Nintendo and Marvelous Inc. announced a special “Prototype Missions” demo for Daemon X Machina recently- a third person shooter and action mecha game. I hopped in the robot and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Read on for Niche Gamer’s demo impressions.
Very little is initially explained about the plot or the world in true sci-fi anime fashion. Characters casually speak to each other and reveal that information. “After the moon fell”, AIs began to form their own personalities, language, and rebelled against mankind after deeming it the greatest threat. To make matters worse, these AI can corrupt others.
A lot of terms are thrown around before being explained, and since most of them start with “O” it gets a little confusing. You are an Outer (mech pilot) working for Orbital (a mercenary company) that operates in the Oval Link (an alliance of nations), using Arsenals (mech suits) to stop the Immortals (rogue AI robots).
The player receives orders (missions), usually involving killing off many robots or defending a specific point. The story is nothing wholly original, but the environment and characters did pique my interest.
As you fight you can examine defeated enemy Arsenals to steal their limbs and weapons for your own use for later, or right then and there if your hand is free or limbs are on the verge of breaking.
I saw a lot of replay value from that alone. While you are not graded or scored for how you complete a mission (aside from being deducted reward money based on how much health you’re missing when the mission finishes), I went back in hoping to find new gear.
It is purely luck based and a little skinner box-ish, but even playing each level in turn I found good enough gear to keep going. The full game promises the ability to buy limbs and weapons, so hopefully finding something good while looting will not be required to progress.
In addition, your mech can carry multiple weapons into battle via the ‘pylons’ on its back. This allows you to quickly switch what you are wielding, essentially allowing for custom loadouts for various scenarios. While only a simple mechanic, it allows players to choose their own playstyle, and it works well along with being able to customize your mech before every mission.
Different weapon classes also change your playstyle. The various guns differ in range and rate of fire. I could actually feel this difference, as oppose to one good weapon being able to handle the situation no matter what. Although melee weapons typically only worked against slow or stationary targets, you could knock down enemy mechs with enough shots to land a devastating blow. The same can be said for bosses and their weak-points, but this is usually offset by a constant barrage of fire from the boss itself and the smaller enemies it summons.
Overall the gameplay seems well balanced, although melee does have the potential to be very broken in the final game. While it is true slow-but-powerful weapons can be made more viable in other games, those typically involve a lot of investment in other gear and player skill. You need to work hard to break the game. I did not need that here, but these are missions from seemingly early in the game.
There seems little reason for your mech to walk as oppose to fly. Nearly all of your enemies fly save the occasional straggler on the ground. Though you can also go down to stand near a healing pod or loot a defeated mech, your maneuverability while dashing seems to be just as good on the ground, which is good as dodging is a necessity for survival.
Aiming seems to be more of a suggestion with how hectic battles can get. There were times I prayed for a mouse and keyboard due to how fast enemies were, but the game seems to utilize generous auto-aim as long as you are within range and if you line-up the sights. There is still a challenge to do that however, especially with enemy mechs.
Maps can also have decals hidden in them. While you cannot scan them during the mission, you have sixty seconds once the mission ends. This time can also be used to find healing pods so you don’t have to pay as much for repairs out of your winnings, or find and scan these decals to apply to your Arsenal. You can also earn decals from reaching goals, such as beating a certain number of missions.
The gameplay is very “love it or hate it” depending on your tastes. Some may love shooting down robots using their new weapons and parts they found in the last mission, while others may find it grows quickly repetitive despite the new environment each time. I do hope there is additional variety in missions and enemies in the full game, but this could easily go either way.
There were times it felt like I was listlessly turning to face an enemy, and opening fire until it blew up. Even if I took damage I could fully heal via a healing pod at the end of the mission and suffer no penalty. The final two missions grew more difficult however, and did require me to rethink my loadout and tactics. As mentioned earlier, the demo missions seem to be from early in the game.
Character customization is a bit of a mixed bag. Even though you will not be seeing your pilot out of a mech suit very often, the variety of hairstyles, faces, and clothes available is paltry. A mere three faces, five hair-styles, three eyes, and a few eyebrows and cosmetics like scars and freckles. In addition, there are no sliders for height or other body sizes.
Furthermore while you have access to a wide variety of body part and weapons that can all affect the stats of your mech, the only aesthetically customizable part of the mech is the color scheme and decals. Even then, each body party can only have a single decal, and usually limited to one area of that part. Weapons cannot have their color changed or have decals applied to them either.
Despite this, you can select from a fairly wide pallet of colors (though the free color picker is more limited than it appears, making jumps in color with the smallest of inputs), and both mech and pilot have three major colors that can be changed to affect their overall color scheme on their body. The decals can also be moved around, rotated, and changed in size to a reasonable degree.
The designs of individual parts still look good (as you would expect from a mecha game), but I really did expect more customization for the pilot. It did not have to be as extensive as Monster Hunter World, but there are ten year old games with more options to pick from.
Returning to gameplay elements, your pilot can be upgraded with new skills and stat improvements. Some of these change how the pilot behaves when outside the mech, or the mech itself. The skill tree for each part of the body only allowed one ‘branch’ in each segment, locking out others when you select one.
You can reset all purchases, but it is pricey, though levels can be replayed over and over for the same pay-out each time. You may want to reset for other reasons, as some upgrades can change your appearance with robotic implants. While these new parts can be customized in color, you have no way to make your pilot appear “human” again through customization.
As mentioned earlier, your pilot can leave the mech by choice or must do so when the mecha is destroyed. There seems to be little reason to do this however, as even with major upgrades your damage output and maneuverability severely drop.
While it makes sense you could hypothetically make a last ditch save to complete the mission, you would lose most of your money earned to repair your mech. All in all there seems to be no advantage to doing it; no hidden passages or areas only the pilot can access. At least, in the demo.
While only snippets of the plot were shown, I was surprised by how good the dialogue and characterization was. The characters are only shown as static portraits, but their dialogue was brief, well written, and at times witty enough to get their personality across in mere moments.
The plot also has potential. One mission had me defending a building, only to end up fighting other Arsenal pilots as their mission from another nation was to destroy it. While I hope this leads to interesting stories about political intrigue, I expect it will take a back seat to simply blowing stuff up.
Environments and maps are well designed, utilizing a mix of old architecture and sci-fi cities. Ruins are juxtaposed by giant satellite beacons, and blood red skies with shattered planets. You only really get time to take it in once a mission is over, but it certainly looks nice…
…Sort of. Many textures are designed as though you would be flying through the sky in your mech, so when you get up close, some smaller assets can have blurry textures. The game does not run at 60 FPS, but the frame rate was smooth for me, although I did hear some claiming they had performance issues. While resolution was noticeably lesser, there were no performance issues in handheld mode.
The animation for the mecha is suitable, though the rare times humans are on screen it can be a little rough. Lip-synching is non-existent in cut-scenes where a pilot can be seen, and even the little things like your female pilot still walking and running like a man. Only the mecha should have looked robotic, yet they look more natural and have more personality in their movements than the humans.
Explosions, laser beams, and smoke are all quite stylized, almost as though they would appear in a game with heavier cel-shading. It reminded me of how they would look in older manga; effects being less detailed but emphasizing the force behind every attack. Some elements of the environment are also destructible, but this was usually only done by far larger robots.
The game’s soundtrack utilizes rock and metal, and it sound fantastic. Of course, you can only hear it if you turn down the sound of gunfire and explosions in the options menu. The English voice acting is also surprisingly good to boot. Although the music in the hub can grow annoying with how repetitive it is, you hardly notice when thinking about your mech or upgrades.
Finally, there were a few minor bugs in the game. When you try to leave the mission area, your mech can be forced to auto-pilot back in. One moment I was walked straight back into the boss’ energy shield, damaging me and hurtling me back outside the area. Thankfully the energy shield was down the second time and this did not result in an infinite loop. On the same boss, I and another pilot were hammering the boss’ weak spot on its underbelly with swords; one sudden lurch later, and I found both of us had clipped inside the boss. It caused no issues and we both quickly freed ourselves. Both of the above bugs are hopefully things that will be addressed before launch.
As a foot note, the game does allow you to toggle various HUD elements on or off. While I never felt the HUD was cluttered, I could understand why some would wish to do so. Although every HUD element did feel necessary to me, so perhaps the option to change the scale would have been more fitting.
Overall I loved my time with Daemon X Machina’s demo. While there were a few elements that could be better, the core gameplay could be great fun for a select few. The good certainly outweighs the bad, and nothing embodies that more than what you can do with the boss’ own cannon once you shoot it off.
There’s nothing more fun than playing with a giant robot, shooting down swarms of drones and chasing down opposing mechs in a showdown, provided you don’t feel like you’re on autopilot.
Daemon X Machina launches this summer for Nintendo Switch. You can expect our full review soon after its release.