PAX East Preview: Mercenary Kings gunning for the 2D-shooter crown

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Mercenary Kings is essentially 4-player Metal Slug with customizable weapons.

It’s rarely appropriate to boil a game down to such a simple statement, but it’s safe to say that if you’re sitting here thinking “4-player Metal Slug with weapon crafting! Fuck yes!”, then you’re going to gobble this game up like Gobstoppers (which actually aren’t very gobble-able). If that idea makes you yawn, then just move along.

Mercenary Kings is being developed by Tribute Games, the team responsible for Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and Wizorb, so they definitely have the chops to pull off such a project.

“We’re not trying to fool ourselves. We’re not trying to invent a new kind of game. Just take what we like and run with it,” said vice president Jean-Francois Major.

For Mercenary Kings, that means taking the established conventions of the run-and-gun shooter and adding online and local co-op for up to four players and a complex weapon upgrade system. The demo that we played on the PAX floor had 289 gun parts alone, and Major said that wasn’t a final tally.

As with most games of this ilk, the story won’t be a huge component, but there is a military base that acts as a hub where you and your comrades can visit the shop to customize your weapons and talk to the general to choose a mission. There’s also a tent where you can display your favorite weapons and trophies.

Major said there 60 missions planned for the game, with additional ones to be added later on. Some of the missions will be the standard-fare linear missions, but there will also be ones revolving around rescuing hostage, killing a certain amount of enemies, and finding certain objects.

The mission we played was a boss level where the objective was to hunt down and kill a boss; in this case, the boss was a giant yellow power-loader-ish machine. The levels are designed to have multiple paths and have a lot of verticality, so it’s easy to split up to hunt down it down. That’s fortunate since the game can get hectic with four guys shooting every which way.

Even in this early mode, the combat is fairly smoothly and the running and jumping feels pretty much as you’d expect. Your character also has a knife that can be used for close encounters, and Major said they already had 100 different knives in the current build. The team abandoned the one-hit kill mantra of previous shooters in favor of a life bar, which was a wise choice considering how chaotic things can get.

The only thing that felt slightly off was that there is no diagonal shooting. Fans of Metal Slug may be right at home with this omission, but I just couldn’t get used to it. “We want to force players to play within the limits of the game. Diagonal aiming always feels clunky. We want to limit the player’s action,” said Major.

Although the developers are obviously fans of games like Metal Slug and Contra, one of the game’s major influences is a little less obvious. “When we were working on Scott Pilgrim, we were huge fans of Monster Hunter. We wanted to create a game with all the toys we thought were cool but didn’t have the time or resources to do it.”

The team recently raised more than $100,000 in a recent Kickstarter, so hopefully they have all the resources they need to make the ultimate 2D shooter.

Posted on by Mike Wall in PC, PC Previews, Previews

About Mike Wall

Mike grew up and lives near Philadelphia and has been intrigued with games ever since his parents preached that they rotted his brain. He studied journalism at Penn State and got his master's degree in secondary education before realizing that not even summers off would make that job palatable. He now works in marketing and is trying to find time to continue writing a book about zombies, aliens, vampires, the end of the world, and a talking cat.