Tribute Games is an indie studio that focuses on classic game design with modern aesthetics. Founded by former Ubisoft employees in 2011, the team worked on the retro-inspired Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. Their next project is a new four-player co-op action game called Mercenary Kings and Tribute's Jonathan Lavigne was happy to talk more about it.
"Mercenary Kings is a classic 2D side-scrolling action game meets RPG that's set in a crazy colorful military universe, not unlike what we used to see in games, movies, and cartoons of the 80s," Lavigne told Shacknews. "Basically, in this game, you jump, shoot, pick up loot from defeated enemies, and then when you complete missions, you go back to your camp where you can craft hundreds of weapons and upgrades for your character."
While Mercenary Kings may sound like a departure from the beat-'em-up atmosphere of Scott Pilgrim, it does follow Tribute's motif of 80s homages. Having grown up with the NES generation, Lavigne expressed an interest in working on a military run-and-gun in the vein of Commando, Mercs, Contra, and Rush 'n Attack.
One aspect of Mercenary Kings that may ring familiar to fans of Scott Pilgrim is the game's visual style. That's because the game retains the style of artist Paul Robertson. "We became friends with Paul when he came working with us on Scott Pilgrim at Ubisoft Montreal," Lavigne added. "We wanted to keep working together after Scott Pilgrim, so going with his style for the animations of Mercenary Kings was a no-brainer. Also, Stéphane Boutin, the artist who did all the backgrounds of Scott Pilgrim is also working with us on Mercenary Kings. This explains why the art style of both games looks so similar."
Unlike the classic games Mercenary Kings was inspired by, this game comes with a full-fledged crafting system, suited to various play styles. "When you defeat enemies and complete missions, you are rewarded with materials," Lavigne explains. "At the camp, you have your own team of experts who can use these materials to craft various upgrades for you. For instance, a gunsmith will craft various gun parts and assemble them, a knife expert will forge knives, a nurse will create and install bionic modifications to enhance the abilities of your character, and you even have a team of fashion designers who will create pretty decorations for your tent. Which is always cool to show off when playing online! The important aspect is that gun parts and knives have an effect on how your character attacks, so you're encouraged to experiment, mix and match weapon parts and find a setup that matches your play style or the specific challenge of a mission. For example, if you like to speed run through a mission, you can craft a very light handgun and a small knife, but if you don't care about being slow, you can craft a huge machine gun and become a real powerhouse."
With the crafting system in place, it's safe to say that Mercenary Kings has more depth than many of Tribute's previous efforts. That brought about some new design challenges, particularly when compared to Scott Pilgrim vs. The World.
"Scott Pilgrim was a very different challenge in term of design," said Lavigne. "It was actually a bit simpler because all players were stuck together on the same screen. A few minor design concepts, like scaling the health of enemies depending on the number of players, or handling save games of different players, were brought over to Mercenary Kings, but almost every other challenges we met were new and needed new solutions. Mercenary Kings' cooperative play is deeper than what we achieved on Scott Pilgrim, because it allows players to use different strategies depending on the situation. For example, players can decide to split up in order to search for something more efficiently, or they can decide to regroup and fight a boss with their combined firepower. This makes the cooperative experience very compelling, but it also ended up making the task of designing levels and missions a lot more complex."
Mercenary Kings recently launched on Steam Early Access, but it's also slated to come to PS4. Lavigne says that Tribute was first approached by Sony after they spotted the original Kickstarter campaign. It didn't take long for Sony to court Tribute as a licensed developer and Lavigne lauds the company's overall efforts to reach out to studios like them. "Seeing a major company like Sony doing this much effort to support indie developers is really encouraging," he said. "We are excited to bring Mercenary Kings to PS4 and we want to bring more games to their platforms in the future."
Lavigne isn't ready to disclose the major differences between the PC and PS4 versions of Mecenary Kings, though he does indicate that there are plans to incorporate some of the PS4's unique features, like the Share button on the DualShock 4. The final version of Mercenary Kings is set to release later this year.