It’s a tough time to be moving in on Monster Hunter territory, and not least because the latest in Capcom’s franchise is doing numbers right now. The last few years have seen a glut of fantastic games lifting mechanics and systems from the MonHun franchise, and now the king has come to retake the throne. But Tribute Games aren’t dissuaded. Mercenary Kings: Reloaded Edition may be launching at an inopportune time, but it does more than enough to justify its place in my library.
Mercenary Kings is, quite simply, Metal Slug meets Monster Hunter. It’s a 2D action platformer with some light RPG elements largely stemming from an in-depth crafting system. You’re not skinning your enemies or cutting off limbs to turn into swords, but you’re still collecting materials on your outings to incrementally upgrade your guns.
As one of the titular mercenaries, you’re tasked with undertaking missions to rescue hostages, improve your base and equipment, take down powerful bosses and generally push back the forces that have taken over the island. The tone is, like many games from the early days of this generation, a love letter by 80s action films. It’s big and dumb and explosive.
Being the type of game it is, you’ll spend an awful lot of time fighting, but it’s here that I got hung up. There’s just not enough precision or control available to really facilitate the platforming and bigger enemy groups. You can only aim in the cardinal directions, and it’s often hard to dodge return fire. The roll is useful, but it’s difficult to judge its distance and whether you’ll actually avoid damage or not.
Getting an upgraded weapon, like an SMG or assault rifle, is where the game took a turn. The rhythmic nature of firing and reloading makes it far easier to fight on the move, even when there are enemies in multiple directions. The boss fights mix things up too, requiring a bit more finesse than a regular level. They are, in many ways, a bit like a Metroid boss: weak spots, attack patterns to memorise and arenas where pinpoint movement is king.
As you progress through the main mission offerings, your base will expand with new services and upgrades. There’s a nice blend of cosmetic and equipment customisation, albeit limited in both regards. Knives, banners, attachments and mods provide granular control over your character.
It’s chaotic fun, but the singleplayer experience‘s meagre narrative doesn’t do much to drive me forward. Fortunately, there is support for local and online co-op. On Switch, you can have up to four players on one system, and the game gets a whole lot more fun as you add more people to the mix. Like a good popcorn action film, this is best enjoyed with a group of friends.
Like Monster Hunter, this is a game that shines in its pick-up-and-play nature. Taking my Switch on the go and jumping in for a mission or two when I had some free time felt like the ideal way to play. Performance never missed a beat, and it looks nice and sharp. It’s not a wholly memorable style, but serves the over-the-top action themes well.
So while Mercenary Kings may have flown under the radar a little back in 2014, its comeback is a successful one. It’s bombastic, it’s got plenty of content and the co-op play makes for a chaotic romp. Whether you’re buying this new version outright or re-downloading it after a past purchase, this game is absolutely worth your time.