Mercenary Kings

Mercenary Kings

Developed and published by Tribute Games | PC, Mac, PS4

Over the past couple of years it has made me overwhelmingly happy to see video games being inducted into museums all over the world, including the illustrious Smithsonian museum. Iím sure every gamer has their own reasons for why they consider video games art, however, it may surprise many of you to hear that one of the biggest reasons for video games receiving these high honours is, in fact, Pixelart. Pixelart is exactly as it sounds: art (or graphics) comprising of pixels. The video game industry started with this art style out of necessity and as technology progressed so did the number of pixels that a video game could be comprised of. However, despite the fact that we have become capable of creating almost true to life visuals, there are still a plethora of games being developed using the Pixelart style. Now, there are many reasons for this Ė such as it being a cheaper development option and less demanding on technology. But the real reason you still see so many of these games is for the same reason that Museums recognised games as art. Pixelart is an art style that has been developed by the video game industry; we created it, we refined it. It is our own.

One such developer that proudly recognises this is Tribute Games. This team is comprised of developers who created the Scott Pilgrim vs. the World video game, a series based on the culture Pixelart has inspired. Once again this team is displaying their reverence for Pixelart with their latest game, Mercenary Kings. Mercenary Kings is a side scrolling shooter that looks and feels like some of the Pixelart generationís greatest games. It brings many tried and true mechanics together to make something familiar but new. Think Metal Slug meets Contra, all wrapped up neatly within some tasty RPG mechanics.

Like Metal Slug, there isnít a great emphasis on story. The basic premise is that you are a group of mercenaries sent to an island to take down a group of terrorists. Despite the fact that you will never know, or particularly care, what exactly is going on, the game is full of colourful characters that keep things interesting. These characters occupy the base of operations where you return after every mission. It is here that you get to choose your missions. Much like an RPG, the commander offers you a series of missions that you can undertake at your leisure. Each mission has a main objective with, possibly, some optional and secret objectives as well. These missions are pretty straightforward, taking the form of ďFetch 10 of thisĒ or ďRescue the Hostage.Ē But, in true Metal Slug style, the main objective is really just acting as a platform for you to create havoc on.

The real joy of Mercenary Kings comes from the gameplay. Thereís something truly satisfying about a ridiculously over-the-top side-scrolling shooter. As you explore the map trying to achieve your objectives, you encounter a wide range of characters Ė from your classic foot soldier to a litany of goofy mechanical and animal foes. It is these foes that you get the pleasure of mowing down. Some may just fall, however, a well-placed shot will result in them exploding in some fashion. Almost every foe will drop a material of some kind. This is the introduction of the upgrading system, which is what gives the game its real longevity. By collecting materials and money you get the opportunity between missions to upgrade and modify your weapons and armour. Starting the game with a measly pistol, it is a great feeling to trade it in for a big ass shotgun or rifle. My time with Mercenary Kings was largely focused on constructing the most brutally awesome weapon possible.

The game is great to play by yourself, however, what makes it really special is its multiplayer. You have the option of playing with up to three friends online or locally. This turns what can be a tactical game into a bloody free-for-all. What would have been a traversal, in which you had to plan encounters and time your shots well, becomes a murderous spree throughout the map. This becomes less possible as the difficulty of the game progresses, but there is something overtly appealing about storming through the map like this, meaning that even if itís to your detriment, youíll probably still play this way. After all, this game is not meant for thought provocation, but for brutal fun.

Mercenary Kings is a great homage to past games that still offers a new experience in a familiar skin. The game can be fun alone, but is best played with three friends at your side screaming at you. Plus, itís free on PlayStation Plus this month.
This article first appeared in Issue 8, 2014.
Posted 4:31pm Sunday 13th April 2014 by Baz Macdonald.