Mechstermination Force (NS) – shoot the core
The creator of Gunman Clive offers up an old school boss rush shooter that channels classics like Contra and Gunstar Heroes.
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The idea of the boss battle has gradually fallen out of favour over the last couple of generations, with some trying to paint it as an outdated and reductive concept. What they’re really complaining about though are bad boss battles, which tend to be most common in big budget Western-made productions. But while Japan is generally regarded as the home of great boss fights indie developers also seem to be remarkably more skilled at making them, compared to their big budget counterparts.
Mechstermination Force (we’re sure that name sounded funnier in concept than it does in practice) is a boss rush game. Which is to say it’s a game composed of nothing but boss fights, very much in the same style as Cuphead – which is a bit of unfortunate timing given that the Microsoft exclusive has just been announced as coming to the Switch.
But while Cuphead was secretly a Contra (aka Probotector) game in disguise Mechstermination Force makes the connection a lot more obvious, with an endearingly cheesy art style and setting that purposefully recalls early ‘90s video and arcade games. That makes total sense given the concept although it is a little disappointing that the wild invention of Gunman Clive, with its sketch style artwork and encounters ranging from dinosaurs to samurai, is not mirrored here.
Instead, what you get here is giant robots and lots of them. They’re invading the planet and your small roster of selectable characters are the only ones left who can stop them from knocking down any more skyscrapers. This is achieved, of course, not through logical argument but by shooting them in their easily identified weak spots. Although working out how to defeat them is one thing, following through is a different matter entirely.
Just like Cuphead, Contra, and all the game’s other influences Mechstermination Force is an extremely difficult game. The controls are very simple though and don’t involve anything more than running left to right, jumping, and aiming with the analogue stick. The only thing close to a complication is being able to kneel to avoid incoming fire and aim more accurately without moving. Although you also have a large hammer which is used solely to destroy a special kind of weak spot that you have to get in close for.
Unlike most similar games you can’t pick up new weapons during a battle but must instead earn money as you fight and use it to buy new guns between levels, as well as extra health and useful extras such as magnet gloves and a pair of rocket boots. You can also rerun previous encounters to earn cash, which slightly unbalances things and adds an unwanted element of grinding/coin farming.
Just like most boss battles you’re not going to be beating any of them on your first go (except for the opening level, which is deceptively easy compared to everything else) and instead it’s a case of trial and error as you try to learn the enemy’s attack patterns and figure out how to destroy all the destructible armour and weak points that lie beneath. Robots are constantly moving and as random as it seems at first the odd way they punch you or suddenly flip over or transform is almost always a clue that you have to jump or clamber onto them to avoid attacks or reach a hidden weak point.
Mechstermination Force (NS) – this boss is particularly good
With over a dozen different enemies in Mechstermination Force the amount of imagination that’s gone into the design and their attack patterns is highly impressive. Gunstar Heroes is another obvious influence, especially the classic Seven Force encounter, but again it’s a shame that the art design is more or less the same all the way through, as the cheap plastic look of each boss does start to get old before the end.
A more serious problem though is the movement controls, particularly the rather floaty jump which always feels less precise and reliable than it should do. We also hate that the sound effects for your guns are so quiet, destroying what should be one of the most satisfying elements of the gameplay. The sound is poor in general, with a weak soundtrack, and there’s an overall lack of showmanship when it comes to the front end and things like the instant appearance of the game over message.
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When you’re making something as specific and specialised as a boss rush game you’ve got to get everything exactly right and Mechstermination Force is just slightly off. The lack of visual variety is a shame, despite the impressively gigantic robots themselves, and the difficultly level is so punishing it really does wear down your enthusiasm at times – especially if you’re not already into this sort of thing.
The ultra-low price forgives most sins but even though we are already predisposed to this kind of game (and robots in general) we still didn’t enjoy it as much as we expected to. The co-op option certainly helps, if you can find someone else willing to spend the time analysing enemy attack patterns, but the real difference between this and Cuphead is that Cuphead feels like a complete experience whereas this really does just feel like the boss rush mode from another, larger game. And we think we’d rather just play the main campaign. It’s just a shame it doesn’t exist.
In Short: An enjoyable companion piece to Cuphead, but despite some fantastic enemy designs the single-mindedness and lack of visual variety doesn’t have quite the same charm.
Pros: Great boss designs, with an impressive range of attack types and tactics. Fun co-op options and appreciably low price.
Cons: The unvarying art design and lack of any real story or characters makes the game seem more one-note than necessary. Floaty jump is frustrating to use. Weak sound.
Formats: Nintendo Switch
Publisher: H?rberg Productions
Developer: H?rberg Productions
Release Date: 4th April 2019
Age Rating: 3
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