Mer­ce­nary Kings

EDGE - - GAMES - Trib­ute Games PC (ver­sion tested), PS4 Out now

PC, PS4

Mer­ce­nary Kings is a Paul Robertson game all right. While its game­play most read­ily in­vites com­par­i­son to Metal Slug, its clos­est vis­ual cousin is Robertson’s Scott Pil­grim Vs The World: The Game. Mer­ce­nary Kings’ chunky pix­els show­case his love of manga’s grotesque side: dead en­e­mies’ heads swell and ex­plode, foes noise­lessly roar be­fore evap­o­rat­ing in show­ers of claret. On paper, a 2D plat­form-shooter that riffs on ’80s ac­tion cin­ema may not al­low the Aus­tralian an­i­ma­tor to in­dulge his in­flu­ences, but that doesn’t stop him hav­ing a bloody good go.

Trib­ute Games was set up by mem­bers of the team be­hind Scott Pil­grim, so it’s lit­tle sur­prise to see many of its older game’s traits reap­pear in Mer­ce­nary Kings. Both share an un­usual jump, with a lit­tle de­lay be­fore take­off while a char­ac­ter bends their knees. Both give a poor first im­pres­sion by start­ing too slowly. And both up­date old-fash­ioned tem­plates with newer sys­tems.

Some of Mer­ce­nary Kings’ in­clu­sions work bet­ter than oth­ers. Border­lands- style weapon cus­tomi­sa­tion is a fine fit, and the perk-like Mods are smartly bal­anced, with many buffs also pre­sent­ing a trade-off. And while you can only carry two types of item into bat­tle, you can call in al­ter­na­tives with mid-mis­sion air­drops. Gears Of Gath­er­ing mis­sions are less of a chore when an or­gan­ised team of four can split up and share the load. Per­haps the most cu­ri­ous as­pect of

is that this four­player game only gives you two char­ac­ter choices War’s ac­tive reload is a point­less ad­di­tion to this genre, though – the event bar that hovers over­head dis­tracts your fo­cus, slows this game’s pace as op­posed to punc­tu­at­ing it, and even ob­scures the ac­tion. Else­where, a blade­smith sells in­creas­ingly wacky melee weapons, a chef cooks up sin­gle-mis­sion health boosts, and you can buy ban­ners and or­na­ments to dec­o­rate your tent.

It’s all un­der­stand­able to a point – there’s only so much you can do with two-direc­tional run­ning and four-way gun­ning – but fa­tigue still soon sets in, de­spite the hun­dred-plus mis­sions on of­fer. Early ones are ex­er­cises in en­durance rather than skill, as you scour mul­ti­tiered lev­els for ma­te­ri­als or hostages, hin­dered by a con­fus­ing map. Things im­prove later on, but there are far more mis­sions than stages, and you’re re­tread­ing old ground by the half­way mark. At least fa­mil­iar­ity means you’re less likely to fall for dirty trial-and-er­ror tricks.

If only Trib­ute had fo­cused more on what Mer­ce­nary Kings does well. Robertson’s work is as eye-catch­ing as ever, the crunchy chip­tune sound­track is mar­vel­lous, and the ac­tion is en­gross­ing enough to make you briefly for­get the bloat that sur­rounds it. But as a whole, Mer­ce­nary Kings is a case study in the per­ils of Early Ac­cess. The need to pro­vide a steady flow of con­tent to early buy­ers has birthed a glut of su­per­flu­ous sys­tems and a swollen set of mis­sions – the wrong sort of sub­stance to ac­com­pany Robertson’s style.

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