Four years after its initial release on Steam, Mercenary Kings from Tribute Games Inc. has made its way to the Switch. With two parts Metal Slug, one part Contra, one part Metal Gear, and a tiny dash of Fall Out, this Kickstarter led 2D action game is not without flaws but does manage to entertain and be a great addition to the Switch’s portable lineup.
The premise of Mercenary Kings is straight out of a 1980’s action fest. As part of the Mercenary Kings, you are a member of the greatest gun-for-hire groups on the planet. Without warning, the majority of your team is wiped out in quite the gruesome fashion by the sinister group known as CLAW (I guess someone loved inspector gadget as a kid). With only two survivors, you must rebuild the group and go after CLAW, who have just taken over a secret island laboratory base and the dangerous weapons contained within.
Players get to chose from different characters to play as, each with different sayings, attributes, and a few unique weapons. I don’t feel the game plays any different based on your choice of avatar, but I’m sure players will have their preference. The first few missions of the game have you rescuing more team members to add to the ranks. Each of these individuals are experts in a specific field, such as weaponry, knife making, piloting, medicine, etc. After you rescue each teammate, they are able to help you on your missions.
As you run-and-gun through each of the over one-hundred missions, you’re able to pick up various items to aid in the crafting of better weapons and necessities. Once you’ve gathered enough of the required material, simply visit one of the aforementioned genius teammates who will upgrade your weapons, body armor, and overall equipment. When it comes to crafting, I typically think of big open world games like Fallout, but having the option to do it in what’s especially a 16-bit game that I could have played on my Neo Geo, is actually quite fun.
The jungle setting does get a tad repetitive after a while, as there is only so much you can do and change to make things look different or unique, but the varied nature of enemies to blast away does tend to make up for it. From normal grunts that are easily killed with one shot, to giant behemoths and mechanized warriors, players will enjoy the challenge. This is not to say the game is extremely difficult, but it certainly isn’t a breeze either. I found I had to restart a mission more than once because I either ran through my limited lives or wasn’t able to complete the mission in the time allotted. Once the timer runs out, the mission is lost, and you’re sent immediately back to base (the same happens if you lose all your lives).
Each mission comes with a monetary reward for completing it in its entirety. The more things you miss or fail to pick-up/achieve, the less money you get in the end. Throughout the mission, you’re able to use a transceiver to call in favors from your crew. Need some health, a different weapon, and mission advice? Just dial up the right person in a similar fashion to the old Metal Gear codec. These requests cost you, so keep that in mind before going crazy. You’ll need to save up as much of the bounty you receive from missions in order to craft/buy better weapons and equipment. As nice as the standard gun is, you’re really going to want to upgrade to something better as the levels increase in difficulty.
Gamers can most definitely go at it solo, or they can play both online and offline 4-player co-op. Like the original Contra, this is one of those games that is exceptionally fun with two or more players. There can be a lot going on in these missions with enemies flying at you from all directions. I can attest to the fact that having an extra gun or two on your side would greatly relieve some of the pressure. It’s another instance where the Joy-Cons and the overall portability of the system really shine, and we had a ton of fun playing co-op with this one.
As an added treat, the character animations in Mercenary Kinds have been designed by Paul Robertson, best known for his work on Scott Pilgrim and Pixel. Robertson’s designs fit the game perfectly, using a great balance of 80’s camp and pure machismo to give each character a unique look and feel. It’s the little touches when a developer goes out of its way to bring in someone like Robertson that I really appreciate. To me, this makes the game stand out from the clutter.
Overall, I really enjoyed blasting my way through Mercenary Kings. It’s nothing entirely new, but the little things like crafting and calling in for supplies really adds to its enjoyment. I do enjoy a good run-and-gun game, especially ones that remind me of stuff from back in the day, but even I have to admit it got a little repetitive. I know this is a common complaint of mine, but I call it like I see it. I also felt the difficulty was a bit erratic, with some levels being exceptionally easy, while others unnecessary difficult.
There are a lot of things right with Mercenary Kings, and fans of 2D action shoot-em-ups will definitely want to give it a try. While you’re at it, grab some friends, because fun times will most definitely be had by all.