Originally published on Pixelitis.net on June 15, 2013.
If you dug through Sony’s E3 booth, you’d eventually discover a PS4 indie section tucked away in the far corner. Titles like Outlast, Ray’s the Dead, Transistor, and Secret Ponchos were fully playable, but the one that caught my eye first was the Kickstarted side-scrolling shooter Mercenary Kings.
The crispy, pseudo 16-bit art style should be familiar to fans of Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World: The Game, and it’s certainly no coincidence given that developer Tribute Games’ members include ex-Ubisoft and Eidos employees Jonathan Lavigne, Jean-Francois Major and Justin Cyr.
Mercenary Kings is like a hodgepodge of Contra, Metal Slug, Metroid and Monster Hunter, with a dash of Castlevania: Harmony of Despair. The game is comprised of variously large, interconnected levels not unlike Metroid or Castlevania in which up to four players, offline (via four-way splitscreen) or online co-op run, gun and collect items in order to fulfill specific objectives.
Like Harmony of Despair, players can split up in order to multi-task and cover more parts of the map, and coordinating these sort of things among your partners is a necessity given that these objectives have a time limit. The demo I played put me smack dab in the middle of a jungle littered with enemy combatants, zip lines and structures housing more loot. In addition to your firearm, your merc will sport a melee knife attack, a Metal Gear-styled transceiver that allows for codec-style calls to NPCs, and a loot bag that houses all of your crafting items.
Combat is fairly straightforward. I particularly liked how headshots would actually deal critical damage to enemies and the big red damage number indicators were rather satisfying to see as they got bloodily blown away by my weapons. Pro tip: keep that rifle aimed down as you jump over them. I do wish your character could shoot diagonally a la Contra, but perhaps that’d make the game less challenging.
And challenging it is. When I played solo, I underwent a Monster Hunter-style chase of a jumbo-sized mech miniboss that I was tasked with destroying. If the battle goes on for too long, the boss can disappear into the jungle, and you’ll have to use your map to figure out where he’s run off to. This can make things tricky when the clock’s running down to finish him.
The Monster Hunter inspiration doesn’t stop there. Collecting the various items scattered around the map allows you to upgrade your tools and craft new ones. Rarer crafting items will be tucked away in more obscure locations, which encourages exploration.
In its current state, the game doesn’t utilize the new facets of the DualShock 4, though pressing in the touchpad activates the Metroid-style map. The team is working on utilizing the Share function for speed run recording and other videos that boastful players are bound to archive.
Mercenary Kings has been designated as a launch window title for the PS4, with the PC/Steam version tagging along for the ride as well.