A Welcome Challenge
Coming from publisher/developer Hörberg Productions we have Mechstermination Force, an action-platformer boss-rush title where the bosses are also the action-platforming sections of the game. It’s a lot of Contra mixed with Shadow of the Colossus. Fans of titles in a similar vein such as Furi, Cuphead, and to some extent Horizon Zero Dawn will find themselves in familiar territory.
Released on April 4th, 2019, Mechstermination Force for the Nintendo Switch provides a fun challenge for those who seek it. Although often frustrating to the point of making you pull out your hair, boss-rush games can be quite addictive once you climb through their learning curves and find your groove, and this title delivered on a fair amount of those expectations.
Post Apocalyptic Robot Uprising
In the future (January 4th, 2024, to be exact) the megamechs suddenly attacked and one-by-one, all nations fell under this threat from an unknown origin. The robotic nature of this near future disaster gives off some Terminator vibes.
Afterwards, we uncover little else about our new mecha overlords, but you, the player, are the only capable combatant left to take these baddies down. The story found in Mechstermination Force is scarce, but they get around this by using parody instead. The powers that be quickly pick off all allies that would support you in battle during the tutorial level, and none of the NPCs ever mention going into battle again. Back at home base, your comrades on the mend cheer you on, and one-by-one they all tell tales of how they’ve injured themselves without ever experiencing an actual battle.
We get several amusing snippets making fun of the “one-man army” tropes and a few more explaining why you still have to pay for upgrades when the world has fallen to hell and clearly needs you at your best. Outside of those jokes however, there is no more story in the game, but it’s made obvious from the beginning that this isn’t a narrative led experience. Through some NPC dialogue you’re given a bit more to color this world around you, and it’s worth it to go back and talk to everyone at home base after clearing a stage. I particularly enjoyed the nameless soldiers’ theories on the origin of all mechs as they evolve over time.
Lose and Learn
The multi-faceted battles of Mechstermination Force are what you’re here for. In classic boss-rush style, each level is simply the current enemy to puzzle through and eventually home in on a kill. Your basic experience will be to shoot away at the protective layers of a mech to uncover their bright glowing cores that clearly are in need of destroying. Red cores can only be damaged by using your hammer in melee range, while yellow cores are damaged by both ranged weapons and the hammer. The hammer is tricky to aim and sometimes too unforgiving, as a mech moving around can make you miss by a sliver as you tap the button to launch your hammer.
As you destroy the metal-plate-covered layers, you’re rewarded with currency and occasionally a nice slice of birthday cake to replenish your health. The three second rule makes an appearance here as both the cake and the currency disappear very soon after they spawn! The currency can be spent on health and weapon upgrades.
Though not often required, a grinding mechanic in this game is available to you back at home base as an arcade cabinet that lets you replay prior stages you’ve beat. The reward structure of replayed levels is fair, if maybe a bit on the cheap side for how expensive certain upgrades can be.
Players will uncover the platforming sections of a stage as they progress through phases of that mech, or on the path to the different cores of the overall battle and stage. The game provides a fairly difficult challenge at first, but once you get past the learning curve, it isn’t an unreasonable one.
At the start, the game doesn’t hold your hand very much, and you can get stuck wondering what mech to shoot and at what to shoot on it. Once I got the hang of it, I rarely felt like I didn’t know what I was doing. The most difficult part of this game is the controls. There’s just something about the momentum and the loose quality of the jumping and landing motions that felt “off”. You find yourself sometimes needing to be somewhere fast or getting out of the way of an attack, and when it doesn’t go well, it feels obvious that the issue wasn’t your skill. If you want to point fingers, the game can be played by two players in local co-op, and suddenly the losses don’t feel as bad when you’re not the sole party responsible.
Judging The Cover
The art style is bright and colorful, which fits well with the whimsical presentation you get from the NPC dialogue and the design of some bosses. My favorite one has to be the cowboy mech equipped with both a gun and a drill arm who looks as though he was a carnival ride in another life.
Multiple well-designed versions of the mech you’re fighting will show themselves as you chip away at their plating and cores. While the protective plating bits you shoot down break into a mess of metal puzzle pieces as gold coins are littered across the ground, you’ll constantly hope and pray for a slice of cake to appear. The various weapon animations along with enemy attacks also add to the visual joy of Mechstermination Force. The laser gun bounces all around the screen deflecting off everything in it’s path and the flamethrower spews blue flames of satisfying destruction across your screen.
The music, though fitting and simple, is short and leaves you wanting for variety. The player characters and the NPCs are all blank faces who could be anybody, and while it’s done purposefully, it still adds up to a general blank impression that Mechstermination Force just can’t shake off.
Challenge is always welcome, but not when it’s at the cost of tight controls of the playable characters. I thought it would be something I could just get used to, but 8-10 hours in I still felt myself immensely frustrated with it, as the difference between victory or restarting a stage was just a few health points lost to movement issues.
I would say, however, that once I got in the groove with Mechstermination Force, I enjoyed it. I felt that pull to keep throwing myself at the wall to learn the platforming parts of a level better, or remember the attack patterns well enough to bide my time for an opening…but the overall experience fell a little flat.
Yes, the mechanics were done well, but the repetitive music and the control hiccups had a way of grating on me after a while. The game was enjoyable but just slightly bare. A few more varied musical tracks over the different stages and tightening up of the controls would go a long way here.
Review copy provided by Hörberg Productions for Switch. Screenshots both courtesy of Hörberg Productions and taken by reviewer.