(PS4 / PlayStation 4)

Mercenary Kings (PS4 / PlayStation 4)

Game Review

Mercenary Kings Review

USA USA Version

Posted by Edwin Garcia

You've been Tango'd

Tribute Games’ old school sidescroller Mercenary Kings is something of a Kickstarter success story, having reached Steam and the PlayStation 4 courtesy of a crowdfunding drive a couple of years ago. Produced by a chunk of the team behind the brilliant Scott Pilgrim vs. The World, this next-gen escapade maintains the same pixelated art-style as its predecessor, but this time clads its cast in army clothing. A combination of Mega Man, Monster Hunter, and Metal Slug, the release certainly has its heart in the right place – but is it a match made in retro heaven?

You begin your 16-bit adventure by choosing between two characters: King and his opposite Empress. Both of these stars are skilled mercenaries, but don’t play any differently – it’s more of a sprite swap. Their mission is simple: take down the evil CLAW Corporation before they conquer the world. It’s a fairly straightforward plot that’s only really present to give some context to your actions, but the dialogue throughout is witty and engaging, which helps to make up for the lack of any meaningful story.

Let’s be honest, though, what really matters in releases of this ilk is the gameplay. Your basic abilities include jump, crouch, roll, and the option to shoot in four different directions. Unfortunately, these don’t always feel as tight as you may like – with the jumping in particular prompting problems as you leap between platforms. It’s pivotal in fast-paced affairs such as this one that you never feel like the inputs have let you down, but there’ll be occasions where you’ll fail to make it over a spike-filled gap purely because of the unresponsive controls.

By no means is the game broken, but just keep in mind that you will experience some misfires which can lead to real frustrations – especially early on. Still, one particularly interesting game mechanic requires you to time your reload just right. Much like in Xbox 360 exclusive Gears of War, stopping a moving marker in the green when you replenish your bullets will result in a swifter animation and enhanced damage, while landing in the red will cause your character to take an age when swapping out their magazine.

It takes a bit of time to get used to, but fortunately you’re not thrust into difficult situations right away. The game is well paced, and you’ll start off by completing simple objectives like gathering materials and completing simple extraction missions, which serve as great practice for the encounters that you’ll experience later on in the adventure. More challenging enemies are also introduced as you progress, with simple grunts eventually paving the way for mechs. You’ll learn throughout the campaign how to best dispose of them, meaning that you’ll be prepared by the end.

Sadly, there’s just not enough variety among the antagonists. You’ll fight the same adversaries multiple times, and this tedium is only really relinquished by the excellent boss fights. As is traditional for the medium, these typically comprise bigger foes who will take more effort to bring down. There’ll be multiple spots on the map where a boss can appear from, and so you must follow it around the world until you finally get a chance to do some damage and put it out of its misery.

However, while you’ll spend a chunk of the title on assignment, a lot of the leg work is actually done at a home base. This is where the magic happens, as you’ll be able to participate in banter before you begin a mission. Between the weapons girl, captain, and even the man that flies you into battle, there are a ton of different characters to chat to, and this injects each individual with some personality. It never really approaches Mass Effect levels of background story, but it’s an appreciated addition nonetheless.

Home base is also important because it’s where the title’s crafting system can be found. When you’re out during a mission, you’ll find plenty of loot that ranges from wood to silicon, which can be used to create new weapon parts. As you gather these materials, you’ll be able to construct increasingly extravagant firearms, which is reminiscent of the reward loop in a game like Monster Hunter, as you’re frequently undertaking missions to find the resources required to build better gear. There’s absolutely loads to customise, too, which is not only addictive, but allows you to tailor the experience to your personal play style.

It presents a structural problem, though, as finding rare loot is pivotal to upgrading your character – but time limits mean that you rarely have the opportunity to go out in search of said uncommon objects. At the beginning of each mission, you’re given a primary objective – rescue, rendezvous, or neutralise – along with some optional side-quests, but completing these within the 10 to 20 minute allowance while also gathering up resources proves tricky. You can replay any stage, but we’d have preferred the option to explore more first time.

Nevertheless, if you don’t feel like going loot hunting alone, you can always grab up to three other online friends to play with you. The title includes both local and online multiplayer, so if you’re having trouble completing a particular mission, recruiting others to fight by your side will make it both easier and arguably more fun. The netcode is solid, but we personally feel that the title’s at its best when you’re huddled around a single television screen with real-life pals, all barking commands at each other while you play.

Whether you enjoy it alone or with accomplices, the release does have a few nifty features that are exclusive to the PlayStation 4 version. For starters, clicking the DualShock 4's touchpad brings up the world map, which you can then scroll by using the uber-responsive panel. Moreover, each time that you reload, a sound will be emitted from the controller, which adds a nice sense of place to the experience. Both additions are gimmicky and arguably unnecessary, but it’s nice to see the developer at least attempt to make use of the PS4’s unique attributes.


Initial control issues detract from Mercenary Kings’ old school ambitions a little, but this is still an enjoyable romp that comes wrapped in a charming pixelated package. The ability to customise your weapons and armour is what sets this release apart, allowing you to inject the kind of personality into the action that its predecessors lack. The mission time limits seem unnecessary, but look past them and you’ll find plenty of fun here – especially if you recruit three real-life soldiers to share the frantic foray with.

Game Trailer

User Comments (28)



get2sammyb said:

@odd69 I tend to agree. The next-gen tax has been pretty awful so far - I hope developers (big and small) start rethinking their pricing soon.



Kezabien2 said:

I generally love retro-style indie titles (some of my favourite games of 2013 included Hotline Miami, Retro City Rampage, Thomas Was Alone and Lone Survivor) and these fit perfectly on the PS Vita, even the PS3. But on the PS4 – a “next gen” console – I can’t help but feel a bit ripped off.



Tasuki said:

@odd69: It is free this month if you have PS+.

Nice review @Edwin_Garcia: Just a quick question did you happen to come across some bugs that people have been saying like the music cutting out and the game crashing at certain levels?



THEundying27 said:

I played this game for a total of two minutes then I deleted it. I refuse to play this game and I really hope people will get this for free and not pay $20, it's totally not worth it.



Carl-G said:

I love old-skool(that is the way i want to spell it) games but i want real old-skool games on PSN 'for PS4', like (Original Versions of) -
Space Invaders
Dig Dug
Bubble Bobble
Rally X
Pole Position
Rainbow Islands
Return of the Invaders
Missile Command
...Endless Old-Skool List really;) (+ old Amiga games from the Bitmap Brothers etc etc) I wanted all those games for the PS3(got a few over the years that did come to the PS3) But it would be really COOL if SONY could do a 'Retro' section on PSN for the PS4 with these games & you could buy what game you liked out of that list over time Oh well i guess i will have to just play them on my Laptop using MAME Emulator (AMAZING it is to)

  • Got this game for free(PS Plus) & will try it with a friend once he comes round. Looks o.k'ish.


FullbringIchigo said:

I downloaded it, played it, didn't like it so I deleted it

thank god it was on PS+ otherwise I would have wasted my money



TOMBOY25 said:

yea gotta say this game is pretty bad nearly choked when i saw the price.



sub12 said:

Theirs really nothing wrong with the presentation or graphics IMO.

.....the gameplay however is pretty mediocre.



redd214 said:

Game has a couple glaring flaws but im having a blast playing it, seems to be rather polarizing thus far from what ive been seeing.



DavidH said:


Sorry but I disagree, Metal Slug is easy to pick up and great to play from the start, this however is the total opposite, not welcoming to the newcomer and overcomplicated by far. Just not a fun experience.

As I suspect many others have done, downloaded it thanks to PS+ and deleted within half an hour, so pleased didn't pay for it.



Tony_342 said:

A 7 is better than I expected. I've been playing this game for two or three hours now, and my opinion of it keeps going back and forth from "Meh" to "This sucks." I haven't deleted it yet like everybody else apparently has (because I keep hoping it will get better), but I've certainly considered it. Honestly, I'll probably only play it once more and then, most likely, get rid of it.

It's just not a good game, unfortunately. I think it suffers considerably from poor design in pretty much every area. I don't find any joy in speaking ill of something on which many people worked long and hard, but asking $20 for this game is just too much (especially considering how many people don't even want it for free).



AhabSpampurse said:

I like it. I played for several hours, and my upgraded gun now looks like a toilet. Plus, old school Contra mechanics with smatterings of Mega Man, it's fun. I wouldn't necessarily buy it but for free I'm not complaining.



AhabSpampurse said:

@ReigningSemtex I completely agree. There's loads of nods to other old school gems in here too. I found it super easy to pick up, and like Scott Pilgrim, after an hour or two the rewards are substantial.



odd69 said:

I read the blog so i knew it was free as long as i subscribed to plus. I think they announced it before the store update,. Now as it's free and i've been playing it, i honestly would like to purchase it to help the Devs and i dont need a PSplus subscription to play.I think they did a good enough job to get an "8" most definitely and if priced at 14.99 i wouldn't think twice about buying it on the spot. But i will buy this game at some point, you know Sony and all those crazy awesome sales



blindndeaf said:

oh no I do not like to moan but this game is so bad and I have played better games when I had the Amega 500 upgraded to one meg about twenty years ago.what is happening with the stuff for the four? Nothing yet in my opinion has hinted what the four should be able to do .glad ive stiil got the three to keep me going .love Sony and love playstation but wish they would bring somthing good out



get2sammyb said:

Wow, split opinions on this one! I haven't had a chance to play the retail version, but I played about 10 minutes of a demo and wasn't impressed...



Ginkgo said:

After getting it for free on PS+, I gave it a try. Completed the first mission and was bored to tears. Maybe it gets better, but what I saw was so uninteresting I will not bother to find out.

I do not understand the love people have for faux retro 2D platformers. We used to play them in the 80s because that is all there was, but times have moved on. The game is not even innovative in that space. It did nothing that hasn't been done (and better) 1000 times before.

How this game could get 78 on metacritic and a game like Killzone Shadowfall 73 is beyond me. I'm lost. What do people see in this game?



xMEADx said:

Also disappointed just glad I didn't have to pay for it, not going to delete it though it may be a good game if I'm ever bored enough, just isn't my kinda game maybe next month's will be



ohhaime said:

When the game was announced for PS+ I just had to get a PS4 to play it and After managing to find an open box but never used, PS4 for $313 I can say it was totally worth it.

It's the perfect combination Monster Hunter and Metal Slug,two of my favorite game series.
I love the art and story presentation.The loot system is great and I never had a problem with the controls(yes there is a slight delay when you jump but it's animated and consistent so after a few minutes of playing I had adapted and didn't even notice it anymore)
Or the time limits.( The are many missions with time limits around 20-30 minutes which is more then enough time to explore a whole map.)



WebHead said:

Downloaded it yesterday and deleted it today. Finniky controls, awkward level design, and too hard. Wasn't having fun. Wish I could get a refund.

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