GET YOUR GAME ON: 8-bit retro action is rampant in ‘Mercenary Kings’

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First Posted: 4/29/2014

Playstation Plus strikes again! April’s free game for PS Plus members is “Mercenary Kings,” and it’s packed with a ton of guns, explosions, and old school retro charm. Made by the same studio that created the “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World” game, “Mercenary Kings” looks and plays like a retro NES-style action platforming game.

Right from the beginning, I thought to myself that “Mercenary Kings” feels a lot like a mash-up of “Mega Man” and “Contra” with some RPG elements. Even though it looks and plays like an old game, there are some elements that feel more modern. The story is mostly told in radio sequences that remind me of “Metal Gear Solid,” and the gun customization and genetic modifications remind me of a modern role-playing game like “Diablo” or “Borderlands.”

The Mercenary Kings are an elite group of soldiers for hire. You and your team were killed on a previous mission and were revived with a secret scientific concoction called Mandrake made by Dr. James Neil. Now you and your team must infiltrate an island terrorist based on Mandragora Island to rescue Dr. Neil from the forces of CLAW, who want to use his scientific formula to create an army of unkillable super soldiers.

When you start the game, you can choose between a male or female character named King or Empress, respectively; both of them control the same, so it is mostly an aesthetic choice. Most of the story plays out in missions. As you fly your helicopter to the mission start, you get a debriefing from your general via radio explaining why you are on that mission, and he fills you in on the story so far. Most of the missions are based on rescuing hostages, finding resources, infiltrating bases, and taking down robot bosses. The first couple of missions are to rescue your teammates; once they are rescued, they will be in your base camp to talk to. Before each mission, you can wander around your camp talking to your other crewmates as you upgrade your weapons, buy genetic modifications, and customize equipment so you can take on the 100-plus missions available. The level of weapon and equipment customization is absurd; you can either buy new weapons or armor or you can gather material and make up to 300 different types of guns and 100 different types of knifes that have different effects and powers. Every one of these guns has customizable parts, so there thousands of combinations to make your ultimate custom arsenal.

The levels are designed really well; there are tons of hidden nooks and crannies to explore, collectibles to find, and bad guys to shoot. Each mission gets incrementally harder and longer as you become more powerful with your upgrades. Along the way, there are some really cool boss fights with big robot bosses. Just like in the old school shooters like “Mega Man,” each of the level bosses has a pattern you have to learn or a trick you have to figure out to complete the fight. Some are really tough, but they are a lot of fun. Unlike the older games, it is less linear; some of the bosses you have to find on the map, and some of the levels are like a “Metroid” game with sprawling maps where you have to find where the boss is, which can lead to some frustrating backtracking, but it lets you collect more weapon parts and money.

You can choose to play this game alone, which is great, but it is a blast with some friends; you can play this game with up to four players locally in your living room or online. Most missions have multiple objectives, so you can choose to stay together or your group can split up and tackle all of the objectives at the same time. Having four players can get very hectic and confusing, though; two players seem to be the sweet spot.

Overall, I really enjoyed “Mercenary Kings.” It has an amazing retro feel with slick old school 8-bit graphics, a great soundtrack, and an incredible amount of customization and things to explore. If you are a fan of classic platformers or shooters, you will like this game. Whether playing alone or with friends, this massive adventure should keep most players busy for hours. It is one of the better indie games in the PS4 store right now, and you should get it now while it is still free for PS Plus members.

-Robbie Vanderveken is the digital operations specialist at The Times Leader. E-mail him at