By Josh Speer / April 4th, 2019
|Release Date||April 4th, 2019|
|Genre||Run and gun, platformer, boss rush|
|Age Rating||E for Everyone – Mild Fantasy Violence|
I think by now I have to admit something about myself – sometimes I like hard as nails games. I wouldn’t go so far as to call myself a masochist, but I do find the reward for beating a challenging title to be a heady drug. Which brings us to today’s review, Mechstermination Force. Developed and published by the same group behind Gunman Clive, Hörberg Productions, it’s a very different beast from that Western platformer. Instead it’s strongly inspired by Contra, with towering boss battles against deadly MegaMechs. Throw in a little more inspiration from Shadow of the Colossus, and you have a pure boss rush against mechanical bosses that get progressively harder. The question then, is Mechstermination Force worth the price of admission? Or is it too hard for its own good?
First, let me clarify that while there is a plot in the game, it’s just there to set the tone. The world is besieged by MegaMechs, and only a small band of freedom fighters remain. You’re one of them, and it’s up to you to put the robot menace down. That’s pretty much it, other than some clarifying details for why lone soldiers stand a chance where planes and tanks didn’t, which is explained if you talk with your compatriots. But the focus here is really on the action, and there’s a lot to be had. Essentially it’s broken down into 10+ boss battles, and between each you can use cash you get from slagging them to improve your loadout. You only start with a small amount of health and a machine gun, but you can acquire a bunch of other weapons, ranging from a flamethrower to a pulse weapon. Once purchased, you can switch between them at will. You can also buy more health, either permanently or spend less cash to get temporary health boosts before battle. My best advice is to invest in the spreadshot as soon as possible, since it makes every fight a little bit easier when you don’t have to worry as much about your aim. Also, if you find you’re low on funds, you can always replay fights to farm more cash, which is a nice concession to make the game a bit easier without completely eliminating the challenge.
Besides these optional upgrades, you also get progressive ones at set points in the game to provide you with more maneuverability. Specifically, you’ll get the Magnet Gloves, which allow you to cling to surfaces, and later on the Boost Boots, which provide a much needed double jump. You’d think this would make the game easier, but really it just opens up subsequent boss fights to be more complex and dangerous. The flow of the game is relief whenever you beat a seemingly impossible fight, quickly followed by dread that the next one will be a bit harder. But instead of despair, this just led me to gird my loins for the next battle and to try and learn the attack patterns as quickly as possible. Though the game doesn’t give you any real hints for how to beat the bosses, their design and attack patterns are constructed in such a way that the answer becomes obvious if you think critically and pay attention. Furthermore, it helps that one thing each boss has in common are weak points.
The yellow weak points are vulnerable to any weapon, and can usually be dismantled by concentrating fire on them. The tricky ones are the red weak points, since they can only be hurt by your sole melee weapon – a multi-directional baseball bat. You use this to shatter the red points, but keep in mind it takes a second to aim, and the MegaMechs don’t just wait for you to kill them. They’ll buck and twist and generally make your life miserable as you try and put them down. But other than those weakpoints and the way the bosses try and avoid getting hurt, each and every fight is entirely different and generally unexpected. As you damage their weakpoints, the robots will lose limbs and often transform into new, deadlier forms. Don’t go into this with the zombie headshot mentality. Often you’ll decapitate a boss only for it to sprout a new head or utterly change forms as it tries to rip you to shreds. It’s a lot like fighting against angry Decepticons with a bloodlust for pulping humans. And trust me, each and every boss is fully capable to reducing you to a gooey stain in seconds if you’re not careful.
Having said all that, I would still say that Mechstermination Force is fair. It’s tough, and requires patience, but it’s never completely unreasonable. There are certainly a few bosses that strain that rule, such as the most horrible escargot ever, a skyscraper-climbing ape and what I can only refer to as a death skull, but otherwise they all felt balanced. Which isn’t the same as easy, cause the only easy boss is the tutorial one, and things start to get really challenging about 4 boss fights in. But in a boss rush full of death bots, I feel they toe the line pretty well. And if you really feel overwhelmed, I strongly suggest you farm money by taking on old bosses again and buying all the upgrades you can. I ended up beating the game after buying several health extensions and most of the weapons, but in retrospect I probably could have beaten the game with fewer health upgrades and just the spreadshot.
Another of the reasons this game manages to avoid being totally unfair are some nice concessions. First of all, there is no instant death if you fall into a pit or get singed by lava. Instead, if you fall into a pit you will teleport to another part of the stage after losing one chunk of health. Meanwhile threats like lava damage you, but then the game will raise a platform to stand on from underneath it. You can also get pieces of cake to recover your health during battles, but there was seemingly no rhyme or reason for when this occurred. The one frustrating aspect of that is that often the cake would spawn right underneath a giant MegaMech, and by the time I could get to it, it would have disappeared. Also, while each fight involves a hail of bullets and gymnastic feats, you can beat most of them in under 5 minutes. At least once you’ve memorized their attack patterns. That applies for both the tiny bosses and the large ones. And when I say large, I mean boss fights that are almost their own level. A good example is fighting the Cerberus mech, which involves you jumping in their mouths, avoiding getting chomped, blasting your way through their throats and then rinse and repeat. By contrast, the smaller bosses almost felt like mini bosses, but they also provided refreshing breaks from the more hectic battles.
There’s a lot I enjoyed about Mechstermination Force, but now I need to touch on some frustrations. Because the foes you fight are often huge, the camera has to shoot a broad angle as you fight. The problem with that is you’re so tiny, it can often be hard to tell where you are, especially after the boss sends you flying with a giant fist. In the fight against the mechanized snail, every time you damage his head the game randomly sends you flying, and often I took damage just cause I hadn’t gotten my bearings before he started bombarding me with flaming debris. Also problematic was the ability to freely aim your weapon of choice. That’s great in theory, but to aim you need to duck down, and when I tried aiming with my joystick, bullets wouldn’t end up exactly where I wanted. My workaround was to use the directional buttons instead, and that offered more concrete angles that allowed me to more frequently hit my targets. I almost wish it had stuck to Contra’s tried and true method of only offering set angles of fire, but I suppose that would be harder to accommodate in a game where each boss is constantly moving. And while I loved the Magnet Gloves for scaling giant MegaMechs, there were times they didn’t work properly. And I even encountered one glitch in the Cerberus fight where I somehow phased through a solid space, though that actually ended up helping me.
I did get a chance to try out the local co-op in the game, and though it’s a fun idea in theory, it was messier in execution. While it played without any lag, all the problems I had with single player were exaggerated with two players. The camera was even more problematic, and it’s very difficult to coordinate as the robots bear down on you. It also was tricky having my friend essentially look over my broad shoulders to see the screen when played portably. I suppose I should have played while hooked up to my TV. Also, I wish two player allowed some popular conventions such as sacrificing some health to revive your buddy. That isn’t an option, so once someone dies, the other person is entirely on their own. As far as I’m concerned, Mechstermination Force is much better as a single player experience.
Visually speaking, there’s a lot to love about Mechstermination Force. It has big, bold colors and bright visuals for your weapon fire. Each and every MegaMech is a work of art, featuring layered dimensions that slowly evolve as you fight. It’s really cool ripping the armor off a foe to scale them, and watching them transform as you deal critical damage. Though many of the bosses qualify as humanoid, there’s also some great ones patterned after creatures, such as a centipede, the aforementioned snail and even a large arachnid. You won’t get bored with the visuals in the game, that’s a guarantee. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the sound. While the music is fine, I really wish there were more varied tracks. Though there is a handful, many of them sound very similar to each other. I would have loved more variety, like some hard rocking tunes to mix things up. As for the sound effects, though they work, they also felt a bit muted. The way your character grunts when damaged didn’t really do justice to the amount of punishment they’re taking. The sound effects are thankfully better for the weapons. Overall, the visuals are the better aspect of the game, but the sound design is alright.
By the time the credits rolled, I had spent about 4 and a half hours and gotten 80+ deaths in Mechstermination Force. While I rather enjoyed it overall, there were some features that held it back from perfection. And also, though the final boss is beyond epic, it too suffered from the same complaints I had about earlier battles. But for the base package, I feel you get a lot for your money. My main frustration is that once it’s over, there’s nothing left to do, other than trying to beat the bosses without taking damage to acquire medals. Thankfully I’m not quite that masochistic, so I think I’ll pass. That said, for $11.99 it’s easy to recommend to fans of hardcore games, though I can’t say the same applies to those who identify as more casual gamers. But if you love giant robots and are up for a challenge, Mechstermination Force is the game for you!
Review Copy Provided by Publisher
ContraeShopHörberg Productionsnintendo switchoprainfallReviewShadow of the Colossus