Jonny discovers that a retro 2D shooter he backed on Kickstarter was well worth supporting….
Homage indie games are 10-a-penny on Kickstarter, so it was with trepidation that I chose to back Mercenary Kings in August 2012. The project was looking for $75,000 to fund a classic 2D shooter in the style of Megaman and Contra. The big draw Tribute Games were promising was that you could customise your guns completely, to choose the exact combination of pieces with which to blow your enemies away. Paired with this, they had in their team several of the artists who worked on Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World: The Game which I’ve never played, but remembered for its brilliant graphics.
Mercenary Kings was released on Steam in late July, and thanks to reaching over $100,000 with their Kickstarter project they were able to listen to fans and add in an additional playable character, as well as 4-player co-op mode.
As the game’s still in Early Access mode (essentially somewhere between Beta and full release) some things still need to be polished off, and there are frequent patches to fix known bugs. But even now this is a vastly enjoyable, fast-paced shooter. The artwork is slick and gory, and packs more life into a few dozen pixels than I’d have thought possible. Everything about the gameplay screams Megaman, but there’s certainly a dash of Ruff ‘N’ Tumble and even Chaos Engine thrown in there too.
The weapon customisation works wonderfully, with enemies dropping the materials you need to build parts for your arsenal. Fabric, Iron and Steel are easy to come by, as you cut through swathes of foot soldiers, but remembering where you found that Nitrogen will require some effort. This gives good reason to replay earlier missions and find those last few ingredients you need for a new gun barrel.
I quickly discarded the starting pistol, and fashioned a preposterously powerful 2-shot behemoth, with the body of a shotgun and all of the trappings of a sniper rifle: maximum range and damage, but with constant reloads. This worked wonderfully, cutting down most chumps in a single shot, which was fine until I had to bring back an enemy alive by weakening and capturing him. After accidentally killing him in one shot, it was with delight that I ran to the work bench and started building a weaker submachine gun to fulfil that specific task.
Unfortunately when I tried joining a co-op game, the server crashed; a risk of early access, I suppose. The gameplay is so perfectly simple that it may get a little stale in single-player, much like Borderlands or Dead Island, but as with these games, I suspect everything will come together when played with friends. A couple of you with spray-and-pray assault rifles, one loaded up on incendiary ammo and someone swearing by their trusty knife.
Mercenary Kings has hit the nail on the head with the charm and simplicity of classic shooters, alongside the crafting options and multiplayer capability of recent successes. I’ll be eagerly awaiting expansions in the future, and dishing out copies to friends for birthdays and Christmases.
Mercenary Kings is available to buy now from Steam.