Sponsored By: FurtiveSpy
Time Getting Paid: 112 Minutes
I’ve never been so delighted to find out a game wasn’t Metal Slug.
When I got the green envelope from Furtivespy containing a free copy of Mercenary Kings, I was excited. Contra was one of the few NES games I actually beat, and I’d developed a healthy respect for Metal Slug during my years with a Gameboy Advance. Here was someone bringing that run-and-gun sensibility back, I thought to myself, complete with retro graphics and chiptunes.
So you’d think I might have been disappointed when I actually got around to firing it up and playing for an hour, but the thing to remember about me is that I try to operate in an expectation-free zone when it comes to video games. The less I expect of them, the more they deliver. It’s like having a barista who’s been so conditioned by bad customers that they don’t know what to do with someone who is reasonable and polite. They’re so angry and confounded that instead of their usual resorting to giving customers the wrong order, they passive-aggressively make you most amazing shade-grown, hazelnut, chai mocha latte you’ve ever tasted, even when all you asked for was a short Pike Place roast.
Okay, so maybe that doesn’t happen ever. I wouldn’t know, because I don’t drink coffee (as evidenced by the fact that I used chai as a flavor when it is, I’m told, its own beverage). The point is, having no or low expectations makes for a better experience, because you’re almost always pleasantly surprised.
So even though I thought I was going to be playing Metal Slug in a new skin, I found myself enjoying something completely different, while still the same.
The action is very Metal Sluggish, in that it’s a side-scrolling, run-and-gun platformer with 32-bit graphics and a lot of gorgeous animation frames. You shoot things, and they explode in various gruesome ways, depending upon how much armor they have on, and you run past them and shoot more things until you eventually find an epic boss which you must shoot until it explodes in a satisfyingly spectacular way. The difference in Mercenary Kings is that the levels are open-world, and the bosses can run away from you to other areas on the map, which forces you to give chase with another bout of run-and-gun action.
So it’s an open-world Metal Slug-like.
But that’s not all. Mercenary Kings grants you that wonderful boon of infinite ammunition, but it limits your magazine size. This wouldn’t be a groundbreaking innovation, except that the game adds a skill-check to reloading. Fail the skill check, or ignore it completely, and you’ll reload your weapon in a fixed time. Pass the skill check, and you’ll reload faster and get a few rounds of more powerful bullets for your trouble. It’s hard to quantify the layers of strategic depth that this seemingly simple addition brings to the game, but suffice it to say that if you’re not counting your shots, you’re not going to have a good time.
Mercenary Kings also brings one of my favorite elements of another mercenary game, Mercenaries 2, into the mix: supply drops. You enter battle with your main weapon, any med-kits or explosives you’ve bought at the shop, and a radio. The radio can be equipped to summon various pilots, each of which delivers something different to your battlefield location. One may bring health, another explosives, and another might be an evac. You have to be careful about how you use it, though, because although you have a seemingly endless supply of drops, you can only call for them while your radio has battery power, and each drop reduces the charge on your battery. Most games that feature this sort of mechanic limit your drops by making them cost money, which is usually a non-issue in the late-game, so it’s refreshing to see a new way to limit supply drops with a plausible in-game explanation that will remain constant for the entire game.
If they give you the option to upgrade your battery later, I wouldn’t be surprised. In fact, I might be a little disappointed.
But only a little, because the game has a lot of other things to offer fans of upgrades. Take the weapons, for instance. Rather than just offering you a massive catalog of green and purple weapons to choose from, you get to buy individual weapon parts and build your own jigsaw-gun. Don’t like the range you're getting? Buy a longer barrel. Bad accuracy? Shop for stocks and sights. Hate the reloading minigame? Buy a bigger magazine. Every option has benefits and detriments, but there’s a lot of room to build the perfect weapon for your play style. All you have to do is farm levels for money and materials, and you can craft to your heart’s delight.
You can also customize your knife, but I haven’t spent much time with the blacksmith yet. Like I said, there’s a lot to do, and I’m still finding more stuff to do and new mission types to complete.
So, to recap, Mercenary Kings is an open-world, loot-and-craft, side-scrolling, run-and-gun platform game with equipment progression and boss fights.
Or, as I prefer to group my genres, it’s a Fun Game.
Keep getting paid?
Oh, this one will be on my playlist for a while. It might get me to double dip and buy the new Switch version that recently came out. Mercenary Kings gives me just enough freedom to be interesting without feeling aimless, and I’m looking forward to soaking up more of it.
Dark Souls Equivalent?
The answer to the question of whether Mercenary Kings is the Dark Souls of its kind depends very heavily on the player. If you're someone who suffers map-blindness, like I do, then it can be very challenging to figure out where you’ve been and where you’re supposed to go. If not, then there’s no problem. The weapons can be customized to within and inch of their lives, which might prove difficult if you’re subject to analysis paralysis. The action itself is challenging in exactly the same way that the action in Rogue Legacy is difficult; if you’re willing to be patient you’ll be a lot more survivable, but if you play it the way I play it you’ll use up a lot of medipacks.
The hardest part about the Dark Souls comparison, though, is the fact that there really isn’t quite anything like Mercenary Kings. At least, there isn’t anything like it in my experience, and since a game has to have a class in order to have a Dark Souls of that class, I find myself at a loss for answering the question.
Therefore I will defer the answer to a later time when there is a game to which I can compare Mercenary Kings. If that hypothetical future game is harder than Mercenary Kings, than the answer will be “no.” Otherwise, the answer is “yes.”
For now, the answer is “both.”