Over the last couple of years one of my favorite video game genres has been cooperative games in the vein of Overcooked. Basically the premise is that you and a number of other players must work together in order to serve customers as quickly as possible while also dealing with obstacles that get in your way. While the premise behind these games are quite simple, I find them to be really fun. Today I am looking at a new game in this genre Merek’s Market. Instead of running a restaurant, you run a store and have to craft the items that the customers come into your shop to buy. This premise really intrigued me. Merek’s Market is not quite perfect, but it is a fun and interesting twist on the cooperative genre that can genuinely be kind of addicting.
In Merek’s Market you play as Merek and his friends. Merek is a shopkeeper in medieval times. He may not have the skills needed to make fine goods, but anything that only requires a simple recipe and a hammer seems to work out well enough. Can you help Merek through the misadventures that his shop gets into to stay in business?
Merek’s Market at its core is very similar to games such as Overcooked. Instead of cooking food though, you and up to three of your friends will run a shop. Customers will come into your shop looking for specific items, and you will have to use your resource stockpiles to create the items. The game has a number of simple recipes that you need to follow in order to make the items. Some items need to be heated up in a smelter and other just need to be worked on at a workbench. Basically to make an item you need to bring the required resources to the corresponding workstation and then hold a button while the object gets made.
Recently this genre of co-op games has become one of my favorites. The premise and gameplay is usually quite simple, and yet the game works really well for some reason. While it has its own little twists, Merek’s Market shares a lot in common with most of the other games from this genre. That is not meant to be taken as a criticism of the game as I actually see it as a benefit to the game. Basically your feelings towards these type of games in general are likely to carry over to Merek’s Market as well. As I am a big fan of this genre, I also really enjoyed Merek’s Market.
I think the game succeeds because it does a good job hitting all of the notes that make this genre work. The game is really easy to play. Basically take the resources to the correct workstation and either wait for it to be made or hold a button until your character finishes making it. The game is so simple where pretty much anyone can jump right in and know the basics of what they are supposed to do. Unlike some games you do have to remember the recipes which make each type of item or you have to waste time referring back to the book which tells you how to make each item. This simplicity works in the game’s favor as you can jump right in and play the game. It also helps make the co-op work as players can easily jump in and out without much of a learning curve.
On top of the simplicity, the game is just fun to play. Maybe it is just me but I like the game’s premise of gathering up the correct resources in order to make products which you then sell to the customers. I don’t know exactly what it is, but the gameplay can be kind of addicting. I sometimes played the game in a couple hour session and at the end I wondered where all of the time went. Making the items themselves isn’t difficult, but doing so in a rush due to the number of customers makes things more challenging. You need to balance between making the objects and serving customers. You eventually get to a point where the game starts to tell you ahead of time what customers will want which makes the game even better in my opinion since you can then start to make objects ahead of time. Every so often the game also introduces new recipes and even new mechanics which do a good job keeping the gameplay fresh.
Generally these type of games are built around being co-op. These games usually succeed because it is fun trying to cooperate with your friends/family in order to serve as many customers as possible. Merek’s Market succeeds in this area as well since the co-op is quite fun. Players need to work well together as you stand no chance of succeeding if everyone does their own thing without working together. The multiplayer in the game works really well for the same reason that all of these games do. The game has designed levels specifically to work with two or more players where you are challenged to complete enough orders in time.
What I found a little surprising about Merek’s Market is that it actually went through the effort of creating dedicated single player and cooperative modes. Usually games just adjust the difficult of levels to deal with the varying number of players. The single player and co-op modes are actually their own things in the game as each have their own levels. The levels do share some things in common, but you can tell that effort was put into making each mode feel unique. The single player doesn’t just feel like the co-op where you are just playing by yourself. The game deserves a lot of credit for this as it is genuinely worth playing both modes.
Of the two I personally preferred the co-op. That is not that surprising as these type of games generally thrive due to all of the chaos of having multiple players trying to work together. I was genuinely surprised by the single player though as I enjoyed it more than I was expecting. The single player is more straightforward as it relies on less obstacles/gimmicks than the co-op. The single player has a story which is solid even if it is filled with a lot of bad puns. The single player even has a couple mechanics exclusive to it.
Probably the biggest difference is the ability to negotiate with some customers. You need to pay attention to what the customer tells you to help figure out what item they want as well as how much money they are willing to pay. You will then offer a price that hopefully is not too high or low. If it is too high you will then negotiate back and forth until an agreement is made on price. Basically you need to find the sweet spot to get the most money for the item, without going too high that you anger the customer. I didn’t really have particularly strong feelings about this mechanic. It was fun enough, but I think I may have preferred just continuing to play the normal game instead of wasting time with the negotiating mechanic.
One thing that is common in most games from this genre is that you will encounter a number of obstacles that will make your job more difficult. I generally have mixed feelings about these type of mechanics as some can be fun and others are just kind of annoying. The same holds true for Merek’s Market. While some of these obstacles show up in the single player campaign, they are generally more prevalent in the multiplayer levels. I actually thought some of the obstacles were pretty fun. Thematically they made no sense, but they added an interesting twist to the gameplay. Some were actually pretty innovative as I haven’t really seen them used in other games from this genre before. For example in a number of levels there are spinning wheels that your resources are dropped into. You need to get into the wheel and throw these resources out in order to have access to the resources that you need to make products.
The game also has a number of “boss” battles. These basically entail you making a large items requiring multiple steps. You will receive a reward based on how quickly you complete the object. While you are working on these objects customers will also show up in your shop. If you give these customers the items that they want, the time will be temporarily frozen allowing you to get work down without your clock running out of time. I thought these levels were really interesting and did a good job breaking up the gameplay as you have to divide your time between completing the large item and completing customer requests in order to slow down the time. I really liked these levels where I kind of wish there were more of them.
For each good obstacle though there are a number of obstacles that I didn’t really care for. Some of the obstacles are placed in a way where they really impact your ability to do your job. These are done to make the game more difficult, but in some cases they make it almost impossible to get the higher rewards for a level. Some of them can just be kind of annoying where they took away from the experience instead of adding to it. Probably the biggest culprit of this is the rat mechanic. I could see some people liking this mechanic, but I didn’t. Basically the rats take away your money the longer they are out in your shop. Thus you need to use your shop’s cat in order to scare them away. In theory this idea is interesting, but in many levels you basically need to dedicate a significant amount of time to dealing with the rats or you will lose too many points where you won’t be able to earn the highest rewards. In the multiplayer mode I just didn’t find it to be that fun to be on cat duty as you just run around the shop occasionally dropping the cat on the ground to scare away rats.
Other than the obstacles being a little hit or miss, the other main issue I had with Merek’s Market is that the difficulty of the levels can vary quite a bit. I found quite a few of the levels to be pretty easy where I was able to get the gold reward on my first attempt even if I made some minor mistakes. I think these levels could have been a little more difficult. At the same time there are some levels which are too difficult. There were a handful of levels in the game where I wonder if it is even possible to get the gold rewards as I played the level close to perfectly and still couldn’t get it. I can see levels that are hard forcing you to work to perfect how you approach them, but some of these levels basically require absolute perfection if you want to earn the highest reward.
Before I wrap up the review I wanted to quickly talk about Merek’s Market’s length. This will obviously depend on a couple of factors. The most obvious is whether you plan on playing both the single player and co-op modes. The co-op mode has 40 levels and the single player has around the same if not more. If you play through both modes you will obviously get considerably more time out of the game. The length of each level can vary as some are around 2-4 minutes while others can take 10+ minutes. If you are satisfied with just beating each level, each mode will probably take a couple of hours to complete. If you are interested in getting gold in each level though that length could go up quite a bit. As long as you play both modes I think you should easily get your money’s worth out of Merek’s Market.
As a pretty big fan of the genre, I will admit that I had pretty high expectations heading into playing Merek’s Market. For the most part the game lived up to them. The game is similar to a lot of games from this co-op genre, and yet it has its own twists as well. The game succeeds because it takes its simple premise and creates a compelling game that can be quite addictive at times. I was impressed that the game has a dedicated single player and co-op mode. While I preferred the co-op, the single player was better than I expected. I honestly didn’t have many complaints with the game. It may not be as polished as a game like Overcooked, but it is actually better than a lot of the games that I have played from this genre. The various obstacles that the game adds can be kind of hit or miss though as some can be pretty fun and others add more frustration than fun. The game’s difficulty is pretty up and down as well as some levels can be really easy and others are really difficult.
My recommendation for Merek’s Market is quite simple. If you generally don’t like co-op games like Overcooked, the game likely won’t be for you. Those who are a fan of the genre and have any interest in the shop premise, should really enjoy Merek’s Market and seriously consider picking it up.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Big Village Games Ltd for the review copy of Merek’s Market used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.