There are plenty of big shooters coming to the PlayStation 4, from Destiny to Killzone: Shadow Fall. These games emphasize massive, open worlds, social connectivity, and incredibly detailed high-definition graphics. Mercenary Kings, an upcoming PS4 and Steam title from Tribute Games, goes a different route. It's a title that feels like the Metal Slug game that time forgot — a 2D shooter for a next-gen console.


Mercenary Kings is a run-and-gun shooter in the vein of Contra and Metal Slug. You play as a soldier of some sort, and you take on missions that mainly involving killing lots of dudes with really big guns. The gameplay is reminiscent of the classics, with simple platforming and an emphasis on action. But it also feels relatively open, letting you explore levels instead of simply moving from left to right. In the demo I played, the controls felt tight and the weapons satisfyingly powerful.

While it may sound like yet another retro-style indie game, Mercenary Kings has several tweaks that give it a modern feel. Chief among them is the insane amount of weapon upgrades at your disposal — much like in the Borderlands series, you can customize your guns by swapping parts, giving you plenty of freedom to build a firearm that works just right for you. You'll gather these bits and pieces with a Diablo-esque loot system that should provide added incentive for shooting bad guys in the face. According to the developers, there are more than 300 parts to collect and use. And though I played in single player, there will also be co-op play for up to four people, which should make a crazy game even crazier.

The over-the-top weapons and action are complimented by the big, exaggerated pixel art, which comes courtesy of artist and animator Paul Robertson, best known for his work on the Scott Pilgrim beat 'em up for PS3. Characters are cartoonish and exaggerated, and the bad guys explode in surprisingly playful splashes of blood and gore. The bosses are gigantic and the explosions even bigger. The classic gameplay and retro visuals may make Mercenary Kings seem like a dated throwback, but the customization elements and terrific art style help make the game feel modern. It's also the most fun I had playing a PS4 shooter at E3 — and it's coming to both Sony's console and Windows later this year.