Gunman Clive maker delivers a hardcore Contra boss rush.
With the Gunman Clive games, Hörberg Productions made their mark as a developer of well-received side-scrolling shooter platformers. Their next game, Mechstermination Force for the Nintendo Switch, turns its focus exclusively towards the boss fights in those games. And these are some terrifically-designed bosses on top of a fun basic gameplay setup, albeit maybe just for those who can tolerate old-school difficulty.
Mechstermination Force is obviously reminiscent of Konami’s Contra series, 1992’s Contra III: The Alien Wars in particular. You fight 14 screen-filling robots, either alone or with a partner through local co-op, with just about the same controls and weapons as Alien Wars.
I haven’t seriously played Alien Wars since the 90’s, but Mechstermination Force’s bosses are far more elaborate than anything I remember in that game. These are multi-stage affairs (perhaps comparable to Gunstar Heroes bosses?) that involve climbing all over a boss to reach weak points and either shoot them or hit them with a melee weapon, while dodging patterns of bullets and explosions.
Some might compare these to climbing all over the colossi in Shadow of the Colossus. Mechstermination Force’s easier bosses mostly feel like that, but I think it really just took Alien Wars’ climbing mechanic and ran with it, using it for more complex platforming challenges – though you don’t hang onto missiles in Mechstermination Force.
For the most part, however, Mechstermination Force is a pretty difficult game by modern standards. It’s only slightly more forgiving than I remember Alien Wars being, and that’s really just on account of you not dying after one hit or starting over from the beginning after dying too many times. It’s much harder than recent retro action platformers like Shovel Knight, for example.
Other than the aforementioned health system and infinite lives, the big concession is that you earn money from bosses with which to buy weapons and expand your maximum health. When you die you keep the money you picked up in each attempt, so you can effectively grind if you keep dying.
You can replay bosses to earn more money too, and the game keeps multiple bosses available to fight at a time in case you get stuck on one. Despite all that though, progression in Mechstermination Force still mostly proceeds the old school way – it expects you to keep dying until you memorize each boss’s attack patterns. Some bosses even have that frustrating Shadow of the Colossus aspect where you occasionally fall off the top of a boss and have to climb them all over again. It only took me around seven hours to finish (which included replaying a lot of bosses), but it was a hard seven hours.
I found the difficulty curve of the bosses to be sort of inconsistent, too. Some might find a couple of the earlier bosses to be among the game’s most frustrating, while some middle bosses feel markedly easier, and one later boss almost gave me blisters.
The weapons you buy are mostly just Alien Wars weapons, but Mechstermination Force does a great job of making sure each one works well in specific situations. You start with a simple blaster; there’s a flamethrower that does a lot more damage, but at shorter range; there’s the classic favourite spread gun; and bombs that penetrate through layers, amongst others. I seriously don’t remember the Contra laser being as powerful as the one in this game, or bouncing around the screen as many times.
Visually, Mechstermination Force is a natural evolution of Gunman Clive’s rounded cartoon aesthetic but with more money behind it for 3D stages and models. In the context of a side-scrolling shooter, though, it hits the same notes as Capcom’s modern side-scrollers like Bionic Commando Rearmed and Mega Man 11.
That’s all in service of an overall tone that’s completely tongue-in-cheek. There isn’t really a storyline beyond “some robots are taking over, please destroy them,” with some obvious references to catch if you remember Contra. The dialogue from the handful of characters you talk to between fights is witty enough but nothing special.
If you played Contra back in the day and want an enhanced, distilled run through some bosses in that gameplay style, Mechstermination Force is an expertly-designed nostalgia exercise. Anyone else might find the game initially warm and approachable, but eventually turn it off out of sheer frustration.