|Mercenary Kings Reloaded
|Tribute Games Inc.
|February 6th, 2018
|PC, PS4, Switch, Vita
|T for Teen – Blood and Gore, Comic Mischief, Mild Suggestive Themes, Use of Tobacco, Violence
Author’s Note: I was unable to try out the 4 player multiplayer in the game, so my impressions are solely based on the single player campaign.
While I have been a fan of Tribute Games for a few years now, I hadn’t played the original Mercenary Kings. The sole reason for this was because I don’t own a PlayStation 4, and it was an exclusive. So when I saw that Tribute was bringing the game to multiple other consoles in Mercenary Kings Reloaded, I got rather excited. When I got the opportunity to review it, I was ecstatic. So let’s dive in and see if Reloaded was worth the wait.
The story of Mercenary Kings Reloaded plays out like a Saturday Morning cartoon, with heaping helpings of charming characters, bravado and patriotic spirit. In some ways it reminds me a lot of G.I. Joe with a little TMNT crazy thrown in for good measure. It all starts when your team, the titular Mercenary Kings, goes to Mandragora Island to stop the villainous antics of Commander Baron of C.L.A.W. After the dramatic and colorful introductions of the team, they are quickly annihilated by a giant mechanized war suit. Three of your teammates are put in the ground, and only Empress and King survive, thanks to the experimental procedure utilizing a serum derived from Mandrakes which populate the island. Brought back from the brink of death, it’s up to Empress and King, along with the help of new playable characters Frigg and C-Zar, to save the day. The story starts out pretty predictable, and gets progressively weirder and more delightful the farther you get. Without spoilers, I will say that you might be surprised by the final boss of the game.
Structurally, Mercenary Kings Reloaded follows a pretty predictable loop. You take a mission, beat it, get items, rinse and repeat. Eventually you’ll earn enough points to rank up, which unlocks a whole new set of missions with your improved rank, as well as allowing you to craft new weapons. It’s not quite as redundant as it sounds, as they wisely mix things up with different types of missions. Some will have you gathering specific materials, exterminating a set amount of foes in a given area, hunting down and destroying a boss, reaching a rendezvous point on the map and much more. There’s a lot of variety to keep things interesting, though it does start to feel a bit samey after a few hours. Thankfully, the longer you play the game, the crazier and more complicated it gets, which is very much in the game’s favor.
One design decision I have mixed feelings about are all the modifications you can make to your character. At your base camp, you can trade in items to do all sorts of helpful activities, such as building guns, knives, cooking food for temporary bonuses and building and installing mods. While all of those are helpful, there are a few aspects that tamp down my enthusiasm. Let’s take the weapons. You will need set amounts of specific items to craft any weapon. That’s fine, and while the vast majority will be picked up in the course of beating levels, there’s usually one or two that are much harder to find. One way to avoid that is by building and installing mods. Much like weapons, they take specific materials to create, but they help you out by providing specific effects when equipped. The downside is almost every mod has a positive and negative effect. The Hoarder mod, for example, makes it so you’ll always find items from killing enemies, but it also makes it so you’re more likely to get common items. It can be a challenge to juggle the pros and cons, and since you can only have two mods equipped at a time, you’re rather limited in how useful they can be. I found the same sort of complications with weapons. Even outside the challenge of finding the right parts to craft what you want, you need to keep in mind each weapon has different ammunition it can fire, so if you crafted the wrong bullets, you’re SOL. Besides that, you also need to remember the accuracy, reload speed and even the weight of each weapon. Your reaction time will be significantly impaired by heavier weapons, so it’s in your best interest to find something light, powerful and fast.
There’s another aspect of weapons that I was a little irritated with. At a certain point in the game, you will be able to craft elementally based weapons, either Fire, Lightning or Ice, and many enemies have elemental weaknesses. While that’s cool in theory, and several games, especially RPGs, implement it well, I found it useless in Mercenary Kings Reloaded. Not because the elemental ammo did nothing, but because it was hard to know which elemental ammo I needed for a given mission. When you pick a mission, it tells you the basic parameters, such as your goal, the time you have to accomplish it, and even sub objectives. What it does not tell you is which enemies you’ll find in any given stage. While it’s true some foes are tied to the area you’re in, that doesn’t stop the game from throwing new foes at you unexpectedly. Worse, it’s not as though all the enemies in a given stage will all have the same elemental weakness, there’s a wide variety. Taken together with the issues listed earlier, I was left with somewhat mixed impressions of the weapon crafting aspect of the game. Thankfully, there were other things that kept my frustration to a low simmer.
The controls in the game are very well implemented, and seem perfectly suited to the Nintendo Switch. You jump with B, roll with A, shoot with Y and swing your knife with X. By holding the L trigger, you can bring up your inventory and select items. R is how you reload when you run out of bullets. There is a small reloading mini game, where you can get more powerful bullets if you press it at the right time. It is a neat idea, but also frustrating if you are eager to shoot and an enemy comes charging your way. Besides using your weapons, you also have a handy transceiver that you can pull up from your inventory. This lets you call one of your teammates to get either an item drop or a service. For example, you can call Bluebell for a first aid kit, or Miss Zero to teleport you to the start of the stage (much more helpful than it sounds). The trick is, each different use of the transceiver costs a certain amount of battery, and you can’t use it if you don’t have enough juice. Many stages require C4 to destroy specific walls, and while you can call up a reload, it costs more than half your battery life. This meant I often didn’t use the transceiver other than for C4 when absolutely necessary to the mission. That said, the transceiver is certainly useful and versatile, it just pays to be prepared before you start a mission. When I got smart and started carrying one pack of C4 with me at the start of every mission, it made things much easier.
Perhaps the game’s highest point is the visual design. This is a big reason I’m a fan of Tribute Games, and Reloaded doesn’t disappoint. It drips with personality, and every inch of the game is covered with lovingly crafted sprite work. Even though there are a few color swap versions of enemies, there’s still a huge variety on display here. You’ll see a range of emotion in the game, from a sly grin to a cowardly shriek to a bestial grimace. Special note goes to the massive bosses and mini bosses, which are all utterly fantastic. My favorite was probably Alpha, Baron’s loyal eye patch wearing puppy. You’ll encounter him many times in the game controlling his latest giant doggy mech, which are wonderfully strange as well as challenging. But it’s not just wonderful art on display, there is also a great soundtrack. The music will keep you immersed hour after hour, and I only noticed it restart a loop once. Overall, Mercenary Kings Reloaded is a visual smorgasbord of cartoon excellence.
While I enjoyed my time with the game, there are some larger complaints I need to address. First of all, the glitches. I will preface it by saying these were few and far between, but they still happened regularly enough to be a hindrance. Twice after beating a mission the game glitched, forcing a restart and erasing my current mission progress. A more common occurrence was the slowdown. When things got particularly heated, and I was dodging bullets, I would have the game freeze for a second before righting itself. This may be due to the fact I played the game entirely in portable mode, but it was still a problem that caused me to take a lot of damage I wouldn’t have otherwise.
My other issues with the game weren’t glitches, but rather awkward game design. I didn’t like how bringing up the map doesn’t pause the clock or stop enemies from attacking you. The same issues persists when using the transceiver, which is an even bigger oversight. I was also unclear why you can only equip a set amount of specific items before starting a mission, yet can gather more once you start it. For example, you can set 1 C4 or 2 First Aid Kits in your inventory before a mission, but if you find more in a stage, you’re able to add them to your inventory. I would have preferred just being able to equip 10 of each item.
While I enjoy the bosses in the game, there are some aspects of boss battles that were problematic. Early on in the game, practically every boss has multiple areas it will run to, forcing you to spend time playing hide and seek. I actually thought my game was glitching the first time this happened. Also, the makeshift arenas you face bosses in are annoying because if you die and return, bosses will be attacking you from off screen, so you can walk right into a hail of gunfire. Even the basic enemies can be a problem, since they usually respawn once you leave that screen. This is especially frustrating on missions with limited time frames or with big vertical distance, since falling too far means the enemies will return as you climb back up. Though I love the art in the game, there is so much going on in the background it’s easy to miss items in the very detailed backgrounds. This isn’t always an issue, but it caused me heartache on gathering missions. Finally, while much of the time it’s fun to run and gun, the platforming isn’t as smooth or intuitive as I would like. While it does avoid the cardinal sins of instant death spikes and bottomless pits, it’s far to easy to jump too high and hit a dangerous surface, or get thrown by a bullet into a pit of fire.
I was a bit torn complaining as much as I did, since I truly did enjoy Mercenary Kings Reloaded. But often I am more critical on things I enjoy, especially when I feel they didn’t fulfill their utmost potential. That said, for $19.99 I got 20 hours of gameplay out of it, which is pretty impressive for a smaller indie title. I can still appreciate all the hard work and heart that Tribute Games put into this, and would still recommend Reloaded for those who missed out on the initial release. It’s a fun game hampered by some design issues, but it’s still a fulfilling experience if you can look past its flaws.
Review Copy Provided by Publisher