Mercenary Kings Preview: The Contra MMO
Mercenary Kings was one of the premiere entries at Sony’s indie booth back at E3. Sadly, things have been a bit quiet from developer Tribute Games since then, though the game is still targeted 2014 release. An early-access of the version of the game has been available since July on Steam, but it’s seen a bit of a quiet release compared to a Starbound or Rust. Nevertheless, this has been something I’ve put off long enough: it’s time to venture back into Mercenary Kings.
After a trip to the store, that is. I previously didn’t own a PC controller and this thing handles awkwardly with a keyboard set-up. Thankfully, I felt right at home with a traditional gamepad.
Mercenary Kings is the child of classic side-scrolling shooters and MMO/dungeon crawler quests. You’ll be tasked with rescuing X amount of hostages, gathering Y amount of items, and completing Z amount of tasks. You’ll do so across familiar maps and terrain, though the environments surprisingly never really felt stale. This is possible due to the fact that once your screen moves, enemies will respawn behind you. Nothing really ever feels safe, and you’re required to keep on your toes.
This leads to an interesting difficulty curve. The enemies are indeed challenging, but their actual difficulty varies. Every baddie is not equal; some are simple fodder for your bullets while others will make you work for that loot they drop. Then there are those who are just flat out annoying. There’s this big crate monster…thing that takes a good minute to kill with very little reward. It’s easier to just bypass it and save your precious health.
Speaking of which, health is indeed a precious commodity. Sure, you can stock up on first aid and rations, though I’ve honestly had problems doing that. I bought some first aid kits from a vendor at my camp, but I have no idea how to access them during a mission. Maybe I’m just dumb. Nevertheless, missions don’t reset should I lose my health. I’ll instead respawn at the infirmary, receive less cash once my quest is completed, and go about my merry way.
It’s pretty amazing to see how the normal monotony of fetch questing can be ignored with a good enough hook. In the case of Mercenary Kings, that’s the side scrolling shooting. The fact that it plays as well as you’d expect is a big bonus on its favor. Again, if you’re playing on a keyboard, then you’re going to want to throw that keyboard out the window, smash it with a hammer, and drill a jackhammer into it before picking up a PC controller. The difference in the control schemes are night and day; it changes the experience from wholly frustrating to quite enjoyable.
People are going to point out that this is simply a 2D version of Borderlands. Those comparisons have their merits, but Mercenary Kings has something going in its favor: very little downtime. You’ll receive your quest, go complete it, and then be sent back to base where you’ll shop around and get your next quest. There’s no backtracking, driving across the planet, or endless exploring. It’s shoot, loot, shoot, and loot.
It’s also very fun.