If you like retro charm and crazy gunplay, this sprite-based 2D shooter is for you. Mercenary Kings is all about heavy weaponry, loot collection, and paying homage to a bygone era of action games.
In the vein of classic side-scrolling shooters like Contra and Metal Slug, Mercenary Kings is a classically-styled shooter with some modern twists. In fact, developer Tribute Games' name is rooted in its desire to honor 8- and 16-bit games. The team members already have a successful track record, since they were the minds behind the excellent Scott Pilgrim vs. The World brawler. After a successful Kickstarter campaign for Mercenary Kings last year, Tribute was featured during Sony's E3 2013 press conference, and used the show floor to highlight the gonzo gameplay.
Mercenary Kings unleashes players in a large map, leaving them free to explore. These aren't traditional stages where you are simply trying to get from the beginning to the end; the open jungle area I played encourages exploration with multiple paths to follow and buildings to enter. I teamed up with a few other GI editors for the mission, since up to four players can play co-op. Even though it might seem like a good idea to stay close to your co-op buddies and concentrate your fire, the design of Mercenary Kings discourages this. First of all, most of the enemies are easy to defeat, so having the firepower of four players isn't really necessary (with the exception of boss enemies, like the huge mech we encountered in the jungle). Second, with more players in one place, the harder it's going to be to amass the loot you crave.
Picking up various items and materials is one of the main draws of Mercenary Kings. Though each map may have a specific objective (like defeat all the enemies or find and defeat a boss), the real reason you're playing is to collect materials. As you beat enemies and complete objectives, you amass objects that are the key to upgrading your weapons and creating new implements of destruction. Each gun has five components with different effects (receiver, magazine, stock, sight, and barrel), and you can mix-and-match to make a weapon suited to your style -- like a sniper rifle with a shotgun barrel. This kind of customization creates a Borderlands-like focus on building a creative arsenal.
You can't play more than a few seconds without admiring the fantastic visuals. If you played Scott Pilgrim, you're already familiar with the work of Paul Robertson, and his art and animation for Mercenary Kings is in the same high tier. The retro sprites look great, and their cute appearance provides a funny contrast when viewed alongside some of the extreme violence happening onscreen.
Mercenary Kings was one of the biggest surprises at this year's E3. The combination of cool visuals and tight controls is a dream come true for classic game enthusiasts, and the team's history proves that it knows how to deliver. Tribute is aiming to launch Mercenary Kings on PlayStation 4 and PC later this year.
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