Four score and some Nintendo Directs ago, Nintendo announced Daemon X Machina for Nintendo Switch. With its third-person mech-action gameplay and interesting cell-shaded art style, I was intrigued. As someone who grew up on Mech Assault and Zone of the Enders, developer MARVELOUS!’s Daemon X Machina seemed like the game to scratch that itch.
So as you can imagine, I was happy to hear that we were getting a demo after the Nintendo Direct on Feb. 13. When I booted up Daemon X Machina: Prototype Missions, what I got was… a mixed bag. Let’s dive in.
The demo begins with creating your character. The character creator is on the shallower side. You can choose your gender, a limited number of preset facial structures, and the style and color of your hair and eyes. Where it gets interesting is when you get to modify your character with “surgery.” More on that later.
After Daemon X Machina begins, you are brought to the hangar where you and your mech hang out between missions. In front of your mech (referred to as Arsenals) is a terminal where you can customize your Arsenal's weapons and armor, as well as go on missions. Customizing your Arsenal seems to be surprisingly deep, with the ability to change out individual parts for better ones that you find during missions. Each part of your mech has a numeric value called “memory.” The sum of these values has to stay within the limit at the top of the screen in order for the current configuration to be used. It’s still unclear to me how this is calculated, because the only parts I’ve found with an actual memory value are processors. It's possible this could be a developer oversight.
Jumping into the first mission, the game eases you into controlling your mech. The movement controls feel tight, as this hunk of metal easily transitions from skating across the ground to jumping and gliding through the air. Before long, you’ll be firing your giant assault rifle at a host of tanks and flying robots. Identifying and locking on to enemies is simple enough, with a red cube surrounding them when you’re within a certain proximity. Once you see that red cube near your crosshair, fire away.
Your mech can carry up to four different weapons, two of which can be equipped at the same time. The other two weapons are hotkeyed on the D-pad so you can switch out on the fly. You can pick up new weapons and various pieces of armor from fallen enemies and equip them in the hangar.
If your health bar reaches zero, your mech will be destroyed. However, if you press the button prompt within the timeframe, your character will jump out and you can continue fighting. Your character has a robot at its hip that floats around you and shoots when you pull the trigger, as well as a few hand grenades. As you may have guessed, you’re much more vulnerable to damage.
After you finish taking out the enemies, you’ll head back to the hangar and unlock The Lab. Here, you can perform “surgeries” on your character to unlock new abilities and boost current ones. This gives you more of a fighting chance should your Arsenal blow up during a mission. Getting skills like Double Jump can help you get around the battlefield, while getting eye augments allows you to lock on to enemies from further distances. As your abilities change, so too does the appearance of your character. Certain skills give your character cyborg-like body parts that look like something out of Deus Ex.
Beyond the first mission, gameplay becomes repetitive quickly. Fly around, shoot all the enemies, rinse, repeat. The last mission changes it up with a giant robot boss battle in a wide open desert area. It must have taken me 20 minutes or more to defeat this boss. 20 minutes! There is no visible health bar for the boss, so at no point could I tell how much damage I was doing to it until one of my AI companions said “The AI has reached 75 percent damage threshold!” randomly. So I kept on shooting at its weak point when I had the chance. As the battle progresses, the boss begins to spam a forcefield attack more and more. During this attack you can’t damage the boss, so you’re left waiting for the attack to be over. This fight also highlights one of Daemon X Machina's worst design choices: limited ammo. Your mech can only carry a limited amount of ammo for your guns, and once you run out, you have to destroy smaller enemies to grind for more. And the amount they give you is small.
At this point, you may be asking “Are there no melee weapons?” To answer your question, yes there are. But from what I gather, they’re pretty much useless compared to guns. With a sword equipped, your mech only does one attack animation. You dash forward a good distance, then do a horizontal slash. That’s it. You’re lucky if you hit anything half of the time. But you need to keep one equipped in case you run out of ammo, or else you’ll be stuck with the pitiful damage that your fists do.
Even though the controls are tight, Daemon X Machina doesn’t exactly feel good. The framerate is choppy at best in handheld mode, and at points almost unplayable in docked mode. There are times when I swear I was hitting the “fire” button, but nothing happened. My mech just refused to raise its weapon and shoot.
The graphics are on par with a low-tier PS3 game, which isn’t a big deal given the Switch’s power. But what’s bothersome is the size of the maps. I felt like I was constantly rubbing up against the edge of the map, with the map giving me the “Area Alert” notification. In a game where you’re flying and zipping around everywhere, the maps need to be relatively large. The size likely isn't due to hardware limitations, seeing as how something like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild runs just fine on the console.
Being that Daemon X Machina: Prototype Missions is a demo, a lot of the technical issues the game has could be fixed before it comes out. But couple that with the repetitiveness of the missions and some of the gameplay design choices, and I don’t know that this demo left me with the best impression.
With the depth of its mech customization and fast action, however, developer MARVELOUS! has the potential to create an addicting gameplay loop. I just hope they make a few changes for the full release.
Daemon X Machina comes to Nintendo Switch Summer 2019. You can try out the demo now on the Nintendo Switch eShop.