This review covers the Early Access version of Mercenary Kings on Steam.
ETA: After posting this review, Tribute Games uploaded the following to their Tumblr blog. Looks like keyboard configuration is coming sooner than later!
With nostalgic graphics, solid controls, and a great price to boot, Mercenary Kings deserves your attention, and your money. The campaign may not have broken records, but this title shows that Kickstarter is a viable platform for funding game development. With their first game WizOrb under their belt, developer Tribute Games reunited the team behind Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Game and got to work.
Mercenary Kings feels and sounds like it would be at home on the Neo-Geo. Sprite work is provided by Paul Robertson and Jonathan Kim, with background art by Stéphane Boutin. The chiptune soundtrack is by Patrice Bourgeault. Everything is crisp at 1920×1080 while retaining that 24-bit arcade feel. Everything about the look is deliberate and suits the style of game perfectly.
I’m here to chew bubblegum and kick ass.
You play as King or Empress, the two most skilled mercenaries on Earth. A criminal organization has wiped out your former team, the Mercenary Kings, and it’s your job to work your way through their ranks and avenge your fallen comrades. The story develops between missions with Metal Gear-esque codec sequences, but don’t feel bad if you skip them. Departing from its inspiration (Contra, Metal Slug), your character’s loadout is both customizable and upgradable.
This goes beyond what knife you carry or how effective the armor your character wears is, and includes things like what receiver, barrel, stock, and clip type you can combine for your firearm. You’ll have to balance power with accuracy, rate of fire, clip size, and more — and the system definitely helps make the character feel more individualistic. I particularly like that accuracy randomizes how straight bullets fire – rather than being a sort of “did it hit” dice roll.
Classic arcade action… at home!
You’re definitely going to want an XInput compatible controller for Mercenary Kings. It’s possible to play with a keyboard but at this stage the UI is set up for a gamepad and the Early Access version reviewed here doesn’t yet have a working options screen. That means the game’s going to tell you to press “A to Confirm” but really means hit Enter. That means menus are navigated with WASD and not the arrow keys. I have no doubt this will be fixed in future revisions — the game’s not actually due for wide release until this fall. But it’s something to bear in mind if you’re looking to buy now.
Multiplayer is also featured here, both split-screen and online. There doesn’t appear to be an in-game chat but if you don’t want to use the Steam overlay you can always press the left trigger and fast-select from some simple displayable text boxes to communicate. You meet at the same camp as you have in single player and can outfit King or Empress before going up and confirming you’re ready for the host’s selected mission. I didn’t see an option to drop back to single-player without restarting the game. That’s just polish though and doesn’t hurt functionality, but I’d like to see multiplayer fleshed out a bit more. With ports confirmed for OUYA and PS4 and planned for Mac OS X, Linux, and Wii U, there’s been no word of cross-platform multiplayer, so you’ll want to bear that in mind when deciding what you want to buy the title on.
Expect to hear about Mercenary Kings a lot over the next year as the title’s finished and ports hit various platforms. We’re looking at a worthy indie title, and I’m already chomping at the bit to see what Tribute Games develops next.