By Jason Parker (Ragachak)
Welcome to the Tropic (Thunder)!
Oh, come on. I had to do it. Mercenary Kings is a title by Tribute Games, famous for their console title, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game. Though the same artist - the fantastic Paul Robertson – provides design, the gameplay is incredibly different. In Mercenary Kings, you play as King (or Empress) and you are the most badass mercenary walking the planet. Your every step is a warning to anything before you that they are most likely about to explode in a hail of bullets. Originally released early last year on Steam, thanks to Kickstarter, Mercenary Kings now has online multiplayer (four players), local co-op, and a PS4 release, free to PSN+ users. This alone has made me glad I have PSN+, because Mercenary Kings is a blast from the past with a touch of the future.
I started my adventure into the wilderness blasting defenseless animals as “Empress,” the female of the team. Character stats do not change depending on which character you choose, so pick whichever you prefer. Most of my play was single player, but I did get fortunate towards the end, and grabbed a friend or two to cause some carnage with me. One of my guildmates in Final Fantasy XIV, as well as my good friend Phil, joined me in the woods; they also showed me a few neat tricks with my gun to make the most of my damage. The customization options are many, and there are a host of Easter eggs that I found, which filled me with nostalgia and joy. It shows respect to many titles, the biggest being Metal Gear Solid through the communication screen; I chuckled and grinned stupidly as I watched the silly dialogue unfold between characters.
The Mercenary CLAWS
King and Empress are employees of the Colonel, fighting against the CLAW Corporation, a flimsy excuse for a private army on a once-deserted Island. There are a number of other people on the team that help you in your mission of conquest and violence, who you have to free from the clutches of CLAW. As you progress, the camp has more options, such as upgrading your knife (such as a seashell that emits lightning), or even Zelda 1’s “Wooden Sword.” You can upgrade your body with modifications and tools to help you, such as an auto-parachute when you descend certain distances. Mods like this can be a double-edged sword however; I cannot count the number of times I slow-fell into my own demise. Customization is the real big winner of this game. Some of it is goofy, some of it is lethal. A great example would be my current gun, which is an assault rifle. The scope is … well, there’s no way to put it, other than it is a part of a porcelain throne. Yes, I have a toilet part attached to my rifle, as a scope. Why? Well, why not?
There are of course items as well: First Aid kits, rations, riot shields and more to assist you in the missions that lay ahead. Of course, none of this is free. Just as you get paid to kill, you pay your crew to outfit you. It would be nice to just stock all of your money, but ultimately, it is there just to get you ahead. From Fashion Designers to a Knife Expert, your camp is packed to the brim with a team that is ready to deliver this island to freedom; freedom away from CLAW! There are so many different options; several I have not unlocked yet because I don’t have the parts. But there are some truly fantastic ways to make this game fast-paced and exciting. From bouncing fire bullets, to caustic bullets that melt shields and punch through resistances, freezing bullets and even a wide spray option. The options are countless. Pump action shotguns that require you to reload constantly, and 32 bullet magazines, ready to spray and pray. Luckily, this game has infinite ammo; you just have to hit R1 to reload and hit within the yellow or green part of the bar to be ready to go. Failure will equal having to wait longer to shoot people.
This game is a blast. There are lots of missions, with each military rank offering new challenges; new rewards; and a constant barrage of enemies to shoot the crap out of. I did notice that not all of the “kill” missions were simply fighting X amount of this type of enemy, or defeating Y boss. One of the more creative missions I set out upon was to “Capture a Steel Soldier.” The Steel Soldier is the pilot of a humongous robot that has a rocket fist and carries a cleaver. If you blow up the suit, he dies, and your mission fails - as I found the hard way, with a trophy to prove it. Instead there is a shock grenade you have to throw into the cockpit to nail him, just before the robot explodes from too much damage. This can take a little doing, and the farther you progress, the greater the challenges.
It is unfortunate that Mercenary Kings suffers from the same trouble that many platformers and run’n’guns do: repetition. While the stages do change from rank to rank, many of the maps, while using that beautiful “Scott Pilgrim” sprite style, do suffer from performing the same types of missions again and again. After the tenth or twentieth “gathering” mission, I start to feel like I’m playing an MMO. But at least in this MMO if I dislike my surroundings, I can cover them in violence and destruction, massacring everyone on the screen that is not me. Well, everyone except hostages; and even then, there were hostage stages where I wondered to myself how my bullets just grazed the ropes.
Multiplayer more than makes up for doing the same thing over and over, because at least now you are doing it with your friends. Camaraderie can more than make up for it; poor jokes and laughter add a new element of fun to the game. One thing I would like to see is some manner of open-world mode, where you can just wander all of the stages connected and cause violence. Maybe randomly spawned missions? That would be terrific.
Run’n’Shoot 2: Electric Boogaloo
I have to say, I was very pleased with Mercenary Kings, published thanks to the supporters on Kickstarter. Originally asking for $75,000, they received almost $120,000, and they did not disappoint. The lack of other modes to play in can be seen as a drawback, but there are tons of missions to explore, and multiplayer can also offset this oversight. All in all, I feel like this is the total indie package. Besides Dynasty Warriors, this is easily the title that I have spent the most time in on the PS4, and there’s no signs of my addiction slowing down. One other thing I feel it could benefit from is cross Steam-PS4 play; the majority of people I know personally play on Steam, and boy would that be a blast! To anyone with a PS4: if you have not downloaded this, you are wasting your PSN+.
The sprites’ similarities to Scott Pilgrim vs. the World in no way detract from the beauty of this game. It is a simple style and lends itself well to the run’n’gun genre. The characters are all unique and goofy, while being sort of serious at the same time. From the Colonels’ bristling mustache and beard, to the Knife Expert’s resemblance to Hugh Jackman, the world is beautiful and worth exploring. Each map is something special, and offers something unique in the video game world that we have not seen since the days of platformers like Earthworm Jim.
The controls are nice and solid all around. It’s not terribly complex and simple to figure out on the fly. The only thing I would have changed was allowing dash roll and then jumping at the end for a fluid motion, but that could be unlocked a little later on down the line. I have died to misjumps and misfires, but that was due to my own lack of skill, and not the controller set up.
While there are not many modes at all (only multiplayer story and single player story), the customization more than compensates. Each player’s weapon and tent are bound to be different, with hundreds of different choices you can make for your weapons. Whether you want a laser pistol, rifle, SMG, or assault rifle, the choices are endless. You can modify yourself, the colors you wear, hell, you can add banners to the inside of your tent to represent a nation, or a hamburger (in a manner sort of similar to banners in Call of Duty). I do hope to see more modes and exciting additions to this game, but as it stands, it is more than playable.
When I saw the game was made by the same team that made Scott Pilgrim, I was direly hoping to hear the wonderful sounds of Anamanaguchi; sadly, this did not appear to be the case. This is not to say that Patrice Bourgeault is anything to sneeze at! The feel of the 80s military action movie music felt right at home. I was just expecting something and did not get it. The synthesized, sometimes grindy sounds feel just about perfect. The sounds of guns blasting and animals squeaking, and then exploding . . . while it can become monotonous after several sessions of play, it still remains a fun sound to hear during gameplay.
Total Score: Great