Review: Mercenary Kings
As a quick aside from this review I think Mercenary Kings being touted as “Metal Slug meets Monster Hunter” is doing the game a bit of a disservice. Sure the game is stylistically similar to Metal Slug and many of the gameplay elements are very much taken from Monster Hunter I think the comparison creates unfair expectations. If you go in expecting this to play just like Metal Slug you might be disappointed. While the inspirations are clear Mercenary Kings is still able to stand on its own and provides plenty of fun both in single and multiplayer.
The evil organization CLAW has stolen the Mandrake Formula and it’s up to The Kings to get it back. After choosing from two playable characters – King and Empress – you’ll shoot and loot (shoot-n-loot?) through various missions across several different maps in an attempt to reclaim the formula and take down CLAW. While the story is entertaining enough, Mercenary Kings is all about collecting new materials to craft better and crazier weapons. Whether alone or with friends most of fun comes from experimenting with what weapon combinations you can come up with. The end result is a game that mixes together much of what many of us might remember from games we grew up with as well as a number of mechanics prevalent in games today.
After a brief tutorial sequence you’ll end up at a small base camp that you’ll return to after each mission. Here you can craft gun parts, craft knives, buy items, build mods, change the look of your character, cook food for buffs, and of course choose a mission. You can take the various gun parts you craft and combine them in whichever way works best for you. There’s a vast range of gun and bullet types that should make for a number of different play-styles. Personally I drifted towards a cat gun called Orange Meow that acted as a shotgun. Equipped with caustic ammo meant that enemies and their shields quickly melted away with nothing but the sound of ‘meow meow meow’ to be heard. The great thing about having hundreds of gun parts and knives to choose from is that there’s quite a large number of combinations you can choose from. Factor in the elemental boosts certain gun parts have and all the types of ammo to choose from and ideally no two players will use the same gun. You can also save specific gun setups to make it easier to switch between your favorite sets.
Knives come in short and long range as well as sometimes boasting additional elemental damage. These can be used to stab enemies through barriers as well as deflect bullets. Mods can be equipped to your character to add special abilities as well. By the end of the game I was using mods that let me see enemy health and gave me a greater chance for rare drops. There’s a large number of mods in the game and, as you’re only able to use two at a time, you’ll need to choose carefully which ones you want to use. As a minor gripe, considering the amount of customization in the game, I really wish you had more control over how your character looks. The game gives you a number of color schemes for your character but I just found myself wishing we could craft really cool armor sets or something to differentiate yourself when playing with friends.
One thing to note about your equipment is that everything has weight to it. The heavier your gun the slower you’ll move. This means that what you have equipped at any given time might change the way your character feels when you run and jump. In particular the jumping animation is very deliberate. When you press the jump button your character bends his/her knees and then jumps. This combined with the equip load will likely take some getting used to but before long it really started to grow on me. It’s something that will take some getting used to but I think the game is better for it.
Missions in the game come down to rescuing hostages, killing a boss, capturing a boss, finding a set number of items, clearing a specific area of enemies, or talking to a specific character somewhere on the map. Missions have additional bonus objectives which grant bonus rewards for completing them as well as a time limit. Luckily the time limit is never really an issue as for the most part you can easily finish just about every single mission in the game with plenty of time to spare. (There were maybe two missions out of the one hundred plus that I came remotely close to running out of time. Even then those were missions that only took a couple of minutes to do.)
Missions will also have you returning to the same map multiple times throughout the game. With how open and large the maps are though this means that you might explore one section of the map in one mission while fighting through a totally different section in another. Either way you will play through each map more than a handful of times. That said there are somewhere around ten different maps each of which are large with multiple areas to explore and different pathways to take. Some of the later maps especially are really great about setting missions in specific parts of the map so as to prevent you from retreading the same area over and over again.
Since the rare drops aren’t shared I wish there was a way to trade materials with other players. If I have something that Chris needs I should be able to trade that material to him. Maybe he’ll have something that I need as well. Ultimately it’s not a deal breaker but it would have been nice to at least have the option.
While most of the missions are as simple as running around the map finding hostages and collecting materials the game really shines with the boss encounters. Whether you need to kill or capture a boss it’ll be up to you or your team to track down a boss to one of a few locations on the map in which it’ll spawn (Marked with a skull). After a set amount of time if you’re unable to finish the task the boss will leave and appear in a different area on the map. If you don’t have the mod that displays boss locations you’ll have to work together quickly to track down the boss and take it down. It often feels like the rest of the game is just setup for these encounters. All of the other missions simply provide you with new materials to make better weapons for each boss you encounter. These encounters are exciting and while some early bosses are recycled to include elemental abilities the later portions of the game contain some really cool boss fights.
Playing alone is completely viable but getting a group of friends together is definitely the way to play Mercenary Kings. You’re required to work together and go about things differently depending on which mission you choose. Sometimes it’s better to split up while in other situations it’d be best to stick together and take on enemies as a team. It also gets pretty tense when you’re up against a boss and everyone on the team shares the same life pool.
The repetition is likely something that will steer some players away and I understand if that’s the case. This will likely be a divisive game for many people and that’s fine. That said I think that grinding for loot and playing missions multiple times is fun as the reward tends to be a pretty weird and crazy new gun to play with. Though now that I’ve finished the game I’m not sure how much more I’ll continue to play. To build every gun and knife in the game would take an incredibly long time of nothing but grinding for materials and I could see that getting tiresome pretty fast.
At this time Mercenary Kings does have a handful of technical issues. The game stutters every so often, I’ve had the game crash twice on me, setting your lobby to invite only doesn’t prevent random players from joining your game, and the load times are pretty long between missions. While these things didn’t ruin my experience with the game they were still a bummer to see happen.
Mercenary Kings provides a decent challenge in both single and multiplayer without ever being too difficult. I found myself having a blast just messing around with all the different gun combinations I unlocked and figuring out which one worked best for my style of play. I look forward to the rest of the PSNStores crew to rank up so we can hunt bosses together as well as show off what guns we’ve crafted.
A copy of this game was obtained through PlayStation Plus for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Crafting and customizing guns/knives
- Great art
- Taking down bosses together with friends
- Ability to save gun sets
- Great level design
- Fun boss fights
What I Dislike:
- Some technical issues
- I wish you could trade materials with your friends in co-op
- Repeating the same levels over and over