A single classic came to mind as I went through the tutorials and gameplay of Mercenary Kings: Contra. The mindless action and crazy weapon designs served as a testament to the old shooter. When I teamed up with my co-op buddy, blasting away countless waves of enemies was a blast, but as a four player group, it showed more problems than it was worth.

Players take control of the Kings, a mercenary group stationed in a POW camp, and are tasked with fulfilling various missions for the general, who loves coffee more than he does barking orders. The narrative isn't something memorable; if you like to skip through cutscenes and dialogue, you won't miss anything. It has its moments of humor but for the most part may as well be nonexistent. 

Gameplay boils down to "shoot anything that moves" and is done extremely well. If you are used to modern fps's though, it will be a test of patience to grow accustomed to the weird controls. Learning things like the controls or how to tackle certain boss battles is a process that requires more patience than it should. (Some friends of mine rage-quit the game altogether due to this).

I recommend that you never play this game with 4 players, unless you all have a firm grasp on the game. Each time my pity party of 4 went in, we were utterly destroyed. The team shares 3 extra lives. That means that if one person dies, then everyone only has 2 lives left and takes away a cut of the prize money post-mission. It's clear that the meaning of this was to increase communication and planning with friends in the game, but ultimately turns into a jumbled mess. Everything in the game can and will damage and even kill you if you're not careful. Literally everything. Even the little woodland animals like beavers and rabbits who are scared of you. If, in their fit of panic, they run into you lose 10% of your health. If a teammate goes down, you can revive them and save the number of lives you have along with the money. What the game doesn't tell you is that the only way to revive teammates, is by buying adrenaline shots from the merchant in the POW camp. Missions have a variety of different challenges, like collecting this amount of iron, or taking out this many snipers. Some missions are boss battles, but these are just annoying. The game tells you that the yellow skull on the mini map is the main objective. What the game doesn't tell you is that you only have so much time to make it to the objective area before they move somewhere else. There is no timer or any alert in general to tell you if this has happened. I ended up speed-running the map just to get to my objective, which was a stressful pain. If you're new to the game, I recommend having only one co-op buddy. This provides a little more room for error which helped me actually enjoy the game.

Some specs of the game were awesome. Rescuing some hostages would open up new ways to upgrade your character. One girl is the place to go to mod your weapon. The customization options are little, but what's there is epic. You can set up your gun top look like a pistol that fires like an assault rifle and shoots electric bullets. Or an SMG that fires like a sniper rifle and shoots freezing bullets. As long as you have the right materials and enough money, it can happen. Some materials are hard to find, and some only show up when you defeat a certain enemy. Another person provides knives for you to buy. They range from WWI bayonets, to wooden knives, to pizza cutters. Yes, pizza cutters. Unfortunately, with each of these amazing incentives for rescuing hostages, there's always some who are relatively pointless. Like one man, whose soul reason for existence is to ask if all your guns require permits.

The game runs smoothly enough; it'll have the occasional screen tear or framerate drop, but nothing too noticeable. The 8-bit environments are recreated to perfection and the music  never gets old. Inviting friends to games will sometimes work and sometimes won't. Often, when my friend would try and join my game, he would hear my character's footsteps and the sound of his gun firing, but he wouldn't load into the game. If you're in a game together, expect for you or your friend to be kicked out of the game without warning. Setting the online mode to "Invite" doesn't seem to keep away random online players either.


Mercenary Kings is an epic shoot-em-up. It has the potential to be an amazing take on the days of old shooting games like Contra. The reason it gets its 7/10 is because of its lack of effort overall. It's "tutorial" barely even covers the basic controls, like how to jump down from a ledge, how to knife, or how to revive teammates. But once I got a firm grasp on these controls, it began to hold a special place in my heart as one of the best mindless shooters I've ever played.