Get in loser, we’re going flying
In comparison to the sheer amount of mech-based media out there, recent mech-game pickings have been slim.
With heavyweights like Kenichiro Tsukuda (Armoured Core), Shōji Kawamori (mech anime Macross) and character design by Yūsuke Kozaki (Fire Emblem Awakening and Fire Emblem Fates) teaming up for Marvelous’s Daemon x Machina on Switch, you can’t blame the community for believing a new era of mech-gaming was about to begin.
While a blast in its own way, Daemon X Machina doesn’t quite live up to these expectations.
When evil AI robots attack
Daemon X Machina is a cel-shaded action game that’s all about the mech; known in-game as an “arsenal”. You pilot your own arsenal against hostile AI in a post-apocalyptic future, taking on missions alongside (or against) other mercenaries. Combat is interspersed with dialogue and cut scenes, unravelling mysteries about the world and other combatants along the way.
Combat takes place both in the air and on the ground, and sometimes even outside of your arsenal. Aerial combat took me a few missions to adjust to, particularly when gauging the height and distance of enemies, but is well-handled on the whole. I had a tendency to fight from the ground where possible, because it turns out careening roller-blading mechs are crazy fun. Who knew?
While the fighting itself is a good time, the missions themselves cry out for more variety. Missions mostly comprise of “kill these things”, “kill this really big thing” and “protect this thing”. The first are easy to the point of being therapeutic; dominating the battlefield like a mechanical god of death. The second are a significant difficulty jump, battling ridiculously large bosses with health bars to match. The third – the “protect” missions – are so poorly balanced to the point of hair-tearing frustration.
Aside from the main story, there are side missions available where you can compete either solo or with the help of online buddies. The developer has also announced that on 10 October 2019, they will introduce an all-new “Battle Mode”, for 1v1 or 2v2 duke-it-outs.
Look at this stuff, isn’t it neat?
So, bazooka, or missile launcher? The answer is both, my friend. Always bring both.
As discussed in my preview, Daemon X Machina has robust customisation options in terms of arsenal upgrades and weapons. You can bring six weapons into combat at once, with ready access to four weapons at all times. Different upgrades significantly change how your arsenal feels to play, whether it’s swift, slow, close-ranged or long-ranged. This provides fantastic flexibility mid-combat.
Daemon X Machina also foists upon you minutely detailed statistics after each mission. I stopped reading these because they gave me a headache, but they do provide a generous level of depth for those prepared to dive in.
Customisation of your player avatar (called an “Outer”) is delightfully elaborate. I was especially fascinated by a feature called the “Lab”, where you can upgrade your Outer’s physical stats. This can have a drastic effect on your appearance – I’m talking glowing eyes; mechanical arms; treadmills for legs.
Now, I’m that bozo who when choosing between a low-stat attractive outfit and a high-stat ugly outfit, I’ll choose to look bangin’ every time. Imagine my inner conflict then when faced with a choice between replacing my avatar’s legs with metal springs, or not being able to double-jump.
You bet I went the remainder of the game without a double-jump ability.
So metal that it rusts in the shower
Visually, Daemon X Machina’s cel-shaded, simplified style oscillates between looking dated and striking. While environment textures can be simplistic, the arsenals’ ginormous rifles and laser swords are just the right level of bombastic.
When the opening title music began, I had an overwhelming sense that this game was going to make me feel things. The theme is glorious, moving between piano and a gentle chorus, then soaring strings and pounding drums. The mission music then plunges you into screeching heavy metal, and I wasn’t complaining. Oh, and the sheer quantity! The OST boasts 45 tracks(which I may or may not be listening to on Spotify as I type).
It’s a shame that the story never reaches the heights of the soundtrack.
If you can’t convince them, confuse them
I was forgiving about the story in my preview, as I hoped that things would improve.
Unfortunately, the story remains convoluted and much longer than it needs to be. Characters are constantly shocked by events that have happened many times before, and go off on strange tangents mid-conversation. Through most of the tale your character feels like they have no agency of their own; just a mech bodyguard paid to tag along.
Not helping is the extensive cast, in a truly more-is-more approach. We just don’t get enough quality time with each character is see beyond the trope they represent.
The only character I felt any sort of connection to was Johnny G.
Dear, dear Johnny G. Johnny G, the first to offer to fight by my side in side missions. Whose trust I betrayed by beating the tar out of him during a mission. Johnny G, who then had a jealous go at me in a cutscene. I’m still unsure whether that the direct effect of focussing all of my firepower on him, or if that scene would have happened no matter what.
Still waiting for my one true mech
Deep down, you know when you’re in a relationship that isn’t quite right for you. They might have a cute smile and a great missile-load out, and you’ve had some fun adventures. However, you know in your heart of hearts they can’t meet your expectations (please call me back, Johnny G).
That’s how I feel about Daemon X Machina. There’s so much to love, and features that I was genuinely excited by.
However, for a NZD$90 game, the lack of varied missions and a messy storyline means might be a spring fling for all but the most mech-obsessed.