Mercenary Kings Review



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Posted April 1, 2014 by

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Mercenary Kings biggest problem is that it knows exactly what it’s supposed to be – a satire of games like Metal Slug, Borderlands and particularly Metal Gear Solid – but it refuses to capitalize on this satire with its game design. If judged on its gameplay alone, it’s no wonder why it took so long to be funded via Kickstarter. Its greatest blessing is that it’s free on PS4 this April, so there’s a good chance that you’ve already downloaded it. It’s just a shame this ten-hour game won’t keep your attention for half of that.



The story is wonderfully clichéd, full of masculinity, borrowed tropes, and stolen plot elements from various side-scrolling shooters like Contra and Metal Slug. The two protagonists, King and Empress, are the biggest, baddest, most kickassing-ist mercenaries in the world, tasked with stopping the nefarious Claw from… something.

The plot isn’t the most complex. In fact, it’s downright non-existent, and only exists as a vehicle to carry the character archetypes and satirical dialogue. The enemy types evolve from soldiers with guns to floating boar heads with little explanation – but that’s half of the daft fun with Mercenary Kings. The other half is the satisfying dig at supernatural elements in covert shooters – Metal Gear Solid’s bells are ringing. King even looks like Solid Snake, with bandana and hidden eyes galore, and both games share the use of the protagonist’s name in the title. Mercenary Kings couldn’t be more on the nose about what it’s trying to satirize if it tried.



Mercenary Kings is more complex than it has any right to be as far as customization is concerned. King and Empress’s outfits, guns and inventory evolve over the course of the campaign, however Mercenary Kings doesn’t waste time frittering with money. Instead, the player picks up resources like pelts, steel and rusty pins in each mission to be crafted back at the base. It’s an interesting mechanic, though it takes way too long to become interesting.

This complaint resonates with the rest of the gameplay. Considering just how difficult the enemies, how weak the guns and low the health bar early on in the game, Mercenary Kings takes way too long to even get to the first primary mission. Depending how good the player is at side-scrolling shooters, the opening can take between 1 and 2 hours as the player is expected to churn through numerous fetch quests. Fetching resources, hostages, enemy-types and more hostages is boring the first time, but when it’s padded out with different exposition, yet plastered over the same two levels, it just becomes tedious. No matter what the medium, unnecessary padding is always inexcusable, and Mercenary Kings is no exception.

Looked at on a purely artistic scale, the small, similar level design still causes the player to run back and forth in a blind daze searching for hostages and fox pelts. It’s hard not to see a similarity between scouring a base for hostages in Metal Gear Solid and diving around the jungles and temples as King. Even the codec conversations with the colonel are blatant parodies of Metal Gear’s exposition.

It’s clearly designed for a multiplayer experience. Both the couch and online co-op modes support up to four players, and it’s satisfying to see the laser-shotgun team up with a friend’s sniper-pistol. However due to such repetitive level design and boring mission objectives, Mercenary Kings outstays its welcome long before you can grind the absurd amount required to upgrade to the really interesting weapons like toilet plungers or butcher’s knives. All of the players share the three lives afforded to them at the beginning of each mission too, so if a kamikaze gamer joins in co-op, expect little progress. Even then, the gameplay barely changes in co-op. The objectives are still boring, the levels are repetitious, and the bosses aren’t nearly as interesting as they ought to be. Mercenary Kings isn’t a game which requires much strategy other than the old hop-and-shoot mechanics of retro shooters.



One thing Mercenary Kings doesn’t steal from Metal Gear Solid is its beautiful art style. The team behind Scott Pilgrim vs The World: The Video Game have taken what they learned in the past and enhanced it. The pixelated art style may look simple, but the minor animations of King, Empress and the world around them bring the characters and world to life, and the colour palette is absolutely gorgeous. Even the use of the dualshock controller’s light – which takes on the colour of King’s chosen outfit – is a nice touch.

However the style takes an obscure turn during local co-op. The screen is split down the middle, with both players’ screens being minimized to the quarters of the screen rather than the expected half. The remaining screen is taken up by two tiny mini-maps, too small to be of any use. Combine this with the unnecessarily long loading times, and it spoils much of the pleasure which can be taken by drinking in Mercenary King’s art style. Since when were 2D side-scrollers more resource-heavy than games like Infamous: Second Son?



It’s difficult to comment on Mercenary King’s voice-acting. Dialogue hasn’t been recorded for the codec conversations for the cut-scene exposition, however it has been recorded for in-game gestures like Sorry or Move Out! For what it’s worth, the sound is crisp and the voice-acting is up to standard. Instead, it’s the soundtrack which needs to be commented on.

Each area has a new rhythm and a new beat. No matter how repetitive the level design gets, the songs never do. Even after the game outstays its welcome, the temple level’s jingle remains, echoing around at the back of the player’s head. If the game isn’t worth buying, the soundtrack definitely is.



Mercenary Kings is a satire of side-scrolling shoot ‘em ups with very few laughs. The game design borrows and steals from Metal Gear Solid and Metal Slugs while it mocks them, but the mockery is similar to that of Wayans movies like Scary Movie. It’s very on the nose, and is a worse game than those it makes fun of. No matter how beautiful the art style or memorable the soundtrack, Mercenary Kings is flawed and tedious, even if its heart is in the right place.



 Written by Guest Contributor: Alex Lamont


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Guest Contributor

Guest Contributor