Developed and published by Tribute Games | PC, Mac, PS4
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 generation’s 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 isn’t 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 “Fetch 10 of this” or “Rescue the Hostage.” 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. There’s 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 – 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 it’s to your detriment, you’ll 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, it’s free on PlayStation Plus this month.