Dragon Marked for Death Review – Holier Than Thou

Inti Creates have been making a name for themselves with nostalgic, pixelated throwback games developed by industry veterans from the same era they’re celebrating. While the developer has pursued existing IPs or has built entirely new ones, Dragon Marked for Death is probably the best game to channel their underlying DNA – the Mega Man Zero franchise. The game is a direct homage to that style of side-scrolling action games, only with an entirely new world and characters. Does the studio retain their prowess with the genre after all these years? How does that kind of gameplay translate to modern platforms? Read on to find out!

Dragon Marked for Death
Publisher: Inti Creates
Developer: Inti Creates
Platform: Nintendo Switch (Reviewed)
Release Date: February 1, 2019
Players: 1-4
Price: $14.99

Dragon Marked for Death tunnels into that classic pixelated style you’d find in the mid to late 90s. The game is a love letter to style from that era, and it doesn’t really stray too far from it. Overall, the sprites and art are wonderful.

There are a number of animations that are really well done and honestly, kind of surprising considering how strict the team has been with sticking to this style. Attack animations, movement, even crazy transformations just pop and simply add to the fantasy world.

Environments and overall gameplay are presented in a 2D perspective, so there’s a lot of mock parallax scrolling on in the backgrounds. It’s a neat effect and certainly nostalgic, but there are some very 3D objects that stick out. Locales have a unique charm, and just get the job done.

Once again, if you’re a fan of the Mega Man Zero franchise, you’ll feel right at home with this game. It’s made by the same team and it both looks and feels like something they could have made in that same era. I really loved this style, so it’s something else to feel like the team have never lost their touch.

Dragon Marked for Death is an unadulterated 2D side-scrolling action game. It makes no qualms in this fact, and it doesn’t try to dress up the heavy emphasis put on classic platforming-action this team made a name for themselves with.

There are four classes to choose from – Empress, Warrior, Shinobi, or Witch – each of which having their own highly unique movement, attack patterns, and overall feel. It’s legitimately fun to play through each character and really learn to fling around zones with them, pummeling enemies as you go.

As this is a game built around a bygone era, the mechanics haven’t changed much either. The vast majority of the game is running, jumping, and simply attacking enemies. If this sounds monotonous, it is, but it’s quite a lot of fun to fans of classic action-platformers like me.

Coming from this, since Inti Creates have quite the pedigree with side-scrolling action games, some platforming segments can require very precise jumping and maneuvering. This, coupled with enemies regularly being thrown at you, can be challenging yet ultimately rewarding.

As you level up you will accrue points to spend on various stats like Strength, Vitality, and Dexterity – but these seem to really only keep you growing towards better gear and matching stronger monsters. There are no other unlockables or goals to strive for, so you’re mostly just following the various quests.

The experience grind is a bit noticeable if you play solo, and since there is support for up to four playable characters, I feel like you’ll have a better experience with friends. While this is true for most games, it’s just more of a grind as a solo player in this action title.

It’s worth pointing out the game currently arrives in two versions: Frontline Fighters and Advanced Attackers. Each one has two characters that play akin to the pack they come in, so if you want the full roster of characters, you need both. A physical release is coming later with all four characters.

As this game is definitely presented as an action RPG, I wanted to point out that it feels more like a lite RPG. As you level up and put your points into your attributes, you’ll unlock harder levels with – you guessed it, harder enemies. No matter how much you power level, you can never really min/max and you’ll frequently be kept on your toes.

This isn’t so much of an issue considering the game definitely feels more like a straight action game, but I digress. I definitely would have liked to see more options to let you experiment a bit and get a really unique build going. It definitely feels like a Mega Man spinoff, but with some lite RPG features that sort of feel tacked on.

The soundtrack in Dragon Marked for Death consists of dozens of tracks, the majority of which are keenly focused on capturing the mood of a dark and fantasy-based world. The orchestral mix is quite robust, and really provides a big and overwhelming sound to set the stage for revenge.

Individual level and region tracks are usually quite varied and will nicely fit the theme or overall look of the land, even if you’re in a giant creature’s belly. While the musical score has nice variety, there were times I felt like a track or two got a tiny bit repetitive – but it wasn’t a nuisance.

There is some voice acting here and there, with your obvious voices behind every swing or spell the protagonists throw. I’d say the voice actors do a great job of giving personality to each character, even with each grunt or scream.

This game is focused on a revenge story of sorts, in a world filled with strife, danger, and your typical sociopolitical issues. You play as a member of the Dragonblood Clan, whose home was destroyed by the powerful Medius Empire, a cult that worships the Celestials.

Swearing revenge, you make a pact with the Astral Dragon Atruum, granting you the ancient power of the dragon. After that, your character transforms physically and is also granted new abilities, but you still have to work your way up to get to the Medius nobility.

The game throws some curveballs at you as you take on the role of a mercenary – even fighting against your own kin. NPCs won’t hide their disgust or distrust for you simply because you’re from the Dragonblood Clan, so you have a lot of proving to do via strings of quests.

Since the game is somewhat tailored for four player cooperative play, some quests – where you have to save multiple NPCs – were quite difficult to do solo, and I’d keep having one or two die on me. This is obviously much easier with one or more companions.

Dragon Marked for Death is a very enjoyable, unique, and fresh take on an antiquated style of game. This is easily a game that only Inti Creates could make, as it really does look and play exactly like some kind of high-fantasy Mega Man Zero spinoff or something.

While I may have some gripes with the game being more focused on multiplayer, the technicality behind the platforming and the combat, as well as the combo systems, really make the game feel rewarding. There are some minor nitpicks here and there but this game doesn’t hold your hand, and it plays wonderfully.

I really hope Inti Creates explores more of this universe seen in Dragon Marked for Death, as I think they have a solid new IP to work on in future titles. There are snippets of DLC that go into the Dragonblood Clain, but I definitely want to see more. Now with a base, they can refine and experiment!

Dragon Marked for Death was reviewed on Nintendo Switch using a review copy provided by Inti Creates. You can find additional information about Niche Gamer’s reviews/ethics policy here.

The Verdict: 8

The Good

  • Fantastic throwback pixel art that feels just right
  • Precise, reminiscent controls and combat
  • Interesting world and overlying story
  • Doesn't hold your hand, provides ample challenge
  • Excellent soundtrack that fits an grand story

The Bad

  • Can feel grindy if played mostly by yourself
  • RPG mechanics can feel tacked on
Brandon Orselli

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Big Papa Overlord at Niche Gamer. Italian. Dad. Outlaw fighting for a better game industry. I also write about music, food, & beer. Also an IT guy.