Thanks to Tribute Games for the review code
Title: Mercenary Kings: Reloaded Edition
System: Nintendo Switch (eShop)
Release Date: 02/06/2018
In the far reaches of the jungle, an evil Colonel controlling the organization known as CLAW has made his stand by building an evil laboratory, and it’s up to a group of mercenaries to take him out once and for all and free the forest!
Right off the bat the thing that needs to be stated is that this game is just absolutely gorgeous running on the Switch. Fantastic, smooth sprite animation with lots of color to them and equally stunning cutscenes, this is a 2D treat to behold. Combine that with a kickass main theme and this game starts off with a fantastic first impression. Unfortunately, the rest of the soundtrack failed to hook me in the same way as the intro, but the game’s level environments remain stunning throughout, and even the most basic of enemies have great animation!
The main goal of Mercenary Kings is to complete a variety of missions to gradually raise your rank, from a mere recruit all the way to a top general. These range from rescuing hostages, taking out specific enemies or a boss to gathering materials. Usually said missions last well over 10 minutes, an indication that the missions themselves can be very, very long, but they don’t get into absolutely absurd lengths if you remain careful, thanks to a handy mini-map accessible with the minus button. The controls are mostly standard for the genre, with movement being done with the left stick or D-Buttons, attacks being done with the Y and X buttons, B button used to jump, L button used for the equipment menu, and the A button to do a roll forward. After choosing one of the four playable characters, you’re off to the base camp!
The levels start off fairly simple, tasking you with some basic missions to start off, before they gradually get more and more difficult due to increasing the strength of the enemies and hazards. Unfortunately, not every mission is their own unique stage, and thus a lot of stages repeat, although with objectives in different locations than they were before, so some of the more spacious levels at least will have several missions taking place far away from one another, and familiarity with the locations will help you navigate faster. Sometimes if you do enough looking during a main mission, however you can even discover secret, mini missions that are usually completed far away from where the game wants you to be looking. Combat is incredibly simple to grasp, with you being able to use your melee knife attack with the X button without limitations, while the stronger projectile weapons can be used with the Y button. Depending on the weapon, your ammo count will vary, and thus when it runs out you’ll need to reload by carefully timing a button press of the R button towards the safer parts of a meter, with the potential to get a minor attack boost if you hit the sweet spot.
That being said, after only a few missions another big aspect of this game will pop up that will either make or break the experience for you, and that is the material grinding. You see, enemies will drop materials upon death, and sometimes treasure chests will have materials buried within. A lot of these are easy to find and there’s even a hunting ground right outside the main hub for easy access to the most basic materials such as leather and pelts, but some of these are tougher to find, as per the norm for games with such a system. Their main purpose is to be used in order to build the wide variety of weapon and armor upgrades you’ll be needing as you rank up, thus introducing some RPG elements to the adventure. While the default weapons aren’t too bad and do a decent amount of damage, it’s very crucial that you upgrade your equipment ASAP, prioritizing your armor for the sake of being able to gain more HP for the tougher missions. Enemies on even the easiest rank will take you out in four to five hits if you aren’t careful, so increasing it is crucial if you want to survive, especially if you aren’t the best at dodging the enemies in this game, or else you’ll get murdered on the higher ranks.
The quickest way this will be evident is if you go into the game’s online co-op mode, where you can choose to open up just to people on your friend list, or folks playing the game from all over the world, and if another person joins, they may be able to choose a mission that’s above your current rank, and even if the objective is as simple as rescuing a hostage or gathering more items, the enemies on the higher ranks will hit like a tank and will take a while to kill with your current weapon. While you start each mission with a few lives, (the penalty of losing reward money if you do lose one) if any of the two or more members lose them all during a mission, it’s failed for everyone, which can really make the online mode be hit or miss and something that you are better off saving until you rank up several times. There is local co-op to enjoy as well, but it’s one of those awkward games that requires you to use a secondary account on your switch, so if you want to have four players join you in a local game, prepare to make up to three whole extra accounts for that purpose, each with their own save mile to manage. Why they couldn’t have had a basic guest function where the other players could only contribute to the P1 save, I have no idea.
In conclusion, Mercenary Kings is a good example of a gorgeous looking game that has everything right when it comes to the presentation, but isn’t actually fun when played as a game. The combat is enjoyable and going with a buddy is even better, even if it requires the confusing user system of the Nintendo Switch for local play, but the actual task of going through really long missions to do simple tasks due to spacious levels is just dull after a while, even with the hit-and-miss upgrade and material systems. It really pains me to feel bored with such a gorgeous game that could have easily been more enjoyable if the levels weren’t as big and if the game wasn’t so grind-heavy in some aspects, but if you manage to grasp the general controls of the game you can at least make it without a stronger weapon as long as you prioritize armor upgrades.
Considering how stellar Tribute Games’ other title, Flinthook was, Mercenary Kings is a disappointment in comparison, but if you do manage to get a friend onboard despite the clunky local co-op or via online, you’re in for a much better time, or if you don’t mind retreading familiar ground a lot. Another piece of good news is that thanks to in-game achievements, HD Rumble and portable play, this is easily the best version of the game by far, but it could have easily been made even better than it ended up. This isn’t a bad game by any means, but it certainly is more imposing than it may seem, and even if you do get around to figuring out the rhythm of the game like I did, it still doesn’t help the repetitious nature of the missions.
I give Mercenary Kings: Reloaded Edition a 6 out of 10.