Daemon X Machina Review
Developed by Marvelous and published by Nintendo, Daemon X Machina looks to provide an accessible mech game; a genre that has historically been dominated by a more serious focus on giant robots going to war. With a vibrant art style and a dynamic roster of characters, will this appeal to a wider audience?
Daemon X Machina begins with a moon colliding with the planet which hosts the game, causing the radiation of a special energy that turns artificial intelligence against humanity. You take control of an “Outer”, someone who has been gifted with special abilities, allowing you to pilot a mech, called an Arsenal. Along with other Outers you encounter in the main campaign, you’ll act as humanity's protectors and guardians in the war against the Arms of Immortals (the rogue AI).
Basic gameplay involves moving your Arsenal mech around the ring-fenced levels, shooting everything in sight. It’s extremely easy to pick up with such straightforward controls, and for that I give Marvelous enormous credit – I’ve been put off many mech games in the past because of their reliance on learning overly convoluted controls (here’s looking at you, Steel Battalion). Naturally, as you start to level up your Arsenal mech, new weapons and moves become available to you, but once you’ve got a firm grip on things, it becomes easy to pick up using these new items.
Combat can be thrilling at first, especially when you start experimenting with different weapon loadouts, but requires very little skill. In fact, a lot of the time you can get away with simply flying towards the enemies you need to kill and then standing still shooting away all your ammo until they are dead. No dodging or carefully crafted aerial manoeuvres required, I’m afraid. The UI can also be confusing at first, with no real tutorial to explain to new players what does what and ultimately you’re left to figure it all out through trial and error. Once it becomes clear what each UI element does, one nice touch is the ability to completely customise the display, showing things wherever you want on the screen – particularly useful if you’re playing on the smaller handheld screen.
The missions themselves are what I suspect will prove to be the decisive factor in people loving this game or feeling somewhat underwhelmed by it. Mission variety isn’t particularly rife, with most having a simple “go somewhere and shoot some stuff” order. Sometimes you get to “go somewhere and defend some stuff”, but the objectives rarely branch out more than that. It’s disappointing mostly because in pre-mission briefings, you’re often introduced to a new set of friendly characters who will join you in battle, often peeling back into their backstory a little and to what extent they’ve got skin in the game. Then you’ve just got to go and do the same thing you did last time in a different area with a few new friendlies by your side.
But it’s not the lacklustre mission objectives that are the main problem – it’s their brevity. Most of the missions on a normal difficulty setting can be clocked without any real difficulty in under five minutes apiece. Now, on the one hand, that’s the perfect length for portable gameplay, but on the other it all feels a little… meh. Some missions I really felt were about to enter their climax, only to end abruptly. It left me wanting more and ironically meant that I wasn’t often super keen about jumping from one mission straight into the next. The overall theme with the game is that sadly it lacks real challenge and everything feels a little blunt and to the point – making it really difficult to sink your teeth into the game as a whole.
The more you play, the more you loot and unlock, constantly allowing you to upgrade and improve your Arsenal mech and your Outer’s gear. Visual improvements can also be obtained, and if you’re anything like me you’ll spend hours finding the perfect colour and decal combination to make yourself look like you mean business in battle. As you unlock more and more gear, it starts to drop at higher tiers, really allowing you to buy into the power fantasy, getting stronger and stronger after every mission you complete.
Daemon X Machina does have a four-player cooperative mode, which is fantastic fun. I’m a firm believer that any game is more enjoyable with friends, and this is no different. Teaming up in your mechs to take bosses down is extremely rewarding and is worthy of your time. There are a handful of specifically designed co-op missions for you and your team to play through, but unfortunately there is no option to play through the campaign as a foursome, which really would’ve been the icing on the cake for multiplayer. Given the short nature of the missions, it’s surprising that this feature wasn’t included.
Visually, Daemon X Machina is interesting. Marvelous has designed the game in a cartoon style world using bright vibrant colours that really do make you feel like you’re playing in a Manga strip. Whilst easy on the eyes at first, it can become somewhat difficult to see what’s happening on the screen – especially during the later levels when more and more enemies are attacking you from every direction. Personally, I tend to really like this sort of art style, but I have to admit to Daemon X Machina feeling very, very bland in comparison to Astral Chain, which uses a similar art direction to outstanding effect.
I really enjoyed the soundtrack – carefully composed heavy metal mixed with rock tunes fit perfectly in the mech universe. It was also a pleasant surprise to find out that all characters have full English and Japanese voiced lines during all dialog, which really helps you invest yourself into the game world. It’s even more of a shame, therefore, that the promise of the early plot never really develops into anything more substantial than that. You’ve got a great cast of characters and no real meaty storyline to connect them together. A missed opportunity.
Overall, whilst I enjoyed dipping in and out of Daemon X Machina, it never really quite had enough to keep me glued to my Switch for hours on end. If you want to find out for yourself, a comprehensive “Prologue” demo is available from the Nintendo eShop to download and try. I spent a good couple of hours playing through it before my review copy arrived. Even better, any progress you make during the demo will carry over into the full game should you decide to take the plunge.
With plenty of customisable options, as well as cooperative multiplayer, there is ample longevity here – as long as you find the core gameplay to your taste. For a lot of people, I suspect it might be a little basic, but fans of the mech genre could easily add a tick or so onto the score.
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