Video game boss battles often leave a sour taste; a battle that has so much potential to be an epic stand-off devolves into a simple dodge and strike affair that makes your previously formidable enemy feel a bit pathetic. I’m looking at you Batman: Arkham Asylum. Thankfully, Nintendo Switch exclusive boss-battler, Mechstermination Force, gets boss battles right, with some wonderfully creative battles and boss designs. Some mis-steps throughout prevent Mechstermination Force from living up to its potential, with outdated controls ensuring that mechsterminating is frustrating fun.
Hörberg Productions’ 2.5D Contra-inspired, Mechstermination Force, has a simple premise: destroy giant robots. Your character, one of four to choose from, is tasked with running and gunning down the thirteen MegaMechs one by one. Along the way you earn money to upgrade your weapons and the number of health hearts you have to burn through. You’ll definitely want the upgrades too: Mechstermination Force is not a walk in the park. My final restart tally was 160, death is an inevitability in this game, and trial and error is a necessary tactic. Luckily, instant restarts make death pretty painless, and almost all of the levels sit under the two minutes in length on a successful playthrough.
Let’s focus on the good stuff first. Mechstermination Force has thirteen MegaMechs to take down, around eight of which are excellent, inventive, and enjoyable boss fights. Whether you are fighting a robot while it is scaling skyscrapers, dismantling an enormous robot from the inside, or facing off against three mechs as they take turns attacking you, Mechstermination Force is varied enough that the central gimmick of the boss fights never gets old. The method for destroying the MegaMechs is different for every single battle, though generally it’s a case of shooting armour off the limbs of the robots which will reveal a red core, or a route to a red core. These red cores are indestructible by gunfire, making the only way of taking them out a heavy strike from your single melee weapon. The melee weapon is different for each character, in my case it was a massive spanner. Smashing red cores is the key to beating each boss, and you very quickly learn to be look for the best route to them as soon as possible.
The game stays fresh by introducing new mechanics when you reach certain bosses. Magnet Gloves let you climb up and stick to metal structures and up the robots themselves; the gloves add an extra dynamic to the game, forcing you to think more about using verticality to defeat your opponent. Boost Boots give your character a double jump, which is utilised less than the gloves, but still provides greater manoeuvrability, making traversal much more enjoyable. Purchasing hearts and new bullet types from the hub-world shop are essential to progress through the game. Faster spray bullets, bullets that rebound, bomb bullets, and wavy bullets all provide a meaningful contribution to certain bosses. Upon unlocking the bomb bullets, I never really used anything else, they are the most powerful attack in the game and the blast radius occasionally lets you cheese some of the battles. Don’t tell anyone I told you that though. You earn money throughout the battles and will have to replay at least a few of them to rack up more money for upgrades.
Every MegaMech transforms at least once after you destroy the first red core in sight. This is the most impressive aspect of the MegaMechs and the game itself; the transformations are often creative and ridiculous, it’s refreshing to play a game that doesn’t take itself seriously at all. For example, fighting the green humanoid MegaMech sees you on a platform riding its punches so that you gain access to its face, and subsequently its red core. Destroying the core after three hits completely transforms not only the boss, but the level itself. The humanoid robot suddenly becomes a snappy alligator, chasing you across platforms while dropping cars on top of you. Yes, it’s hard to visualise. I love these moments in Mechstermination Force, and there are plenty, because it’s a genuine surprise every single time.
The visual style is one I warmed to over the five hours or so it took me to complete Mechstermination Force. Initially, I thought it was generic, lacking detail, and simply dull to watch. As the bosses went down one by one, and became progressively wackier, I realised that the cartoony, cel-shaded art-style was a perfect fit for the MegaMechs. Their designs work well with this simplified art-style, to the point where their personality may be lost without it. Mechsterminating should be a colourful, bright, and bombastic experience, and the game delivers on that. That’s not to say that everything’s perfect.
While the bosses are great to watch, the environments, for the most part, are uninspired and often just ugly. The most glaring example of this can be found in the game’s hub world, with a background canvas that has a surprising lack of polish. This is reasonably common throughout the game, with environments not getting the same attention that was afforded to the MegaMechs. Handheld mode on the Nintendo Switch seems to present more jagged edges than when playing in docked mode. The game appeared slightly sharper docked, and allowed colours to pop more, while additionally giving the MegaMechs the chance to display their size better on the big screen.
My biggest gripe with Mechstermination Force comes from the lack of twin-stick, run and gun control. The right stick is completely unused, instead using the Switch’s Y button to shoot whilst aiming and moving with the left stick. Having both aiming and movement assigned to the left stick presents some issues, one of which being the need to introduce the bumpers to kneel down, which locks your character in place, allowing you to freely aim without moving. While twin-stick control would not work with a single Joy-con in two-player mode, the single player experience would have massively benefitted from that extra boost to player control. There are also many scenarios in which I would have liked to run away from boss attacks whilst shooting behind me, instead you must run away, turn around, then begin your attack. The previously mentioned alligator boss chase requires that you run away and shoot at the robots’ mouth. This level only really works with twin-stick control, in its current state it’s an awkward mess. The final, fourteenth level, which I won’t spoil here, is the most obvious indicator that twin-stick control would have been a much-preferred option. Readjusting your position in this final level to lock to the position you are facing is incredibly frustrating and was a massive dampener to conclude a mostly enjoyable game.
The unpolished hub-world is a bizarre addition to the game. You access the shop, the level replay machine, and the level select screen from here. Which is all it needed to be, but there are also around eight characters to speak to while you’re there between every level, and they try to provide some context and story to the MegaMech attacks. The dialogue is forgettable, and the story doesn’t feel more fleshed out because of that. In at least three of my encounters with the other members of my team, I was given two dialogue options, these options seemingly do not affect the game in any way and so it’s puzzling as to why they were included. Though, many aspects of the hub-world are puzzling. Seriously, why does my character have a home where you can sleep? It feels like there was a bigger plan for the hub-world that was abandoned.
Mechstermination Force is an enjoyable, challenging, boss-battler that does not live up to its potential. The MegaMechs are creative, fun to scale and demolish, but outdated controls, some rough environments, and strange hub-world decisions hold the game back from being great. The final level, which admirably tries to shake up the formula, falls flat on its face and leaves that familiar boss battle sour taste.
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