally I would've preferred one big game world in the style of Metroid with warp points being helipads, but it's an alternate take on the same basic design presented in the actual game anyway.

kpipes
kpipes

I'd give this an 8. The 6 is way too harsh. I've had a lot of fun with it over about 8 hours of play. It's got the classic old school side scrolling fun element for anyone who grew up on NES/SNES. Art direction is great and it's a good time waster. The equipment customization is a ton of fun alone.


The price tag is the only ridiculous thing - no way it's worth $20. $10-12 probably more realistic. For those of us on PS+ though it really doesn't matter :)


The review touches on the issue around learning curve and understanding how the hell the crafting goes together but honestly I found that a breath of fresh air. I'm so damn sick of hand holding in games. Just give me some options and let me learn my way around by trying it myself. AAA games have taken hand holding to a new level in hopes of getting more casual gamers. 

LpcWarrior
LpcWarrior

I haven't noticed long load times, but the game is a bit repetitive. Then again I love the Dynasty Warriors series and that is all repetition. Still, I'm having fun with it. 

sleepnsurf
sleepnsurf

Boring and repetitive, what else can I say? 

Coldpain
Coldpain

The poor optimization of the game initially turned me off, along with the load times. I gave it a second go and actually liked it a little bit better the second time around.


I think a 6 is a fair score because if I had paid for this game, even at $15 I would have been slightly disappointed...

chibistevo32
chibistevo32

Lack of variety killed this game. People who say the weapon variety is endless are easily fooled, just like Borderlands players are fooled by generic weapon archtypes with minimal numerical changes to different outputs.


The main draw was the Monster Hunter esque loot gathering/crafting aspect, and it falls flat because there's just not enough to aim for. The weapon setups are all limited, the missions few and boring, the bosses likewise, few and boring.


Loot and craft games rely on the idea that a player feels both a dire need to do so to progress, and also feels a heavy accomplishment when they attain said gear. Mercenary Kings just doesn't have that appeal.

Ripper_TV
Ripper_TV

You simply CAN'T play online if you're not level 9999 or something. People won't start a mission with you. Fail game.

VegasAceVII
VegasAceVII

I didn't play this but 30 minutes and had seen enough.  Online players are also incredibly obnoxious.

Ahiru-San
Ahiru-San

boring and slow… 6 is a fair score for it. 

TrueProphecy22
TrueProphecy22

Those load times really got to me.  I'm finding that the game chugs and pauses pretty often too. 

glassesboy
glassesboy

Fun game with friends. Would give it a 7 though, but that's just me :D

donutboy
donutboy

Personally, I give this game a solid 8.0. Majority of people who have PS4 have this for free since they more than likely have PS Plus so that alone is an automatic bonus. There is a HUGE amount of variety here, from endless weapon crafting combos to the enemy types(over 100 here) and great boss battles. The game is just a blast to play, especially if your into old school sidescrollers like myself then you'll certainly enjoy this. A game you definitely shouldn't judge by screenshots because there is allot more than meets the eye here. Very reminiscent of Metal Slug with a modern touch.

alenth
alenth

I disagree, there is enough variety to keep you entertained, and the game is a mix between metal slug and metroid, is really fun specially with a partner, however you need patience to learn the game.


This is the typical "AAA" gaming mentality that if you can't be on godlike mode in the first hour, then the game is frustrating lol.



NTM23
NTM23

I only played about an hour of it, and from what I played, it was better than a 6.0, but it also had a few problems. I didn't like it quite as much as Scott Pilgrim. 

lukey52
lukey52

Personally highly enjoyed the first 10 hours or so but after that it sadly feels repetitive and I don't see myself finishing all 100+ missions.


Don't think I came across any bugs during that play but I have to agree that the load times are nuts and unacceptable given the game size.

b74kd3th
b74kd3th

Lol more garbage on the ps4

Danprince10
Danprince10

 This is a bad review, 2 of the negatives are completely unfounded, there is definitely not too much information to keep straight. Your basically complaining because they game included additional systems and layers of depth by having customizable guns, food, mods, etc. They put a lot into the game. That's a good thing not a bad thing. Take your time and learn these systems as you go, not everything should be hand fed to the player and  be "if I can't completely master how this 1 thing works in 5 minutes it's bad" , that's the kind of attitude that is a hindrance on lot's of modern triple A games, way too much handholding. 


To say that aren't enough unique enemies is completely ridiculous, there are over 100 different enemies you encounter throughout the game. Off the top of my head this is like between 5-10 times the amount of different enemies you would see in the old megaman/contra/slug games.


Load time is a legitimate complaint, the game is 300mbs total size, so I don't understand how it could possibly take so long to load some of the areas which is does take it's time with. You see the graphics in the screenshots, I love the style but the load time should be snappy.


Can't comment on the hiccups, I personally did not experience them at all but I can't say without a doubt that that means they don't ever happen to anyone.


This game is a great game with wayyyy more content/gameplay hours then you would get out of the typical triple A game you see on the market today. Bare minimum it's a 7.5/10 if you are someone who enjoys the genre (which the reviewer claims to be). Realistically an even higher score would be more accurate imo.

PAL360
PAL360

'There aren't enough unique areas and enemies' Seriously? There are like 100 different enemy types!

Great game, i would give it a 7.5. Remembers me a mix of Metal Slug, Contra and Rick Dangerous.

Phrase_Universe
Phrase_Universe

Personally, I like this a game a lot. Been fun going down memory lane. There's a few issues, but hopefully some patches are coming down the pipe. 

lewishim666
lewishim666

@chibistevo32  

Your the only one being fooled. Being fooled into thinking you're intelligent or know something. This game has lots of variety. So does Borderlands. No one said Borderlands or this game have infinite possibilities. They do have nearly endless possibilities though. Last I checked different means different. If the stats are different on a gun then it is different. It is not the same gun. If those stats are never the same then that means the options are endless. With all games like this it's not about the looks. It's about what the weapon does. With all games like this the items look similar but since the stats are what matters they are effectively different items. It seems like you're worried about what something looks like instead of what it does. I'm guessing you're also someone who worries about graphics too since your worried about what the guns look like instead of what they do.

lewishim666
lewishim666

@Ripper_TV  

What exactly does that have to do with the quality of the game? How people behave online has nothing to do with the quality of the game and whether it is a "fail game" or not. What do you want the developers to program a bunch of robots to play with you? Oh wait everytime a developer adds bots to a game the only thing people can say is how stupid the AI is. Some people are impossible to please and they are stupid.

glassesboy
glassesboy

@b74kd3th  Honestly, people can say the same about Kinect games... except those are actually exclusive "garbage". 

Coldpain
Coldpain

@Danprince10  I dunno, the game is graphically unimpressive and has massive load times...um what? It also suffers from occasional stuttering. I've played 8 different games on the PS4 now and this is the only one I've had that problem with. Garbage.

NTM23
NTM23

@PAL360  How can it be great, and then you give it a 7.5? That's not quite 'great'.

lewishim666
lewishim666

@RoachRush @hitomo 

Agreed. Before all the creativity was sucked out of the games industry. Before we had cookie cutter games coming out every year with nothing changed but the name. There's a reason we keep getting retro games and that because they are from a time in gaming that was actually good. That and the fact that the only thing developers know how to do no-a-days is copy the ideas of other games. All originality is gone. this game is awesome. I feel it has enough creativity for it to not just be a copy and paste of another game.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@Xirtahm  

b74kd3th didn't say anything that suggests that he/she thought that this is a PS4 exclusive.

Maybe you are letting your assumptions do most of your thinking.

PAL360
PAL360

@NTM23 @PAL360  

It depends on how you rate games. For me 6 = ok, 7 = good, 8 = great, 9 = brilliant 10 = masterpiece. Very few games are worth 9 and 10, in my opinion, and a 7.5 is a game i really liked.

lewishim666
lewishim666

@Gelugon_baat @porcupeth123@Danprince10 

Yes and in his opinion the reviewers opinion is bad. Which I agree with. The reviewer contradicts himself a couple of times. Almost as if he had some outside source guiding/persuading him. It is a fact that this game has 5-10 times the variety in enemies. It is also a fact that this game provides considerably more content then old school shooters used to.

Gelugon_baat
Gelugon_baat

@Danprince10

Oh sure, your opinions are "facts". That's typically self-righteous.

As for your remark about "7.5 minimum", isn't that bias already?

Danprince10
Danprince10

@Gelugon_baat @porcupeth123 @Danprince10  The only thing I said imo to is that I personally would give it even higher than a 7.5. But if you're a fan of the genre you should give it a 7.5 minimum. Did you even read my post? I spent the whole post detailing why it was a bad review not of that was imo that was just facts. I drop one imo at the end having nothing to do with the rest and the guy calls me defensive lol.

Mercenary Kings More Info

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  • First Released
    • Macintosh
    • PC
    • + 2 more
    • PlayStation Vita
    • PS4
    In this frantic 2D action game, you are part of the Mercenary Kings, the most skilled team of warriors-for-hire on Earth, but when your comrades have fallen and the fearsome forces of CLAW have seized an island-wide top secret Laboratory Base, you must do what it takes to stop them.
    6
    Average User RatingOut of 33 User Ratings
    Please Sign In to rate Mercenary Kings
    Developed by:
    Tribute Games Inc., Tribute Games
    Published by:
    Tribute Games Inc., Tribute Games
    Genres:
    2D, Action, Shooter
    Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
    Teen
    PS4 PC VITA
    Blood and Gore, Comic Mischief, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco, Violence
    Content is generally suitable for ages 17 and up. May contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.
    Mature
    MAC