Overall - 60%
Mercenary Kings has a lot of interesting mechanics, but some are definitely stronger than others. There are moments of brilliance in its battlefield, but those looking for the next big thing best look elsewhere -- this king is merely a prince.
When you think of the classics, we think about games that revolutionized each genre. Metal Slug, Metal Gear Solid, even Monster Hunter — they all brought something new to the table. So hypothetically speaking, combining these classics should make an even better game, right? In the case of Tribute Games’ Mercenary Kings, it’s not quite the sum of its parts.
Let it be said that Mercenary Kings wears its inspiration on its sleeve. The run-n-gun gameplay is reminiscent of Contra and Metal Slug, right down to the throngs of goons. The crafting system and emphasis on loot harkens back to Monster Hunter, while the mission structure and codec-style calls are right out of Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker.
Mercenary Kings brings it all together by putting you in the role of King and Empress, a mercenary duo set out to take down CLAW with their running and gunning skills. Rather than go through a gauntlet of predetermined levels arcade-style, a base allows you can take on missions in your own order on your own time. Want to forage for materials before rescuing eight prisoners? Go for it! This freedom of choice is a breath of fresh air, and gives Mercenary Kings more legs than your typical quarter muncher.
However, Mercenary Kings commits a major faux pas: it’s repetitive. Most levels are open-ended affairs that offer multiple routes, but forcing players to traverse the same areas multiple times makes your mission more like a chore. Level objectives often involve gathering X number of items or freeing Y number of POWs just feels like a laundry list of things to do, made even worse by its bland level layouts. Unlike Metal Slug, there are no dynamic factors — no zombie state, no fat mode, no wooly mammoths, no nothing. Ironically, the game shines when there is a single objective and/or a single path to the end of the level.
This was most likely done to encourage a more methodical feel to proceedings, which could be a boon or a bust depending on what you look for in a game. However, this does not excuse the lack of challenge, making enemy hazards before boss battles feel more like an obstacle than a worthy target.
The challenge is basically nonexistent when using the game’s crafting system. By picking up items like wood and silicon in the field (and a healthy dose of dosh), you can get yourself a nice upgrade to your gun or better armor. The are a lot of variables to play around with, but there are few unique upgrades and almost all of them only serve to make the game even easier. Barring that, you can use your spoils to make your camp quarters all pretty.
On that note, Mercenary King’s hand-drawn sprites by Paul Robertson really stand out. Each character (and enemy for that matter) exude serious charm, but it sometimes feels like Robertson threw a bunch of his doodles into the game and hoped for the best. Sure, that hardened soldiers are right at home, but what’s up with the snails that shoot giant orbs or the rainbow puppy mechs? There are also a number of nods to 90s pop culture icons (almost too much so), so your love for its art will closely hinge on your love for the random/past.
Mercenary Kings has a lot of interesting mechanics, but some are definitely stronger than others. There are moments of brilliance in its battlefield, but those looking for the next big thing best look elsewhere — this king is merely a prince.