Tag Archives: side-scroller

Mercenary Kings Review: Kill Shot

Mercenary Kings

Despite what you might think from its shell, Mercenary Kings is imbued with an impressive number of inspirations from some rather varied sources. Its simple but delightful pixel art and recognizable format begs you to pigeonhole it as just another side-scrolling Contra wannabe, but it tries to do a lot more than that. Unfortunately, not all of what it does necessarily goes down as an achievement.

To clear things up, though, it is mostly what it looks like, which is a side-scrolling shoot ’em up that has an aesthetic throwback to similar, 90s-era run ‘n gun games like Metal Slug. It’s a bit light on the story, but the gist is that you are part of a hero squad called The Kings touching down on the secret island headquarters of CLAW (the bad guys, if you couldn’t tell). You go from left to right, shoot the people shooting you, and whammy.

Except you don’t just go left to right. You can go right to left and even in and out of tunnels that lead you to other areas to go any which way you desire. One of the cool things about Mercenary Kings is that it is exceedingly non-linear. Your objective may lie in one particular direction, but the number of ways you can get there is numerous.

It makes the rather slim number of levels easier to swallow because you will rarely go through them the same way twice. Either by necessity or by choice, the varied paths you can—and will—take add enough freshness each time to make it worthwhile. It allows you to make the conscious decision to either beeline it to the end to make it before the timer runs out (every mission is timed) or explore and find gun parts, bonus objectives, and other sundry goodies.

Unfortunately, that also plays into one of the game’s nagging points. The bosses of the game have a tendency to cut and run. This is a direct play into the stylings of Monster Hunter where the giant beasts you would fight would run and you would have to track them. It’s easier here since it’s just two dimensions and the map marks the bosses’ possible locations, but my god it is super duper annoying. It was actually almost enough to make me quit a few times.

Strangely enough, though, it also increased the joy of bringing down the big baddies in the end. It wasn’t enough to make it worth the running around in circles over and over and over again, but it was a unique side of victory you rarely get in video games. If anything, it made me understand why people like Monster Hunter so much.

Mercenary Kings

But along the way, you will have plenty of time to get familiar with your gun, and I do mean your gun. You’ll collect parts as you play the game and cobble together your own weapon. It has a huge impact on the way you play the game. A machine gun-style body with a shotgun barrel? What about the opposite? You could have fast, powerful shots that are wildly inaccurate or slow, pattering rifle or anything other number of things. Your unique gun recipe will define your moment-to-moment combat scenarios, and it’s nice to see a game allow tangible consequences from user choices.

The combat itself is also quite good. As more enemy types get added to the mix (and there are a lot), those moments of laying on the trigger or mindless jumping over missiles will slowly fade out and let a frenzy take over. Active reload, strangely nimble robots, little buzzing drones. They will eventually come to consume your whole attention. It’s impressive, though those drones get super annoying. Enemies that slowly drift in and out of your eight shooting directions always become a hateful bore in these types of games, and this is no exception.

The bosses themselves present a different challenge. They hit, like, super hard. They hit hard enough to where you need to plan your health kit usage around them from the start of the level. But their attacks begin incredibly predictable once you uncover their highly repeatable patterns. Not exactly my cup of tea, but it is a refreshing change from the courtesy Mario-style three-hit bosses.

Mercenary Kings

If you add another playing into the mix via co-op, you’ll see something else relatively unique to the world of video games. Because of the heavily parallelizable structure of the game (find where the boss went, complete side objectives, etc.), you and your buddies can strike out in any way you see fit. Being able to break apart at any time and know that everyone is still able to contribute in a meaningful way was a great way to play.

Moving, however, isn’t topnotch. Shooting itself is fine, but there’s a strange heft to jumping that feels either like unwitting lag or a decision to make it feel like these mercs actually require hunkering down before launching into the air. Either way, it makes the platforming (and there’s a good amount, though nothing terribly demanding) and some battles feel sluggish.

Which is too bad because Mercenary Kings was well on its way to being a much better game than it is, and feeling like you have total control over your character goes a long way. It does a lot right and a lot to set itself apart from being just another side-scrolling shoot ’em up, but not enough of those two overlap to make Mercenary Kings much more than just an okay game.

Mercenary Kings

+ Pixel art and animations are all around fantastic
+ Crafting and experimenting with gun crafting to find your right weapon is great
+ The moment-to-moment combat gets pretty interesting
– Bosses running away from you is incredibly tedious
– Moving in the world doesn’t feel so hot

Final Score: 7 out of 10

Game Review: Mercenary Kings
Release: March 25, 2014
Genre: Side-scrolling shoot ’em up
Developer: Tribute Games
Available Platforms: PC, OSX, PlayStation 4
Players: Single-player offline, two to four online
MSRP: $19.99
Website: http://www.mercenarykings.com/

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Resogun Review: Fire Away

Resogun

What works so well about Resogun is that it doesn’t hold anything back. It doesn’t care if you think it’s just like Defender (which it is), it doesn’t care that levels end with a display of technical prowess and showmanship (so many voxels), and it definitely doesn’t care that it just gave you a bomb half a second after you really could have used one (that seems a lot like you’re fault). It just cares that you’re doing your damnedest to save the last humans.

Resogun is the latest from Finnish developer Housemarque, a studio you may remember from Super Stardust HD. Nary a year into Sony’s last console launch with the PlayStation 3, Housemarque made quite the splash with the old school Asteroids/Robotron mashup, going from developing for N-Gage and Gizmondo to making Dead Nation and Outland. They seem to have found their niche as they continue the trend of success with another retro-design space shooter.

In it, you play as one of several space fighter ships, scrolling left and right as you attempt to rescue the last humans from the grasps of the Sentients. The structure is most obviously inspired by Defender, but the twist is that the humans are locked up and have to be freed by defeating green glowing enemies called Keepers. Once you do that, you have to go track them down before they’re killed or abducted.

It’s a fantastic wrinkle to a framework we’re all familiar with for many reasons, namely because it all coincides with a bullet hell slant. There are a lot—like a lot—of enemies coming at you, some of which fire bullets while others move insanely fast unless you bust them up with a few shots and these really annoying ones that set up laser barriers that you have to destroy before you can pass.

So in the middle of simply trying to survive, you have to also pay attention to when the speaker in your controller calls out that Keepers are coming because if you don’t track them down and kill them, you lose that human. You can see a green orb fly out of their alien corpses to the free human, or you can follow the arrow coming out of your ship. And if you miss both of those cues, you can look at the counter (there are 10 humans per level) to see the status of each hostage: dead, alive, freed, dead from failure to rescue, rescued, dead from dying, etc.

If that sounds like a lot of information, that’s because it is. You also have to keep tabs on whether or not your overdrive is powered up (necessary for finishing the harder difficulties as it is insanely powerful, slightly freezing time and firing a giant Fuck You laser) and how many bombs you have left and if you have any shields left and and and.

Resogun

And that’s part of the beauty of Resogun. It really doesn’t hold anything back, but it does it fairly. It gives you all the information you could ever need at any point such as how many lives you have left or if you just earned a bomb or where a human is. It’s up to you to keep track of it all or check on it at your own risk because hey, guess what, there are more bad guys coming your way.

It never feels overwhelming, though. It feels precisely as tense as it needs to be without forcing you to rip a controller in half after every death. Much like any bullet hell game, there’s always a way out. It’s just up to you to have the dexterity and reflexes and awareness to know where that exit is. Whether it’s a bomb or a boost or just deft maneuvering, it’s up to you to know what to do and when and where.

Part of that is the level design. They vary in content, but the overall structure is always the same, which is a cylindrical 2D plane. At any given moment, you can glance off into the background to see what is coming around the endless bend. It lends the game a very gladiatorial feel, being locked up in a pit with these heathens. You’re made to lose but you’re determined to come out on top.

Resogun

This has to be one of the most empowering games I’ve ever played. One hit and you’re dead, but your mobility, your powers, and your foresight all enable you to be better than these droves of enemies. In any given moment, you are tracking and modeling in your mind at least half a dozen of possible outcomes. They’re closing in, you’re out of bombs, and you don’t have overdrive.

Your only hope is to boost free, grab the human, throw him into the goal, and slug it out in the open. Just like Resogun, you have to be relentless. It’s taxing and calming and punishing and rewarding all at the same time. This is a game that you should most definitely play, and given that it’s a PlayStation 4 exclusive free with PlayStation Plus and all new consoles come with 30 free days of Plus, you have no excuse to waste your entire night playing Resogun.

+ Looks gorgeous and sounds amazing
+ Makes the speaker in the controller a great idea instead of a dumb addition
+ An unbelievably well-crafted blend of familiar designs into something new and exciting
+ Nothing has been as rewarding this year as throwing a human into a goal and boosting away to rescue another

Final Score: 9 out of 10

Resogun

Game Review: Resogun
Release: November 15, 2013
Genre: Side-scrolling shoot ’em up
Developer: Housemarque
Available Platforms: PlayStation 4
Players: single-player offline, two players online
MSRP: $14.99
Website: http://www.resogun.com/

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