Remember the movie Scott Pilgrim vs. The World? In it, there is an “extra life” sprite straight from the video game tie-in, Scott Pilgrim vs. The World: The Videogame. Tribute, the same people whose work was featured in a movie about fighting and violence combined with humor, brings to the public Mercenary Kings, a Kickstarted video game with violence combined with humor. So, will Mercenary Kings be a crowning achievement, or will it be laughed out of the court?
The story centers around a group of mercenaries called the KINGS who are helping a resistance overthrow the evil KLAW corporation, which notoriously performs research on biological weapons and machines that have a knack for killing things like people. If this plot sounds familiar, then you might remember it from the Big Book of Cliched Plots.
Mercenary Kings attempts to satirize general tropes of action games with cutscenes that look like a pixelated version of the codec from Metal Gear Solid. The game has some good humor, but like the robot dog with butt cannons that happens to be controlled by a dog, it never really sticks around. The lack of real cutscenes and meaningful dialogue doesn’t help the story stay fresh, especially after traditional cycles of “save a member of your team, find some blueprints, and destroy stuff”. Also, while the game does have some hits, it also has many more misses due to the lack of potential without the inclusion of voice acting.
The level design in Mercenary Kings is also clearly lacking. While the colors are bright and nice, the same levels appear so often that it started to wear down on me. Placing me in a different section of the same map is not the same as an entirely new level. This, coupled with similar mission objectives like gathering resources or exterminating enemies, fails to add variety and makes the game just blend together instead of standing out.
The pixelated art style, however, is actually really nice. The sprites are delightful, especially in the cutscenes. The color palette has a wide range, from forest green to industrial grey to blood red. Bright colors make everything great to look at. Even the enemies have a nice variety of colors, from the flashy robots to the soldiers and even spiky snails. The death animations are also amazing, be it exploding bodies or exploding heads. The game is uber-violent, which is the way it is supposed to be.
The soundtrack from Mercenary Kings does a good job providing a fitting feel for the game, but none of the songs are memorable. As I explained before, the lack of voice acting in the game is missed mostly because it would make the jokes and the characters stick. Without it, the characters are simply services with little personality. The only character with a voice is the player character, of which there are only two options. They say simple things like “Bang!” or “Firepower!” when the reload works perfectly.
The gameplay, on the other hand, is a mixed bag. The game provides infinite ammo in a customizable gun. The reload mechanic mimics Gears of War, where pressing the button grants ammo that packs an extra punch. A gathering system exists where enemies drop materials in the game, which are used, along with money, to build new items. The material gathering is great, except that it uses both materials and money, which is simply obnoxious. Why would I need another $1000 in order to buy an item I have the materials to make?
Other than gun parts, the game also has blades, which don’t help except to act as a way to block attacks. However, your gun will be your primary weapon. Mods also exist in the game, and they work just as the gun parts do. They offer mods that allow you to see enemy stats, run faster, gather increasingly rare materials, and more. The ability to only carry two modifications at a time, though, puts a damper on the fun. Similarly, since the backpack can only carry two materials, the game seems to want to add variety while limiting players from exercising it.
This leads to another one of the game’s downfalls: the controls. These controls are both sticky and hard to figure out. The button mapping seems to replicate an arcade-style experience, but some of the better ideas are not used. While I applaud the game for using the touchpad in a good way, I am still confused why having to hold down R1 to bring up my backpack in necessary. The most obvious and sensible idea would to map them to the D-pad, but Mercenary Kings decides to use an unorthodox idea, which isn’t always the best. This wouldn’t be a problem if the buttons could be remapped to other buttons, as other games would do. However, this option isn’t available, which I feel is necessary in this style of game.
Another problem with the controls is how stiff they are. In a game where a timer is even included into each mission, you have to be fluid and quick. The controls are anything but fluid and are rarely quick. The more that is added onto a weapon, for example, slows you down. Even though there is a mod for you to move faster, it lowers your defense and doesn’t help much. Also, having to stop running to jump and not being able to roll into a jump makes the game feel stiff and took me out of the experience. I kept fighting the controls, and that should never be the case.
Mercenary Kings also has a spotty difficulty, which doesn’t make any sense. This difficulty arises when enemies spawn out of nowhere. Even after clearing a floor of enemies, they will reappear the moment they are out of the frame. Sometimes, enemies will be right in front of doors or in places where it is impossible to hit them and hard not to get hit, even with the right gun.
This doesn’t even take into account the technical issues in the game. Several times I had the game freeze, and my player even went missing from the screen, although these only lasted a second or two. Enemies have been hit without me hitting them, and vice versa. With the game being in this state, the bright visuals and humor are the reward for putting up with bad handling.
The game also features a co-op mode, which wasn’t meant for human communication. The game maps the trigger buttons to eight phrases, which doesn’t make sense given chat exists with games. Matchmaking is also a pain, but might have been an issue with servers and not with the game. Also, there are only three options in the game: Public, which means that anyone can crash your game, Invitation only, and Offline. The lack of random matchmaking is disappointing, especially with the pre-made phrases.
Verdict: 6.0 out of 10
Mercenary Kings is a great idea implemented poorly. For every positive aspect in the game, there is one I had to fight. Yes, the graphics are pretty, but the gameplay is not. The style is ripped straight from the Genesis era, but so is the handling. There is so much variety and customization, but the technical issues plague the fun. Some of the jokes are funny, but only for a chuckle or two. The idea was spot on and could be fun if some more features were added, like more fluid controls and voice acting. If someone got the game for free via PlayStation Plus or bought it, they should enjoy it with a friend. It makes fighting the controls much easier and the jokes more memorable.