Royalty For Hire
Making its way onto Xbox One from PC and PS4 before it, Mercenary Kings: Reloaded Edition is basically a Mega Man-type clone only with item and gun crafting. This 2D shooter/action platformer can offer fun in fifteen minute increments but ultimately suffers from repetitive stages, enemies, and mission objectives.
You play as a mercenary who has been put back together from a horrible accident. Basically the mech-parts that saved your life is what the bad guys are using for evil. The story creates the opportunity for several types of mission objectives including neutralize, rendezvous, capture, and sabotage but all ultimately act the same – get to the end of the level while shooting anything that moves. Along the way, the player can participate in optional mission objectives, like hunting animals or finding hostages, while collecting material to craft new stuff. From start to finish, it will take about 40-50 hours to complete the quest but most of that time is spent navigating the same stages repeatedly only with slightly new objectives.
Mercenary Kings plays a bit like Metal Slug but with the slower, action platformy-ness of Mega Man and the reloading mechanic from Gears of War. The art style, however, looks just like Scott Pilgrim. The gorgeous and well animated sprite work is one of the highlighting features of this title. It looks and feels like playing a 16-bit cartoon as everything is outfitted with over exaggerated animations and vivid colors. While the stage design and enemies repeat, at least they look nice. Too bad there just isn’t more of it.
One of the annoying problems with this 2D side-scroller is the inventory management system. Since the player is limited to holding only a few items at a time, it is frustrating to have to backtrack through respawning enemies to find that one pack of C4 needed to move forward. Further, the better the weapon, the slower the character moves. This give-and-take sense of balance always keeps the gameplay from getting too easy but it still isn’t the most efficient. Also, it takes forever to unlock new guns, gun attachments, and upgraded armor. Enemies will randomly drop materials, some much more rare than others, and crafting almost anything requires a number of items and cash. It took me a few hours just to unlock anything worthwhile and different than the starting pistol. Sometimes bosses need to be captured by throwing a shock grenade on them. However, it is super frustrating to accidentally kill the boss and forced to replay the whole stage again.
Initially, players will probably perish a number of times before realizing how the overall gameplay works. Once this learning curve is overcome, it becomes easier to read enemy patterns and simply know where everything is since the game forces the player to constantly replay stages. Each stage has a countdown timer that might force some wasted haste, but usually approaching each enemy with a cool head, focusing on their attack patterns, is the way to go. Bosses are large and often take way too many hits to take down. It also becomes annoying when bosses retreat to different parts of the map and the player is forced to backtrack even more. There is an online multiplayer mode which the player can activate from the hub camp, but was unable to test to function as online was available at the time of this review. However, tapping the left bumper activates a number of built-in phrases to help coordinate co-op play.
Mercenary King wears its inspiration on its sleeve, harkening back to the classic action games of the 16-bit era, mixed with some modern gameplay features. Although featuring an amazing visual style, the recycled assets, backtracking, and extent to unlock new materials turns into a slog after the first few hours. Instead of stretching this game out to 50 hours, it would have been better and more entertaining focusing on creating a well crafted and non-repetitive 6-8 hour romp. However, there is still some fun to be had if you don’t mind working through the apparent issues.
Mercenary Kings is also available on PS4, Switch, Vita and PC.
Not To Be Confused With: Mercenaries
Has Nothing To Do With: Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D
Also Try: Mercenaries Saga Collection on Switch