Mercenary Kings

Tribute Games’ latest is an attractive, dense and challenging 2D shooter


For all of the talk of crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter, and their democratic, inspiring projects, the majority don’t see the light of day or make a large cultural dent. Mercenary Kings, however, proves that a fun, popular and acclaimed game can emerge from the site.

This is from Tribute Games, who previously made the fabulous Scott Pilgrim tie-in game. And while Mercenary Kings doesn’t quite reach Pilgrim’s astronomical heights, it’s still a clever, compulsive and accomplished little number.

It has a similar aesthetic to Pilgrim; retro, slightly blocky graphics; restless, moving background details; 2D game-play and cute characters with big Manga eyes. Unlike Pilgrim, Mercenary Kings is a shooter with exploration and elaborate power-up menus.

Mercenary Kings is retro in more ways than one. The difficulty (even on the “Rookie” setting) reminded me of how hardcore games were in the 80s: Merely touching the enemy saps energy; power-ups and extra energy are doled out reluctantly. And there’s a time limit on every level. While undeniably challenging, it brings a real sense of old-school gaming gratification when you complete a level (and without the ten-minute Commodore 64 load times).

Mercenary Kings is also a deceptively ambitious and complex title. You can augment your characters’ abilities, their weapons and appearance in between missions. Though - like a hardcore role-playing game - you really earn those perks. Will you choose the heat-seeking bullets, the multi-directional firepower or a bigger magazine clip? Other trimmings include online multiplayer options and the always welcome ability to choose between various missions.

This retro title will be too onerous for some, but for the right player, Mercenary Kings will feel like a violent, irreverent and lively blast from the past.