Mercenary Kings Reloaded Edition by Tribute Games is, appropriately, a tribute to classics like Contra and Mega Man, and draws inspiration from generations of side-scrolling shoot-em-ups with the added twist of crafting systems, weapon customization and a mission-based format in favor of the far more prevalent arcade-style stage-based games of old.
Mercenary Kings focuses on a mercenary company called The Kings, who are gunned down by rival company, CLAW. In order to bring King and his fellow soldiers back from the brink of death, they are infused with Mandrake formula, a secret serum which greatly enhances their bodies’ healing abilities. CLAW has now taken over the secret island laboratory where the Mandrake formula was created, capturing the project’s lead engineer in the process. To keep the island’s secrets out of enemy hands, it’s up to the Kings to stomp CLAW out.
GAMEPLAY & CONTROLS
Playable solo, or with up to 4 players, gameplay in Mercenary Kings is a straightforward, satisfying loop of platforming, shooting, gathering, and upgrading. Select missions to gather supplies, rescue prospective team members, eliminate enemy troops, or more before deploying to the area map. Enemies can drop upgrade materials players can use to create armor, weapons, or unique modifiers, which adds a layer of strategy and sense of progress to the substantial campaign.
While it lends itself well to gathering materials without making repeat trips to the same mission, the game’s tendency to respawn enemies as soon as their bodies are out of sight can get a bit aggravating. During my time with the game I was often harried by the same flying enemy I had killed 4 or 5 times as I traveled back and forth across the map.
Co-op is fun and frenetic, although even when only two characters are onscreen, the game splits the visual real estate into four parts, (reserving the bottom half of the screen for two copies of the area map, one usable by each player) making it difficult to read menus even on a large television.
Another mild frustration reared its head when I was playing with a partner of a different skill level. Each mission allows only three deaths before an automatic failure kicks you and your team back to the base. This can be distressing to new players who need a bit of help getting their sea legs, as some levels are already difficult even before considering the three death limit. (I’m looking at you, giant mech boss levels.)
GRAPHICS & SOUND
A stylish re-imagining of what a classic SNES run and gun might look like, Mercenary Kings has fantastic art direction and visual design, which not only hold up fantastically on the Switch screen, but also contain many references to classic military franchises like Metal Gear, Rambo, and more. If the style looks familiar to you, it may be because the team is also responsible for the fantastic Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game.
The game is graphically (if stylishly) violent, and Tribute’s masterful approach to Mercenary King’s visual aesthetic is only bested by the game’s soundtrack.
I played a bit of Mercenary Kings when it launched on PS4 in April of 2014, and swiftly picked up the soundtrack, which has been a constant in my music rotation ever since. From time to time the title theme and first level track pop back into my head, even after spending months or years away from the game. This is how you do retro-style soundtracks, so do yourself a favor and check it out on YouTube.
Mercenary Kings is a great game, and there is a lot to love with it. Although recent games have trained me to depend on more lenient jump mechanics and were a bit more forgiving on the whole, Mercenary Kings is the type of game which made me want to get better so I could experience more of it. It’s also a game in which making mistakes or even outright failing didn’t make me want to stop (except for those giant mech fights).
Mercenary Kings has one of the most memorable soundtracks, and some of the best art direction I’ve seen in years, so if you want a game with old school sensibilities, that has some meat on the bone, this is one to chew on.
Platform – Nintendo Switch eShop Download
Publisher – Tribute Games
Developer – Tribute Games Inc.
Price – $19.99
Genre – Action, First Person, Platformer, Multiplayer
Size – 239 MB
Brian Barnett has loved video games ever since his uncle Jimmy introduced him to them at the ripe old age of five. His wife, Audrey, was also introduced to video games by her uncle, lending credence to Brian’s theory that behind every gamer, there is a cool uncle.
Since playing Super Mario Bros. on the NES, Brian has had a passion for Nintendo games. The first thing he did when he started earning money was save up and buy himself a Game Boy, and they quickly became inseparable. Through the years, this led to his special love of portable game consoles, so the release of the Switch is the perfect storm of Nintendo action he has been waiting for.
In addition to his gaming obsession, Brian enjoys playing drums, writing and listening to music, and hosting a weekly video game and nerd culture podcast.
He is an extrovert, and loves talking about and playing games with others, so let him know if you want to team up and play together!
Plays: Switch, New 3DS, SNES, NES, GBA, PC, Xbox One, PS4, Vita