STAFF REVIEW of Merek’s Market (Xbox One)

Thursday, September 16, 2021.
by Adam Dileva

Merek’s Market Box art We got to check out an early version of Merek’s Market a short while ago, coming away impressed that its fully voiced dialogue and how much addictive and challenging gameplay there actually is for up to four players locally. Reminiscent of Overcooked’s gameplay, Merek’s Market is quite a drastic shift in backdrop, having you, Merek, running his own medieval shop. You’ll be running non-stop off your feet trying to fulfil everyone’s orders as you craft armor, weapons, gloves, and more. Some customers will even come into the store looking for other specific items, trying to haggle with you for a better price, taking away from your crafting time. Running a shop can’t be that difficult and stressful right? Yeah, you thought wrong.

Not only is there a lengthy 50 level campaign where you strive to earn Bronze, Silver and Gold Crowns based on your speed and accuracy of crafting your patrons orders, there’s also many multiplayer levels as well for up to four players locally to join in together. There’s even small narrative that takes place as you progress, upgrading your shop to be bigger and better the further you get. Not only can Merek strive to make his shop the most known and successful, with three other friends you can all enjoy the chaos that ensues together having to deal with weird customers, odd requests and people that simply aren’t buying and just want to chat, wasting your time.

Generally with games like these you simply go from one level to the next with each becoming progressively more challenging, but nothing majorly changes. Merek’s Market actually surprised me in a few ways. Your recipes for crafting start out quite basic; chop a piece of wood to craft a staff, cut some hide to make a belt, combine mud and coal to craft a vase, etc. As you get more recipes for completing stages, they too become much more involved and multi-stepped. Eventually you’ll be making swords, shields, spears, chairs, glasses, gloves and more.

Every tenth level is even a ‘boss’ like stage where you have an overall objective you want to complete, like creating a massive statue for a customer, but also trying to serve your regulars as they pop in as well. Complete these stages and your shop will be upgraded, allowing for new recipes, more room in your market and extra equipment like two furnaces or cutting boards. These were the best part of Merek’s Market, as you’re given blueprints in steps, much like reading Lego instructions, but to make these unique items you need to craft a handful of the regular items. Keep in mind you also have regular customers coming in wanting your wares as well, but make them happy and you’re timer will freeze for a short time, so you’ll need to find a way to balance both, as these levels complete when you finish crafting the big requested item. Placing each of the main pieces result in a quick minigame, either having you dance to a beat, holding your hands in a specific place that move or memory based games where you need to step on certain squares to the pattern it shows you.

Some customers aren’t interested in your craft, instead simply wanting to purchase other items you sell like bread, hammers, armor and others. They’ll give hints as to what they want and how much they want to purchase it for. This is where you need to have a keen eye, as if they’re in a rush or have fancy clothing on, they’ll probably pay more than someone that says they can’t afford as much or doesn’t have some nicer clothing. You can try to force a higher price for an item, but they may decide to go elsewhere if it’s outrageous. Can’t blame them, I do the same thing in real life as well. So you need to try and set fair prices whenever possible, that is of course if you can find the time to haggle with them between crafting a dozen other pieces of equipment for the other customers waiting in line. Some also simply want to come in to talk, sometimes giving you hints that the next knight that’s coming in to your shop later desperately needs a mace but will try and say he’s broke when in fact he’s super rich, so it’s good to pay attention.

The four player multiplayer co-op is simple to setup, simply having anyone else with a controller joining in. The controls are simple to grasp, picking up items with ‘A’, holding ‘X’ to use tools and that’s really about it. Having someone, or someones, to play with will make quite a difference, though that’s if you can get them to work at your speed and you know how to communicate well. The multiplayer levels are unique to that mode and become incredibly challenging the further you go. My wife who doesn’t really game was able to constantly craft iron bars and other items after a few practices without any problem.

One issue we did have when playing three player is that sometimes the inputs wouldn’t always work instantly, as if there was some sort of lag. Sometimes when I tried to do the button combination for when a customer is trying to pay, pressing the D-Pad direction or button wouldn’t do anything, then all of a sudden it would work. Given that we played well before the launch day and most likely fixed a Day 1 patch, I’m going to assume it’s a pre-release bug that hopefully will get fixed. Another issue that creeped up now and then is when you want to toss an item to pass to someone or simply place elsewhere so you can do something else in the meantime, the objects can get stuck behind or between objects, resulting in them being inaccessible and forcing you to re-craft said item, losing precious time. And I hope you remember where you tossed the items for later, because there’s no indicators to show where they are at a quick glance, and trying to remember where you tossed some small gloves in a four room Market is going to waste a lot of critical time.

Where the real challenge comes in is the level layouts. Some levels have a completely open layout where any player can fulfil any task or crafting, but eventually you’ll be segregated to your own section in multiplayer, forcing you to perform specific jobs. My wife for example was stuck at the furnace so she was forced to make all the iron bars and pottery since my daughter nor I could access her area with barrels blocking our way. Eventually you’ll have floating tables that need to have materials placed on it by one person until it floats to another area for someone else to take off and craft with. It’s absolutely chaotic, eventually becoming almost too much for my non-gaming co-op partners, but they still had fun trying even if we were failing often.

Once you get a perk that shows what the customers will be ordering that day within the allotted time limit, things do become a little easier, as I used to simply create any item I could during the small windows of downtime in hopes that’s what customers would be ordering. Once you memorize the recipes, Merek’s Market becomes a natural flow to play when you see an order coming up, though you’re always able to reference your crafting book if you become overwhelmed and forget how to craft a specific item for a customer. Once your market becomes multi-roomed, there’s going to be a lot more running around to do which adds a whole other level of difficulty.

All of the dialogue was not only fully voiced but done quite well, something I never expect with smaller indie games like these, so that was another welcome and unexpected surprise that I enjoyed. The visuals are quite colorful and cartoonish, as are the character designs. There’s more of a story here than expected and the challenge constantly ramps up, never giving you a moment of rest. The online leaderboards for every level should keep some coming back for more, trying to be the top Market in all the online lands.

Merek’s Market is a constant pressure of trying to appease all your customers in the quickest way possible while trying to be efficient and planning ahead, as that’s the only way you’re going to earn the top scores. It takes some getting used to, but once you have all of the recipes memorized and don’t have to consult the book, everything will start to flow much quicker when you learn how to have multiple crafts on the go. There’s a certain chaos and stress that comes with each level’s objectives and orders, but there’s also a great sense of accomplishment when you see Merek’s Market get a huge upgrade as the campaign goes on.

**Merek’s Market was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 7.7 / 10
Gameplay: 8.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.5 / 10
Sound: 7.5 / 10


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