Developer: Big Village Games
Publisher: Big Village Games
Release Date: 15/09/21
Platform: Reviewed on PS4 (also available on Xbox One, PC and Google Stadia)
A code was provided for review purposes.
How many times have you played a game like an RPG and wondered what it’s like for all of the shop owners, blacksmiths and the like? The hero takes for granted that everything they need is always readily available and stocked for their convenience. It’s this idea that fuels the basis for Merek’s Market.
Developed by Big Village Games, Merek’s Market places you in the shoes of the very shopkeepers we pass by and take for granted in other games. By crafting items, haggling with customers, and ensuring everything runs smoothly, you’re set for an experience full of arcade mayhem.
A Witty, Shopkeeper’s Tale
In the game’s campaign mode, you play as Merek, an aspiring shopkeeper in a medieval town. After receiving some basic blueprints from his friend Tess, he opens his fledging shop for business as he aims to have the best store in town. However, things soon take a turn for the competitive when a rival shop owner makes his presence and intentions known. He plans to push Merek and his shop out of the way by whatever means necessary. This leads to hindrances in gameplay later on.
The premise is simple, but that doesn’t mean it lacks good points. The rivalry provides some good context for the gameplay and challenges that you face. Rather than having you play the game with random things impeding your progress, there’s a narrative reason for it, and it can lead to some hilarious moments throughout. What also shines is the writing and humour. It’s surprisingly witty and leads to some genuinely hilarious moments. Some of the characters you meet are just bizarre, and even the end credits are injected with personality and humour. One thing that’s hit or miss is the voice acting. Sometimes it’s decent, other times it falls completely flat. However, this can also compliment the writing and charm as well.
Craft, Haggle, and Barter
The campaign of Merek’s Market is spread over 50 levels. Each one has you complete variations of similar tasks, with some special levels every 10. From a top-down view, you must use different materials spread around the shop to craft various items for the customers that arrive. Some things take longer to make, however, there is always something for you to do, as there are multiple workstations at your disposal, especially in later levels.
Once an item is made, you can bring it to the customer at the counter, where you will then need to input a series of buttons to receive their money. Alongside crafting, there will also be times you’ll need to haggle with certain customers with separate products. You need to judge how much money they have in order to get the most out of them for a higher profit. These are nice features that aid in changing up the pace from crafting. Successfully completing orders and serving customers on time, will increase a multiplier for the amount of profit you make on orders. This resets if you get a button input wrong or a customer is left waiting too much.
This gameplay loop starts off fairly straightforward and basic, however, this doesn’t last for long. As the campaign progresses, things gets more difficult and stressful, requiring a good amount of strategic planning. On the flip-side, you also gain things to help out, such as the ability to see what requests customers will make and in what order. This allows you to better plan out what you’ll do for each level. New blueprints are added fairly regularly as well, helping to add more variety to the gameplay so things don’t get too repetitive. Also, the blueprints are always available to check, but you’ll soon learn them off by heart, improving your efficiency to complete the goals.
With the addition of potion making in the later levels, as well as an increasingly larger shop space, gameplay becomes quite addictive despite the stressful nature. When you get into a rhythm or pattern, crafting one item while having ore smelting in the furnaces ready for you to use later, it becomes almost second-nature. Working out the best way to deal with all the different orders coming your way for the day can be satisfying. Unfortunately, there are some frustrating design choices that can impact your enjoyment.
A Fine Line Between Strategic and Frustrating
In order to complete each level, you need to make a certain, minimum amount of profit. This will give you a bronze rating for the level. It’s worth mentioning I never failed a stage, so the level of difficulty is quite easy if you just want to pass. However, if you want to aim for a gold rating, the game starts crossing the fine line between strategic and frustrating.
After a certain amount levels, rats will begin to infest your shop at set intervals. If left unchecked, they eat away at your profits, lessening your chance of hitting the gold rank. You’ll be surprised at how quickly your profits deplete when loads of rats are left to their own devices. You need to pick up and place your cat where the rats are to scare them off. Hordes of rats can enter your shop at such a rapid pace, that focusing on getting rid of them is a necessity. It can also to be a hassle to locate your cat in the bigger shops towards the end, as it has a tendency to move positions on its own. Alongside this, you’ll still have lots of customers you need to serve and items to make. There are also times in the final shop where NPCs will get in the way of your customers, slowing them down. At one point, this caused the final customer to not make it to the counter in time, even when I had the item ready for them to pick up straight away.
With so much going on, it becomes almost impossible to adequately manage and still get the gold rating in a lot of levels. It’s not the end of the world, as the difficulty only verges on unfair if you’re aiming for gold. If you just want to pass each level to finish the campaign, you won’t have much trouble at all.
The best parts of Merek’s Market are the special levels. These offer more interesting stages of gameplay, often requiring you to craft unique sets of items to finish a large project. Like the other stages, everything needs to be done within a time limit. The difference here is that you will still have some regular customers to serve. But instead of giving you profit towards a set goal, completing these orders freezes time. More complex items freeze time for longer. Deciding on which regular orders to complete to maximise time is a nice touch for these special stages. What’s more, is that when you finish each part, you need to complete a brief mini-game as well, adding to gameplay variation. One includes a rhythm based game that has you press buttons to music.
But my favourite level is the very final one. This has you face off against your dastardly rival once and for all. Testing everything you’ve learned over the course of the campaign, you compete in a series of challenges to come out victorious. One has you navigating a maze to gather the materials and find the crafting station to make a specific item and bring it back first. Another has you barter with a long queue of customers, inputting many sequences of buttons without making too many mistakes. It’s a great way of ending the game in a unique way, while still challenging the player on the basic mechanics.
The cartoonish art style can be both a blessing and a curse. It fits the tone of the game well, and it certainly stands out in ways, but not always for the good. Some of the character models are charming, if pretty basic, but others can be nightmare fuel in all honesty.
But in general, the visuals are vibrant and colourful, helping to distinguish materials and objects from the top-down view. The game doesn’t look anything special in this aspect, but it’s perfectly fine for the type of game and budget. I just wish the music wasn’t so forgettable.
All in all, I had a surprisingly enjoyable time with this game. Its arcade gameplay has the potential to offer some chaotic, crafting entertainment. It starts off simple but gradually adds more and more variation for an experience that mostly stays fresh. It certainly has some design flaws that could be better, but I still had a fun time, nonetheless.
With a campaign that last roughy 4-5 hours and a co-op mode for some extra longevity, Merek’s Market offers an amusing experience, especially for those that like the Overcooked games. It might not stay in your mind long after, but you’ll appreciate the arcade distraction all the same.
You can buy Merek’s Market from the PlayStation Store here.