What was the best part of playing action-platformers in the late 80s and early 90s? Making it to the level boss. Bosses were brutal, taking all the firepower, coordination, and attention you could muster to take them down, and often it would take more than one go. It was frustrating, but thrilling. When you finally beat a level, you felt like you earned it. Mechstermination Force brings the best of 90s hard-core platformer action with the boss-rush thrills of Cuphead.
Earth has fallen victim to the wiles of giant robots hell-bent on destroying everything, as giant robots are wont to do. You play as part of a small remnant of humans still willing and able to fight back. You will definitely have your work cut out for you as you battle over a dozen Mechs, each with their own attack patterns and transformations.
Each Mech requires the destruction of color-coded nodules located on various parts of their bodies. Yellow nodules can be destroyed by your weapon, but red ones require the use of a large, shorter ranged hammer you carry with you. These nodules are simple to spot, but getting to them is a different matter. Each Mech has its own, unique set of attacks and transformations.
Much like in Cuphead, you can count on fighting each “boss” multiple times as you learn their attack patterns and adjust to the ever-increasing difficulty curve. I can say that Mechstermination Force doesn’t ever reach the high difficulty level of Cuphead, but it does walk that fine line between frustration and reward. It can take up to 30 to 40 minutes to defeat a single boss with multiple tries, but the reward is worth it. There is no progress bar, but you can usually tell when you are getting down to that final hit, and as trying as missing it can be, decisively landing that final blow never loses its thrill.
Controls are simple, consisting of only a button for shooting, jumping, and another for using your hammer. You can also kneel while shooting for more precise aiming. The jump mechanic is good, but could have been tightened just a little more to help with the more precise jumps. Nevertheless, combat feels fluid and is easy to learn.
Between battles, you can use coins collected during battle to purchase new weapons like a flamethrower or add more hearts to your life bar. You can go back and fight already-defeated Mechs to collect more coins. The battles are fun enough that, though this is technically grinding, I didn’t mind it. Plus, it gave me the opportunity to challenge myself to improving my battle skills. You will also be given rocket boots and magnetic gloves that will allow additional movement during battle. For example, you’ll be able to use the gloves to climb on nearby metal to give you better angles for attack.
The graphic style, though suitably retro, does begin to look a little flat after spending some time with the game. Nonetheless, combat looks and feels sleek and thrilling. Battles are explosive, with parts of the Mech’s armor flying away as you tear into their defense. The only time this was an issue, however, was when I was in hand-held mode fighting a giant, robotic millipede (called, aptly, a “Mechapede”). One of its attacks involves curling into a rotating circle. Gun blazing, I shot away layer after layer of its multi-sectioned shell. I noticed at times due to all the flying debris surrounding me that it was easy to lose myself just long enough to run into one of four electrified speed bumps the Mechapede produces during this attack. Thankfully, this doesn’t happen often.
Mechstermination Force doesn’t quite bring the high difficulty of Cuphead and doesn’t offer anything entirely original in style. However, it is a very well-designed boss-rush that is both nostalgic and exhilarating. It will remind you of everything you loved about old-school boss battles and show newer players what they missed.
Mechstermination Force is available for the Nintendo Switch.