With the absolute onslaught of digital games hitting the Nintendo Switch eShop, you’d be forgiven if you overlooked Mercenary Kings Reloaded. It doesn’t have a recognizable name attached to it and there was very little fanfare leading up to its release. In fact, I barely knew what this game was when I received the review code, other than it looked like it might be a Metal Slug clone. What I discovered surprised me – in a very good way.
Mercenary Kings Reloaded is one part Contra, one part Metal Slug, one part Monster Hunter, and one part Mega Man. Yeah, that’s a lot of parts, but it all adds up to one solid package. You begin the game choosing your hero to play as and it’s up to you to put a stop to the evil forces of CLAW, who have taken over a top secret laboratory base. This side-scrolling shooter shares some basic DNA with others like it, but layers on some really awesome mechanics that make it stand apart from the rest.
The game features a home base of operations where you can talk to a variety of NPCs to purchase supplies, upgrade weapons, change appearance, and more. You’ll get to pick your missions here as well, and I really like that you don’t have to tackle them in any sort of order. These can range from rescue operations to gathering materials to stopping one of the bad guys. The missions have timers so you have to be fast on your feet to complete them and each time you die part of your reward money gets taken away. Unlike games like Contra where the movement is always forward, here you can explore the somewhat big maps to find alternate paths and secret items. A map can be accessed at any time, but just remember that the countdown timer never stops – so don’t dillydally for too long. I was surprised to see a more “open world” take on a game like this, and it was refreshing, especially at the start of the game. After playing for a few hours I began to discover that the game reuses the maps and enemies and the missions often fell into the same few categories. That’s probably to be expected in a game such as this, but a little more variety would have propelled this game to an even higher score.
As you defeat enemies they will sometimes drop a resource. These can then be used back at your base camp to craft new weapons, armor, and other upgrades. This constant character progression is a welcome addition to an action game like this. You’re always armed with a knife and even that can be enhanced for more melee damage. You can hold several items in your backpack at once, including things like grenades and C4, which may be needed to take out a concrete wall or to just go nuclear on a tough enemy encounter. Speaking of, there are a variety of different types of baddies throughout, including the typical military types (snipers, gunners, etc.). Interestingly there are some adversaries that look like they were ripped right out of a Mega Man game, like robotic snails and flying drones. There are even animals that can be fodder if you so choose – you might get some much-needed crafting materials from them.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, the game is a bit slower than something like Contra, but it still delivers spot-on controls. You can jump, duck, shoot, and even roll throughout the areas. If you’re situated on platform above, you can drop down and take the lower path. Zip lines are often positioned in specific spots for faster travel and there are typically plenty of bunkers to explore that will often take you to a completely new area on the map. Much like Gears of War, you can reload your gun at any time and a little meter appears with a specific spot to hit the button again for a perfect reload, which gives some of your bullets more damage potential. I love that the game encourages players to poke around the levels to find more supplies. It is a risk-reward of course, because you’re fighting against the countdown clock and inevitably will be taking damage along the way – which could land you far back in the level in the medic building and losing part of your mission money to boot. If you fail to complete your objective before the time runs out, you’re booted back to camp and you have to start from scratch.
Graphically the game looks fantastic on the Switch, especially if you love detailed sprite animation. If you’re familiar with Metal Slug, you’ll find a similar style here. The game is slightly bloody with overly animated gore on some enemies; especially the ones that have their heads blow up. The sprites are big and animate well and the backgrounds are typically feature the usual jungle compound look. I really dig the art design featured throughout, especially the overly animated character portraits when talking on the radio.
The sound effects and music are great as well. I never once thought the music was grating or annoying and in fact most of the tracks are quite memorable. There’s not really much voice work in the game, except for the occasional screams and some one-liners when you reload your weapons. The only issue I have with the game’s audio is that after I’ve been playing for about a half hour the left speaker will usually have a crackling sound. This same issue was present in Stardew Valley and they eventually fixed that problem, so I’m hopeful the developers can do that here as well.
Like any good 2D sidescrolling action game, this one features co-op. You can play up to four players split-screen or connect online to play with friends or random players. The game can be even more fun with a bunch of friends so it’s great that this is yet another game where one can share the joy.
With well over 300 games to choose from on the Switch eShop, it can be difficult to find the diamonds in the rough. This one should definitely be on your list of ones to pick up if you’re into the genre. The game packs quite a lot of content, and although some of it becomes repetitive I have to give the game credit for allowing players to select missions and for featuring different types of objectives. I like the character progression in the game as well, something one typically doesn’t find in titles like this. The game is completely enjoyable solo or with friends, looks and plays great, and won’t put too big of a dent in your wallet. What’s not to like?
Mercenary Kings Reloaded was reviewed using a final retail Nintendo Switch download code provided by the publisher.