It’s funny how games centred around a day job land when I’ve got time off work. Unlike the daily tedium of an office job, Merek’s Market covers a grass roots sole proprietorship in a lot less time and feels a lot more fun. Crafting your way through dozens of time-restricted challenges, Big Village Games has managed to deliver a charming and intense shop runaround.
Merek’s Market focuses on the titular stall. Things start small with Merek looking to expand his operation by completing tasks and gaining a satisfied clientele. However, this remains a very one-man operation and things quickly escalate. Tess drops by as an early way to show you the ropes. You’re effectively crafting the ware from scratch and begin with a few basic ingredients.
The shop layout uses an overhead perspective and the things you need are all grouped together in ways that make sense. Raw materials like coal and clay are kept in their own corner of the workshop whilst cow hides and wood are segregated elsewhere. No material looks similar enough to mislead you and any real confusion comes from your own lack of knowledge. Knowledge that is acquired through an ever present recipe book.
Everything’s laid out in fairly simple terms and I could definitely reel some of these off from memory. The chaos ramps up when crafting is done under pressure. Almost all of the levels are timed although I find the bare minimum requirements are generous. Time management is crucial and there’s always one more job that needs to be done. Customers are frequent and their requests are varied which kept me on my toes.
A typical day working the market involves meeting a customer’s need as the rock up to the counter. At that point, you gather the materials and craft their desired outfit, weaponry or furniture. If they’re kept waiting too long, they leave in a huff and this is portrayed well with appropriate thought bubbles that display their mood. The quicker you deal with them, the better your tip will be so you’re incentivised for quick turnarounds. Once you have what they need, wander over to the payment counter and repeat a quick time sequence to close out the deal.
Customers also approach you with more specialised requests. You have a fair few items on hand to satisfy these people. Sometimes they’re explicit about what they want and other times, they are more vague. Once you have what they need, you can haggle with them. This is a simple process of picking a spot on the meter and hoping your customer is willing to pay it. I find it’s easier to underestimate it but I don’t find the game especially punishing on these encounters. Crucially, these interludes halt the timer.
With all the crafting gear at the back and three counters to man at the front, operating the market is a handful. There’s a list at the bottom of the screen that tells you what items are coming up so it does give you an idea of what wares to stock up on. Providing you have the time to do so, you can grab some early coin by having those ready in advance. Throwing items and running helps cover distance.
Time and pressure is a great combination and I find myself enjoying Merek’s Market a lot. Having to prioritise, anticipate and churn out countless orders is entertaining. When it comes to boss levels, these involve building something at scale. The first one a wooden statue and it allows opportunities to hand the player with more mini-games. Operating a crane in a game of Simon Says or lumbering a set of chariot pieces into place make for some interesting levels. Layer on top of that the usual customers who still visit daily. It all combines very, very well.
The presentation works nicely, although there’s aspects where it can fall short. The character models are varied and they do give you a sense of working for a vast number of people. The job doesn’t allow you much time to look at the custodians but I never felt assets were reused too often. You do get named regulars and that gives them a definite sense of character and charm. The voice acting is good, although I find Tess’ Cornish tones to be a little off the pace. There’s good humour throughout and, whilst the visuals aren’t especially polished, they do have a distinct look. Music also does well to convey the heightened frenzy of working behind the counter. You hear a lot of it but the short levels mean it never gets old.
You can play Merek’s Market in single-player or in local co-op with friends and each come with a separate campaign. Keeping them apart does feel a little odd but then it does allow for the solo campaign to be more tailor made towards one pair of hands. You’re rated out of three stars for performance and leaderboards do give you something to chase after once the story is cleared. There’s fifty levels for single-player and forty in the co-op campaign which should keep you busy for hours.
There’s not a lot negative to say about Merek’s Market. It executes on a tried and tested concept really well and any problems I have tend to come from my own lack of coordination. It’s easy for me to get flustered but I feel there’s enough room for trial and error. It does feel a little simple in structure. Levels just lead from one to the next and you need to unlock a star on the previous level to unlock the next. It’s fairly forgiving in that regard when you can achieve the bare minimum and progress.
+ Enjoyable in co-op.
+ Fairly forgiving at times.
+ Charming voicework and art style.
- The campaign structure can feel a little basic.
- Can be overwhelming at times.
- No way to show multiple recipes on screen at one time.