It is arguably now the calm before the storm in the gaming world.
As the holiday season approaches, a plethora of huge triple-A titles ready themselves for launch to take advantage of the gift-giving season. But despite that, there is always an abundance of indie titles filtering through and at times it is difficult to know what is right for your taste.
Merek’s Market, developed and published by Big Village Games, drops onto Xbox on 15th September 2021. It features elements similar to classics such as Overcooked, Moving Out, and Get Packed. However, this time you will be responsible for running your own medieval shop in this chaotic crafting game. Take charge of a business straight out of the Dark Ages as you haggle, barter, and craft your way through a comical single-player campaign or team up with friends in couch co-op to supply the whole town with medieval merchandise.
Merek’s Market has two modes to choose from when you first boot up the game – Campaign and co-op play. The campaign is designed with the solo player experience in mind and features hours of gameplay with 50 levels of increasingly frantic shenanigans. If you’re more of a person who likes to kick back with family and friends from the comfort of your own home, then thankfully, the game features a full co-operative mode, supporting up to four players in another full campaign with 40 levels. It is here you will be forced to work together (shout at each other) whilst encountering lots of silliness and laughter – though one caveat is that this co-op is not available online.
You’d think in a game of this style that the campaign would be short and lacking in features. Well, I just want to get out of the way that you’ll be embarking on a rich, varied, and detailed adventure. I was pleasantly surprised how much I was instantly hooked on the style of gameplay and mechanics in what I initially dismissed as a run-of-the-mill. During your shopkeeper journey, you will start small and develop your establishment to bigger and better things. Nothing ever goes smoothly in business though, you have a sarcastic and obnoxious rival to contend with who will do his best to bring you down.
During the course of 50 levels which average between two to five minutes, you’ll be tasked with crafting and selling items, haggling with customers wanting to purchase specialist items, and more. Every tenth level triggers a boss mission which often involves crafting something on a huge scale alongside running the shop. Time management and precise planning are key to getting the best scores and achieving the gold standard with each level.
Like most games of this style, you are eased in gently with the first few runs. The very first level sets you off with a short tutorial. This is where you will first meet Tess; your childhood friend who handily brings you recipes and blueprints to create new items regularly. Learning how to craft items is super simple and quick and easy to access. There is a guide to how to craft items like swords, shields, belts, chairs, and more. You do get to the stage where you learn recipes and blueprints off the top of your head as you become more experienced.
Crafting is a case of gathering the materials you have within your workshop and combining them in furnaces and merging other bits and bobs on crafting tables. A simple tap of the A button to pick something up and X to craft makes Merek’s Market extremely accessible to casual and hardcore gamers alike. You do have the ability to drop and throw items, this will allow you to quickly dispatch whatever is in your hands. Whether you want to rectify a mistake or chuck everything in a pile for later use the choice is yours. The mechanics are seamless and work really well.
As I mentioned earlier you will start slow and build up your shop over time. This includes the adaptation of Merek. At first, he will be walking around and idly beating things with a hammer to get the job done. Without spoiling the story, you will gain abilities such as sprinting around the store and being able to see what orders are coming ahead of time. This changed the nature of the levels and how you played the game in a fantastic way. It never felt repetitive or boring and I always looked forward to the next level.
A diamond in the rough
Visually Merek’s Market is fairly run-of-the-mill but has some warm and colourful tones. The characters all looked different and there are some excellent lighting details to help my medieval workshop feel alive. The timers, dialogue, and everything surrounding the core graphics are presented well. In terms of sound and music, this is personally where I feel the game excels. I have seen too many games recycling characters on games in this genre, here this isn’t the case. As someone from the United Kingdom, I found the voice acting incredibly charming. There is a broad range of accents across the plethora of characters that may appear. The conversations are humourous and often had me chuckling. Outside of the core story cast, the customers all appeared different in terms of style, dress, and varied discussions. There has been a huge amount of effort put in by the development team here to make the game engaging outside of the crafting and running of the shop and it shows.
I’ll be the first to admit that I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this one as much as I did. The campaign took me close to twelve hours to finish. As I realised the game supported leaderboards per level, my addiction to the game sky-rocketed, awakening my competitive inner-self, leading in turn to lots of replayability and longevity, I was constantly hopping back to levels to try and better myself.
The core offering is meaty enough for the low price point, not forgetting the co-op fun on offer on top of the campaign, which sadly misses a trick with no online functionality. Overall, this has been one of my favourite indie games I’ve had the pleasure to play this year. It’s fun, frantic, funny, and hugely addictive.
Now, where did I put my hammer?