Mercenary Kings has a lot going for it. The list of features is exhaustive, the number of weapon combinations available is immense and the pixel art is nothing short of jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Mercenary Kings is channeling Metal Slug hard, and it works. The chunky aesthetic fits the military motif very well, but while there are more than enough missions to go on, I wish there was more variety in visited locales to show off the art even more.
Mercenary Kings gives and gives and gives. Let’s start with Metal Slug. Now slow it down, because Metal Slug is ridiculously difficult. Okay, now let’s add weapon variety. Instead of picking up whole guns, though, we can also include crafting which necessitates a drop system for components. And while you’re doing all of that shooting, we should add in the active reload from Gears of War. People liked that, right? Now we’ve been in early access for a while. We need more missions so that all of our early buyers are getting more content and can see that we’re supporting the game. Oh, and Monster Hunter is popular, too. We should let our bosses run away sometimes!
I want to like Mercenary Kings. I really, really do. I can’t, though.
It’s clear that a lot of effort went into all the various pieces, but I don’t want all of those pieces. Active reload just distracts me from the action. And since combat already feels like Mega Man, the last thing I need is to get hit while I’m reloading instead of jumping over a bullet that knocks off a quarter of my health. Slow movement dovetails into the more deliberate combat nicely, but sometimes it sticks out horribly. When a boss runs away, I have to slowly make my way across the map while killing constantly-respawning bad guys, only to have it up and leave again right after I arrive. That isn’t fun, it’s bothersome, and it makes me not want to play the game anymore.
Weapon variety and crafting suffers similarly. I can carry only a handful of rations and shock bombs, which makes sense. Stuff takes up room in my pack or whatever, and it makes fights more tense. That goes out the window, however, when I can pick up every shard of glass and scrap of aluminum dropped by an enemy. Why are they never dropping whole guns? Or rations? Or anything that might be useful to me right now as I’m playing a level? The recipes used by the gun and knife shops are overly involved and require a ton of ingredients. If I didn’t know better, I’d think there was an iOS-esque “Buy 500 rubber for $19.99! BEST DEAL!” screen lurking just around the corner, because the grind for ingredients is not a kind one.
Combat, though. The basic mechanics of combat are fun: learn enemy patterns, shoot them in the face during the pauses and shoot bosses in their glowing weak spot while dodging their attacks. If I could shoot more than four directions, assign my grenades to another button instead of selecting them in real-time and keep the boss from running away like a pansy, though, it’d be a lot better.
Seriously, I could shoot diagonally as early as Super Metroid on the SNES. Why can’t I do it here? You have enemies that approach at a 45-degree angle, but I can only shoot perfectly horizontally and vertically? Mercenary Kings is aping the NES here in terms of difficulty, and it shouldn’t be. Those games were hard because they were cheap, and cheap is exactly how it feels when I can’t aim in at least eight directions to feel on equal footing with the enemy.
There’s a good game in here, but it’s hidden beneath a huge grind for weapon components, the worst parts of Monster Hunter, baffling control decisions and combat that would be great if a little more time were spent on making the game fun instead of just making it look great. And it does look great. But a shiny coat of polish isn’t enough to make playing Mercenary Kings anything other than frustrating.
Pros: Beautiful pixel art, great weapon variety
Cons: Getting new weapons is a slog, boss fights are tedious, difficulty feels cheap instead of challenging