“Don’t judge a book by its cover”. This near-immortal English idiom has been around longer than the vast majority of the world’s current population. I frequently forget to adhere to its sage-like wisdom. This could be down to the paradoxical relation to: “you only get one chance at a first impression”. Merek’s Market managed to ram the former into my brain so hard that the latter fell out in a viscous lump.
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Merek’s Market starts terribly. I am talking about nightmare-inducing character designs reminiscent of Wallace and Gromit’s untimely demise after landing face-first on a weedwacker. Combine that with voice acting recorded on what sounds like a Nokia 1011 supported by music pulled straight from Incomputech. The dialogue as well – truly cringe-inducing.
Underneath all of that front-loaded balderdash, however, is a solid game. One that surprised me to the point I couldn’t help but chuckle at the audio-visual mess and raise a lone eyebrow in satisfaction – more than once to boot. You play as the eponymous Merek. Merek owns a stall and is a bit of an idiot. Closer to pitiable than loveable, but close enough I guess. It’s your job to control your medieval craftsman/shopkeeper and satisfy all the needs of your various customers.
To do this you will (eventually) need to slip into some running shoes, warm up your throwing arm and pretend your briefs are on fire. The name of the game here is crafting, and Merek can craft an awful lot of stuff. Belts, swords, magical staves, chairs and even the odd 50ft tall statue. All your recipes are handily stored in a book that can be consulted at any time, and as the game goes on, Merek will learn even more complex recipes that often combine several older crafts.
At its core, Merek’s Market pulls inspiration from cooperative party games like Overcooked and Moving Out, and it does an excellent job of executing that emulation. You are constantly on the clock, whether that be the looming stage timer or the ever-increasing rage your clientele emit. It starts slow but gradually builds up like an orchestral cacophony – only with more metal. Merek is a blacksmith after all.
As you play, you will unlock bigger and better venues, which, naturally, comes with more workstations, more shoppers and even more recipes. Thankfully, Merek also grows a tad over the course, unlocking sprinting boots and the ability to throw things fairly early. It controls well, and it’s all very simple. That simplicity is there merely there to allow the chaos to spread like smooth peanut butter.
The manic action kicks in when you are trying to craft 4 items at once, whilst building a stockpile of popular items to quickly throw at your customers. I found myself quite addicted to time management and the frenzied nature of it all. I had stacks of chairs, pots strewn all over the place and belts littering every surface – and I loved it.
It’s not all running and crafting – Merek can also duke it out on the charismatic warfront. Now and then a customer will want to haggle with Merek. It’s up to you to determine how much any given item is worth, and how much you think the customer is willing to pay. It functions fine, it just feels a bit random at times. It does help break up the frenetic gameplay at least, which is welcome.
Boss fights make an appearance too, and these were so close to being the highlight. These require Merek to make a goliathan multipart craft whilst dealing with regular customers. Unfortunately, they are ruined by the addition of minigames that slow these stages down and add an unwelcome amount of eye-rolling to the formula.
These little blemishes are covered up by the inclusion of local multiplayer, turning an already endearing jaunt into relationship-ending madness. Providing you have a few friends who are willing to pop by, Merek’s Market supports up to four players. There was a lot of shouting, arguing and raging to be had when our (my) plans fell apart. I’d blame Barry entirely, but I swore an oath to never speak of him again.
I know I have already touched on Merek’s Market’s presentation. I am also aware I shone quite the negative light on it. Merek’s Market looks fine in action, however. The lighting is shockingly good, animations are smooth and the game runs great on PS5. My only issue is when the game zooms in and forces you to endure horrifying cinematics. Other than that, it’s fine.
I am not afraid to admit I went into Merek’s Market expecting something catastrophic. I am, however, happy to say I came out of the experience pleasantly surprised. Is Merek’s Market going to blow you away? Probably not. Are there better cooperative party games out there? Most definitely. But Big Village Games managed to deliver a perfectly passable package that has the odd moment of greatness. It’s a tad on the pricey side of things, especially considering the game is loaded with free music. Providing you can nab this on sale, then I’d say it’s worth a gander.
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