So yesterday I got an e-mail announcing the early access to Mercenary Kings, which I Kickstarted, and my Steam key. Needless to say, I was more than a little excited (I did, after all, think it was going to be good, and I did give them money). For those not in the know, Mercenary Kings is a Metal Slug-esque arcade shooter; imagine something that falls between a Castlevania game and the original arcade games in terms of pace; lots of bullets, lots of speed, character customization, and more.
In case my intro didn’t give it away, I really like Mercenary Kings. It’s really well done, especially in terms of the art and sound design, and I played it split screen for a while as well as by myself and enjoyed both. I do have to say that the four-way screen splitting for two players is a little annoying, but since they just alter the sprite scaling rather than the amount of on-screen space it’s probably the only way to do it without causing unfair advantages/disadvantages.
In terms of pace, Mercenary Kings is very frenetic; early in the game player skill is very important, and though I’m at a point in the mid-game where having superior guns can overpower that a little bit, it’s still challenging and enjoyable. It’s possible to equip a couple of implants that alter your character’s stats, get the various guns, and improve your armor, all of which come together to create a decent amount of customization-Mercenary Kings doesn’t try to be a full blown role playing game-it’s a true-to-form platform action game like Metal Slug, Contra, or the like. It’s not necessarily groundbreaking, but it’s certainly enjoyable and satisfying.
As far as the Early Access goes, the game is pretty much stable. We had a couple of issues with the adrenaline shots and reviving each other in split screen, but alone I never had any issues; it didn’t like my computer plus a Xbox controller with the keyboard as a primary input, and there’s not yet an options menu to manually remap keyboard commands. However, the issues were relatively minor and didn’t really impair my enjoyment of the game, though I do expect to at some point be able to change the commands-I’m not a fan of the default layout, though it’s usable. That said, the game feels pretty much “complete”; ten hours in there’s still main storyline content, and only a couple little placeholder things to get in the way.
The art and sound are good; admittedly, I’ve replayed the same levels enough (first alone, then cooperatively) to begin to tire a little of the music, but the game feels like what it’s supposed to be; if pixel art’s not your thing you’re going to have a somewhat rocky relationship with the graphics, but otherwise they flow pretty well; the fact that there’s animation on basically everything that moves really makes the game flow well-it may emulate 16-bit arcade games but it doesn’t restrain itself from going all out for maximum quality.
If I had to sum up Mercenary Kings in one word, it would be “Action”. With a storyline that feels (in a good way) like it is taken from any Hollywood blockbuster action movie, and speed and skill required. At the same time, it’s got a lot of depth to it for people who like collecting and crafting; it’s Metal Slug meets Borderlands and it’s downright awesome.