Mercenary Kings: Reloaded Edition doesn’t bring a trailblazing recipe to the table. Tribute Games knows better. The developer and publisher forged by the team responsible for 2010’s endearingly nostalgic Scott Pilgrim vs. the World: The Game instead recognize every ingredient in your mom’s homemade-from-scratch barbecue baked beans and distinguishes their own attempt with a few unexpected spices.
Of course, you may already know as much from experience. After enthusiastically raising more than $25,000 above and beyond their initial $75,000 Kickstarter goal in 2013, Tribute unleashed this side-scrolling action shoot-’em-up for PC and the PlayStation 4 in 2014. More recently, they released a Reloaded version for all the big home consoles, PC, and even a cross-buy PlayStation Vita port. Including hundred-plus missions that make for a surprisingly replayable experience and an endearingly enthusiastic take on nascent run-and-gun arcade action that shaped a lifelong love affair with the 16-bit era.
Review: Mercenary Kings Reloaded Edition
Title: Mercenary Kings Reloaded
Platform: PS4 [Reviewed], Xbox One, PC, Nintendo Switch, PS Vita
Genre: Action, Shoot-Em-Up
Developer: Tribute Games
Publisher: Tribute Games
Players: 1-4 (Local & Online)
Release Date: March 25, 2014 (Original Release Date), February 6, 2018 (Reloaded Edition Release Date)
Despite conversations with core NPCs hearkening back to Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear anthology, don’t dive into this expecting a thoughtful treatise on the 1980’s military-industrial complex. You take the reins of a soldier-for-hire grunt rising from the ashes of a botched mission to Mandragora Island. Seeking retribution for the terrorist organization CLAW violently tearing apart a good portion of the original team. Then, you arrive to rescue Dr. James McNeil, the chief Mandrake Project engineer whose pioneering work uses a remarkable bio-regeneration formula.
The problem is, he’s interrupted by an uber-villain resembling The Completionist host Jirard Khalil cosplaying as M. Bison. McNeil is taken captive, and it is your mission to get him back. Of course, you do this with a little help from one of McNeil’s colleagues and a core of support experts. Meaning, you can either play this solo or with friends in local or online co-op. Spilling blood by the gallon in order to keep this trailblazing discovery out of the wrong hands. There are no elaborate serpentine twists. No ambiguous subtext. Just be a bad enough dude to aerate Jirard Bison’s carcass and save the doc’s bacon.
Base controls allow you to stab, run, jump and aim your shots in up to four directions. All without fumbling with too many buttons at once. In fact, favoring the control pad over analog sticks is often preferable for the sake of pure simplicity.
One button jumps. Yet another button fires. While a separate button reloads. You can even use an instant mini-game that demands some practice to master in the name of keeping up your attack. This is important because a mistake finds you unable to fire for several precious seconds. For those playing multiplayer, there’s also a VGS-style board of chat options for instant communication between players bereft of a pair of headsets.
Before the Fire
Although to be clear, Mercenary Kings does not hold your hand and wait for you get the hang of the controls. You generally have anywhere from 10 to 25 minutes on average to complete a level. While three lives are all that’s available if you have to repeat a mission. A hub camp exists as an all-purpose nexus. Here, you can hit up your logistics team for an array of knives, consumables, bionic upgrades, improvable armor, and guns.
You can customize and expand your arsenal through the collection of countless crafting materials. They are gathered from storage boxes, or by destroying a compendium of over 108 enemies and jungle critters encountered throughout your tour of duty. The hub also helps you decide whether you want to solo your next mission, invite friends to join the mayhem online, enlist a buddy locally or just have the game drop in the next randomly hired online gun at any time.
Once your faithful pilot Bobby and Choppy the Chopper deploy you, old instincts flood back to the fore in a hummingbird’s heartbeat. Be patient and tank a few lives while you feel out the responsive controls. There’s an addictive joy to watching the Scott Pilgrim-esque guerilla sprites fall in a flourish of blood after eating a steady stream of shots. The best thing is the gratifying “click” the controller elicits upon a smoothly executed reload.
This isn’t some obstinate, almost resentful “Nintendo-hard” degree of challenge though. Instead, Tribute Games understands and embraces the line between sadistic difficulty and a tough-but-fair trial by fire. Cut yourself some slack, and you’ll soon hardly mind that missions often send you rampaging repeatedly across the exact same maps with objectives including extraction, rendezvous, extermination, and gathering of resources. Unfortunately, these missions do not include a handy map to make frequently confusing sub-areas simpler to orient.
Even then, it’s no small silver lining that the crafting system allows guns to be cobbled together from infinite hybrids of various models’ individual components. Shotgun receiver with a submachine gun barrel? Go for it. Laser with a hand-cannon stock? Sure. Mix, match, test, and zero-in on the combination that suits you. Next, pair it with a hand weapon. Choose between a pickaxe, knife, wooden sword, lightsaber, or even a spoon. Trust me, this run through the jungle is chock full of goodies. Unfortunately, it doesn’t come with an Animaniguchi soundtrack on par with Scott Pilgrim. However, Patrice Bourgeault’s rocking chiptune score is similarly just as good.
My sole complaint is the lack of a navigation map. The game features enough branching paths that you can easily botch a mission by forgetting which zones you have already explored. This is especially vexing when you realize with around two minutes left on the timer, where you should have gone five minutes back. Fortunately, Mercenary Kings: Reloaded Edition is surprisingly forgiving in that you won’t forfeit loot grabbed throughout a failed mission. Nearly every level can be repeated at will for leisurely farming in the name of sweet new upgrades.
Gameplay is a great throwback to earlier shoot-em-up titles
The game is fun solo or with friends
Crafting weapons allows for some nice customization
The reloaded aspect adds even more to the game
There’s a serious need for a map of some sort.
Lack of help with navigation makes the timer unfair at times
Overall Score: 8.0 Out of 10 You may find yourself rolling through Mercenary Kings: Reloaded Edition in a few epic sittings. On the other hand, this is easily pure joy to return to whenever you have an hour or two on your hands. Although, the sometimes repetitive foes and pace can wear down your patience over the course of triple-digit missions. For what it’s worth, speeding through levels in multiplayer of any kind is almost indisputably the most savory means of amplifying the game’s vast replay potential.
This is a superb romp with a bottomless pit of replay value. There isn’t a patently “negative” remark to be made, except that the maps can grow a bit stale and the addition of some navigation assistance wouldn’t have gone amiss. Not many shoot-’em-ups dig this deep in terms of customization, and that’s a big reason playing solo is every bit as enjoyable as grouping up with pals for a trip back to a simpler time in gaming. It may not be a must-own touchstone of retro-chic indie goodness, but you still have one hell of a time playing Mercenary Kings.
This game was reviewed using a digital code provided by Home Run PR