HIGH Climbing inside a mech for the first time.
LOW The skull & snakes.
WTF That final boss…
There’s nothing I like better than a game that does what it wants to do, does it well, and then rolls credits before it runs out of ideas. Delivering something so elegant and refined seems simple, but it’s surprisingly tough to pull off. All credit to Horberg Productions of Gunman Clive fame, though — they’ve absolutely nailed it.
Mechstermination Force is a 2D side-scrolling title that feels a lot like something that would have been a superstar in the 16-bit era, and I mean that in the best possible sense. Players control one of four soldiers (the differences are cosmetic) and take on 14 towering robots that are invading Earth because reasons. Don’t worry about the story, though – this adventure is about the action, and the action is great.
Essentially, Mechstermination is a boss rush similar to something like Shadow of the Colossus or Cuphead. There’s a tiny hub between battles where the player can buy weapons and upgrade, but in general this is a zero-fat effort. While that might be a risky proposition for some, the marvelous encounters are more than enough to carry the day.
Each one of the 14 foes is huge, starting with ‘wow, this guy is big’ and going all the way up to ‘holy cow, this guy doesn’t fit on the screen’. They’re bright and colorful, their animations have personality, and they all strike a great balance between imposing and goofy.
Mechanically, each one is pattern-based with multiple phases. Some transform, some hold unexpected surprises, and some are so big that the player can climb inside of them to attack their internals. The first time I destroyed some plating, jumped into a chest cavity and crawled up a neck was a wonderful moment.
The variety of foes is excellent, and the difficulty of each battle (more or less) follows the same curve, regardless of what form they take – they each seem impossible the first few tries. After more attempts, patterns and opportunities start to emerge. Then, after some practice, it’s possible to defeat each one while taking minimal, or even no damage. The order in which they can be fought offers some choice and some of the nastier fights come early in the campaign, but as a whole, the difficulty felt dead-on.
The rest of Mechstermination is as thoughtful as the boss design.
For example, there’s no penalty for dying. There are no ‘lives’, players can attempt a fight as often as they want, and no money (used for buying upgrades and weapons) is lost.
In fact, the money was one of the most interesting choices – beating new robots awards plenty of cash, but simply destroying their parts also gives a lot. As such, if a player ends up losing a hard-fought battle, they keep the cash. By sheer repetition, they’ll eventually earn enough money to upgrade and improve their odds of winning even if they haven’t tasted victory in a while. It feels extremely respectful of my time, and was much appreciated.
Mechstermination Force comes perilously close to being a perfect game for me, but there were a couple of things that needed a touch-up.
The first is that the soldier is able to cling to metal surfaces and climb (and boy howdy, there’s a lot of metal in robots) but it didn’t feel ‘sticky’ enough for me. I missed plenty of jumps where I was expecting to cling to a leg or an arm, and despite taking no damage from falls, those moments were frustrating.
The other is a minor thing – one of the late-game bosses (a skull and snakes) had a pattern that didn’t feel as fair and as tuned as the rest. Of course, it may have been a failing specific to me personally, but out of all the mechs, that was the one that stood out as needing a bit of a tweak.
Those small bumps aside, Mechstermination Force is absolutely wonderful. It presents a top-notch boss rush experience with fights that are exciting and memorable, the difficulty feels perfect, it doesn’t punish the player or feel mean-spirited, and it wraps up before it runs out of juice. Well done, Horberg Productions – this is absolutely superb stuff.
Disclosures: This game is developed and published by Horberg Productions. It is currently available on Switch. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the Switch. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. No time was spent in local multiplayer mode.
Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E and contains Mild Fantasy Violence. Nothing to fear here. No sex, no salty language, and the only violence is a human blasting big robots with no gore or explicit qualities. It’s clean, wholesome fun for the family!
Colorblind Modes: There no colorblind modes available in the options.
Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: There is very little text in the game, and it cannot be resized. There are no audio cues necessary for play. This game is fully accessible.
Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable. There is no control diagram. Movement is on the left stick, Y is shoot, B is jump, A switches weapons, X is a melee attack, and the shoulder buttons hold the soldier in place and grab surfaces.