It’s important to fly the flag for indie games, but it’s just as crucial to call out the ones that make a mockery of hard-working developers. While it might’ve been conceived with good intentions, Mechapunk sadly falls in the latter group – and it’s arguably one of the most egregious offenders on the Xbox Store in recent memory.
Mechapunk shows potential from its screenshots – a harmless-looking 2D platformer that’s simultaneously familiar and promises something a little bit different. While its description is a bit weird – “[o]ur main character embarks on an adventure, but what room!” – all can be forgiven if there’s an actual game in there, especially one that claims to be “seriously hard”.
Ten minutes after starting Mechapunk – and I promise you this is no exaggeration – you’ll have completed it, with only an ill-gotten 1000G to show for your time and money. Its trailer, which inexplicably runs for nearly five minutes, captures half the experience.
While many indies have become go-to titles for those looking to inflate their gamerscore, most at the very least offer new ideas, a nice IP, or a little bit of replay value. Mechapunk is, frankly, just a waste of money, even if you are paying to bump up your ultimately valueless points score.
Its story is relatively straightforward. Your character, who’s dressed like a masculine version of Sugar from Streets of Rage 4, has to navigate a planet taken over by robots. That’s it. Admittedly, most platform games of the era imitated by Mechapunk are just as guilty of a threadbare narrative, but at least they provided style, ingenuity, or fun. Mechapunk has an OK soundtrack, and that’s about it. Even then, you only hear it for a few minutes.
Much of Mechapunk’s three-minute first act is focused on tutorials: jumping, shifting, climbing, and combat. Movement and dashing are largely intuitive, but the game’s gravity is so twitchy that you can’t accurately stick a landing. Meanwhile, the fighting mechanics are both counterintuitive and completely unnecessary. The game encourages you to fight robots that look like large sentry turrets from Portal, but you soon realise you don’t need to engage them because you can just jump over them and peg it to the end of the level.
Speaking of levels, oh boy, the levels. There are ten in total, and the first three or four can stretch for as long as – gasp – two minutes, if only because you’re getting to grips with Mechapunk’s odd, floaty controls. The second half is a different story. Level six is around eight seconds long, while stages seven through ten may take upwards of fifteen seconds if you decided to ignore the feeble combat in favour of running and avoiding: two incredibly apt adjectives for the wider experience.
If you do get caught up with an enemy, or one of two traps, you don’t need to worry about your health as it’s impressively resilient, though you’re prone to instadeath via bottomless pits and spike traps. In these situations, specifically one “memorable” section with tiny platforms, you only fall foul of mortality because of oversensitive controls.
Suddenly, you’re at the end of level ten, rewarded for your success with the blandest final screen stating “YOU FINISHED GAME” – one reminiscent of the infamous Big Rigs: Over the Road Racing’s “YOU’RE WINNER” congratulations message. It’s fitting, really. At least Big Rigs offered ironic fun; Mechapunk just leaves you feeling empty.
It’s easy to wonder how Mechapunk even got cleared for sale. On the Xbox Store, it’s £4.19 – precisely £6.42 too high – but if you’re unlucky to be tempted by it on Nintendo Switch, you’re looking at closer to £10. It’s daylight robbery, pure and simple; you’d feel short-changed if you got this for free.
Mechapunk doesn’t feel like a game so much as a performance art piece – one that proves that capitalism is as two-dimensional as the things we aspire to enjoy, maybe? There’s plenty of space to conjure up a metaphor that excuses this mess – “what room!” indeed.
Mechapunk is available on the Xbox Store