I've done my fair share of supporting the Early Access games. Not all of them, I feel, are worth the price of admission, but a few of them seem like they carry the sort of intrigue worth a gander. And gander I did. One game I've been itching to play since it debuted on Kickstarter was Mercenary Kings, an indie RPG-esque take on the Metal Slug paradigm.
Anyone who was fond of the chibi-style characters with hard-edge designs and washed out color palettes to compliment an art-style that favors depictions of militarism and mercenary violence, will easily find themselves attracted and attached to Tribute Games' Mercenary Kings.
The highly explosive and equally animated side-scroller is a genuine throwback to the sprite-based action titles from SNK's Neo Geo home console. It's definitely better looking than the typical 16-bit title but doesn't quite edge out the 32-bit flair offered by similar games on the PSX.
Despite being in Early Access – which means that the game is subject to more glitches and hang-ups than a marriage that takes place a day after a one night stand – Mercenary Kings is one of the few titles that actually offers gameplay that's mostly glitch-free. Or rather, I should say, the game hasn't thrown me any glitches that has impeded the gameplay or ruined the play experience.
The game – as the image above so blatantly reveals – offers four-player cooperative play. You can play co-op either via online match-making or locally via split-screen. Yep, the game allows for couch co-op.
Right now Mercenary Kings is geared toward controller play (and if you aren't using a controller things could get ugly). The big difference between Metal Slug and Mercenary Kings is that you can choose your missions and you don't die in a single-hit in Mercenary Kings. You get a life-bar that you can increase by finding proper materials and building better armor. Yes, the game has crafting.
The crafting mechanic gives the game a feeling of unpredictability and originality, as you're able to modify and build your guns with sometimes unpredictable results by mixing and matching parts. It has a gun-matrix system very similar to Borderlands, except players have complete control over which parts they want going where.
And just in case you were wondering, it is possible to build sniper rifles, shotguns, carbines, pistols, revolvers, assault weapons, mini-guns, flame-throwers and everything else in between. You can choose between the receiver, the barrel, the stock, the scope, the magazine and the bullet type (e.g., incendiary, acidic, bouncing, armor piercing, magnum rounds, etc.)
Each weapon class works for and against certain enemy types, so it actually benefits players to play multiplayer games, as someone might have a weapon to help balance out your caustic Luger that use for sniping.
Another highlight of Mercenary Kings is that you can grind stages if you want to in order to gather or sell supplies, or just test out various weapons in different conditions. The game's missions are also quite varied, though many take place within specific maps that get recycled in different ways.
The gun selection isn't quite as the bevy smorgasbord of weapons found in the now defunct Metal Assault, but sheer mission variety, weapon parts variety and stable gameplay mechanics makes Mercenary Kings a very fun ride for what it has to offer.
I have no regrets about the $15 spent to partake in the early access , and as far as I'm concerned the game offers more content than a bunch of $60 AAA games out there... then again, you're supposed to be paying for “graphics” in those cases.
I'm curious to see what Mercenary Kings will be like in its finished form (perhaps some resolution options, control customization and the ability not to always play with a split-screen setup?) but for now it's a solid crowd-sourced game that's delivering a lot of what it promised.