Monday, December 1, 2014

Mercenary Kings Review

Continuing on the update train.  Over the summer and up til now, I've been apart of a YouTube channel that debuted called WinLoseTie.  The updates have come twice a week, and our first major playthrough has been a Randomized race of Pokemon FireRed.  We plan to add more randomization to each race we do in the Pokemon series, so by the time we hit Gen V, things are going to be wonky.

In addition to that, I've had my own channel.  Over there, I spend time playing games like Doom, Hearthstone, Just Cause 2, Diablo 2, and a few other games, including practicing speed running Pokemon Red.

Streaming is an interesting experience.  I never get (m)any viewers, but it's always a joy to have someone in the chat to converse with.

A quick "programming" note.  For my personal writing, I'm going to try something new.  If you see an image or video embedded in the post, they'll be my own content, open sourced, or properly sourced (like the sprites from my Doom post).  I'll grab my own screen shots, and my own videos.  Granted, this may go up in smoke in a matter of posts, but it's an experiment I'm interested in trying.

Onto the task at hand.

The Game

Platforms - PC/Mac/PS4 (PC Played)
Developer - Tribute Games
Genre(s) - 2D Shooter/Platformer
Players - 1 - 4 Local and Online Co-Op

Elevator Pitch

"Picture 2D gameplay inspired by Contra mixed with the crazy guns of Borderlands."


So, we got the basics of the game down, let's flesh it out a bit.  I feel the Contra comparison is apt in terms of how the game plays, but not quite how the game feels, and that might come down to level design.  In Mercenary Kings, you may revisit the same levels over and over (and over and over), but each time the objectives will change.  The primary levels include a Jungle, War Torn City, Power Plant, Chemical Plant, and an ancient Temple.  There are a few variants for some of these (I know there are two different Jungles, and Power Plant-like maps, for example), which can help keep some of the monotony at bay.  Continuing along the lines of "different from Contra", you don't find guns in capsules or as random drops.  Instead, you use materials you find throughout the levels to craft your weapons.  You don't just build the weapons whole either, oh no.  You make monstrous creations of different parts to craft the gun that suits your desires.

Late Game Character With Lots of Parts

So, what are we looking at here?  Well, it's my pistol Sniper with a Machine Gun stock.  You have a lot of stats to consider when building your gun, as changing something as simple as your magazine can affect more than your capacity and reload speed.  Some guns don't play nice with other parts, and as a general rule, the more bullets you carry, the less damage you do per shot.  The main gun stats here are

POW - Power - Determined by Receiver (type of gun you're using), Barrel, Magazine, and Ammo
RNG - Your Range.  Primarily Dictated by Barrel type
SPD - How many Rounds Per Second you fire.  A line of "--" means semi-automatic.
RLD - How long it takes to reload, if you don't try for the reload timer (more on that later).
CAP - Capacity, how many rounds you can fire before reloading.
ACC - Accuracy.  100% means you fire in a straight line, lower accuracy has more spread.
WT - Weight.  Determines your movement speed.

That's just the base stats.  As you can see, there's two more stat blocks we need to talk about. First though, I want to expand on the Reload Timer.

Early Game Character with poor Reload Speed.

Your reload time is how long it takes for the needle to travel the length of the whole bar.  If you have say a 6 second reload gun, that can take forever.  See those two colored zones though?  If you hit the reload button again in the yellow space, you reload right then, instead of waiting the remainder of the timer.  If you can hit it in the green though, not only do you reload now, but some of your next shots will be powered up, dealing more damage.  This is incredibly useful for reloading long reload speed guns, because you can avoid having to wait without your weapon.  If you hit the reload button at any other point in the bar though, you effectively jam your gun.  This means you can't fire your firearm for roughly twice the length of your normal reload time.

Back to the top image, looking at the second box on the left, we have our elemental damage.  Going clockwise from top left, we have Incendiary, Cryogenic, Electric, and Caustic.  Elemental damage is done on top of your base damage of the weapon, so my gun above does, roughly, 65 Cryogenic damage on a shot.  Breaking down the elements quickly looks like this...

Incendiary - Strong against human/plant enemies.
Cryogenic - Has a chance to freeze enemies solid for a few seconds.
Electric - Good against robotics.
Caustic - Good against enemies with heavy armor (my favorite element).

Caustic can allow you to deal damage to non-boss enemies who have shields, or other invulnerable states.  There are basic troops that carry a riot shield, so they reflect most bullets.  Caustic though, deals however much Caustic Damage your weapon deals, so you can deal a sort of chip damage to him.  Caustic has a secondary effect though: it can dissolve those shields, which makes the dude panic, and fire six shots in a row, and then reload for awhile.  When I first found this out, I laughted to myself, because it was such a neat touch.

The final box on the left is the really interesting one.  These are your weapon's ammo proficiency.  Get your weapon up to 100% in an ammo type, and you can equip it.  So, now for the ammo type breakdowns, starting from the top left, going clockwise...

Armor Piercing - Travels through walls and enemies.
Magnum (What I call it) - Larger rounds and deals more damage.
Spread - Shotgun ammo.
Missiles - Missiles with a homing property, no explosions on contact.
Shrapnel - Projectile that when it hits an enemy, wall, floor, or ceiling explodes into tiny shrapnel that travels in 8 directions.
Ball - Ammo that travels in an arc, and bounces upon contact with walls and floors.

During first few ranks of the game, you'll be mainly using default ammo with maybe different elemental properties, an ammo type that all weapons can use, but once you get about 2/3 through the game, you'll start to see ammo that combines two ammo types to make some hilarious combinations.  For example, the weapon in the first picture has Shrapnel/Ball ice ammo.  It travels, hits the wall or enemy, then shoots off 8 bouncing balls that can deal extra damage (both regular and ice) in addition to the impact damage.  One weapon I built uses what are called Sniper Missiles, missiles that have the Armor Piercing property.  Oh, and it was fired out of a machine gun.  So I was rapidly firing missiles that would find enemies through walls with a light homing capability.  Accuracy was truly overrated.  

Shrapnel Ball Ammo Bouncing Around.

If it feels like I spent too much time talking about the weapons, well, that's kind of the main draw of the game.  You spend a good portion of the game busting open item chests, picking up spoils, and taking on extra, hidden objectives on missions in order to earn more supplies to craft your weapons and armor (increases your health).  Late game can get repetitive because you need to fight bosses repeatedly to get the items you need.  

Repetition is a factor with this game.  You will be seeing the same level repeatedly, and you will be fighting pallet swap enemies.  This includes some of the bosses as well.  There is the Steel Soldier, which is a big walking knife/sword robot that's only vulnerable when you dodge his attacks or from behind, and 4 variants of him for starters (one for each element).  This goes on for quite a lot of the bosses actually.  The only really unique bossfights are the Violence Kings (Two sword fighters that work in tandem), the three different dog bosses (I'm drawing a blank on all of their names), and the Final Boss.  If enemy variety is something you crave from your games, you may want to pass this one over, unless the other factors draw you in.


The art style is very reminescant of the Scott Pilgrim vs The World game, which may be due to the fact that the same team worked on both games.  I enjoy the almost caricature style portraits and sprites.  I'm a huge fan of aesthetics over fidelity, and this game has a style that I really dig.  

Music-wise, we get some chiptune styled tracks that vary from merely OK to pretty-toe-tappin'.  

Props to jhparktc for the upload.
That's more-or-less what you're going to get from the game audio wise.  
Sorry, what can I say, I'm not great when it comes to talking about graphics and music unless I absolutely love or hate them.  
I've enjoyed the game, as is apparent 40 hours I've put into it.  It's a fun little romp that's great with friends, but awfully grindy.  It's a fun enough game where you can turn off your brain and gun through things, and then experiment for 25 minutes on different gun combinations.  It's got a $20 price point, which some may think is too high for an indie game.  Personally, I feel like I've gotten good value from it, but I can understand how some would rather be more frugal.  
Get it here: Steam - Playstation Store