Daemon X Machina Review — Mech Measuring Contest
Daemon X Machina may very well be one of the most refined mech-based shooters, but some questionable design choices leave more to be desired from the game.
Giant mechs have been a staple of Japanese pop culture for decades and have even garnered something of a cult following over here in the west. Despite this, fans haven’t been treated to a popular Japanese mech-based title in the video game space since Armored Core or Zone of the Enders. Sure, there’s the occasional Gundam title but those don’t have the level of quality fans want. Marvelous has attempted to create the best mech title of all-time with Daemon X Machina, and Nintendo has surprisingly put their trust in them, acting as the publisher of the game worldwide. In many ways, one could say that Daemon X Machina is a triumph, but there are a lot of strange and downright bad design choices that hamper the quality that can be found in its gameplay.
Daemon X Machina controls like a dream and in many ways sets the standard for what fans should come to expect from titles like this. It’s certainly a far step above what Square Enix tried to do earlier this year with Left Alive, a spin-off of the mech-based Front Mission series. Many of the problems from the initial demo that was available to players have been rectified with the full release. Things like frame rate, controls, visuals, and more have all been simplified or refined to make for an incredibly rewarding gameplay loop. On Switch, Daemon X Machina suffered from frame rate problems, but with some improvements, the game runs very smoothly in both Handheld and TV mode.
Players will be primarily shooting and slashing their way through Daemon X Machina, and thankfully the game is loaded with weapons that can be equipped to your Arsenal. Five different weapons can be equipped to each Arsenal at once as well as a sixth equipment-type weapon like grenades. There’s a lot of variety to be found with each of the game’s weapon types, and there’s some pretty blatant imbalance amongst certain types, but in the single-player realm of things, this isn’t a huge issue. Everything feels solid enough, and Daemon X Machina has a pretty simplistic targeting system that allows players to simply look at a group of enemies and fire. The game does leave a little bit more to be desired in the sound design side of things but it’s nothing that’s game-breaking by any means.
Daemon X Machina’s most tremendous detriment is its confusing storyline. What initially starts as an intriguing plot quickly, and I mean quickly, turns into a jumbled mess that’s hard to follow. All players need to know is that the moon has fallen, causing suspicious energy to fall to the Earth and turn once peaceful artificial intelligence robots against humanity. Arsenal pilots are supposedly the last line of defense for the human race, however, the game doesn’t explore that much as players will be taking on various contracts for mega-corporations that are fighting for power and resources.
The basis is pretty clear cut but becomes jumbled and directionless to the point where it’s never clear exactly what or why anything is going on. Daemon X Machina then decides to dive into existential themes with characters that haven’t been nearly developed enough for anyone to care about the subject matter and those that are being affected by it. Each mission has the same formula: boring exposition before gameplay, gameplay, and then maybe a well-animated cutscene that doesn’t provide any of the necessary contexts with what’s happening. It’s immensely frustrating considering, as I mentioned before, the game has some solid mechanics and extremely exciting cutscenes showing off giant bosses and high-speed Arsenal fights.
Speaking of which, Daemon X Machina’s missions ultimately just have players shooting lots of baddies, but how these missions are presented can feel varied throughout the 15 to 20-hour campaign. Feelings of repetition do start to set in with the game’s last string of missions and its questionable whether or not it has enough endgame content to provide players for months to come before major updates work to improve and add to the game. There are also some difficulty spikes sprinkled throughout the campaign, and more specifically during the game’s final boss who was an absolute pain.
Thankfully, once the campaign is all said and done players can simply focus on looting and shooting with a group of other players. These cooperative missions are a lot of fun and can provide some extra hours of enjoyment even after the credits roll. However, it’s undeniable that there are only a finite amount of missions and despite a ton of equipment and cosmetics to unlock, the game starts to lose its hook once missions begin repeating. PVP has been promised at a later date but without any details, it’s hard to say whether or not it’ll be compelling enough to garner a consistent community whenever it launches.
A big standout in Daemon X Machina is its attention to detail and visuals. Each mission is filled to the brim with varied landscapes and striking colors. Arsenals have a wide range of unlockables in the aforementioned weapons, gear, and cosmetics. Players can come to personalize their mech in this colorful world. It’s kind of easy to look past when the gameplay is as solid as it is, but it really would’ve been better if the whole package was coherent. Nevertheless, the game does encourage replaying levels as players can pick up different equipment from downed Arsenals.
What’s interesting is the fact that players can only choose one of a handful of items from each downed Arsenal, meaning you’ll have to replay missions over if there’s something else you want to acquire. Additionally, there’s also a factory where players can craft new gear and weapons as well as a buff system that lets you add to the equipment you already own.
Of course, players will also be able to customize their avatar who will pilot an Arsenal that can also be given a custom name. There’s a ton of options here as well in terms of style choices and color palettes. The game’s upgrade system also adds some very specific buffs with a skill tree that’s limited to make every choice by the player methodical. These choices can be reset for a fee though so you’re never really locked into anything. Gender, skills, colors, and more can be fully customized whenever you want.
One of the smallest and coolest details in Daemon X Machina is the hangar where players can display their Arsenal and weapons. In the middle of the hangar, your Arsenal will tower over the area as weapons you’ve collected are lined up on the walls. There’s admittedly not much to do right now, but hopefully, this area will be expanded on in the future. The cool part of this area is having four players together at once since each Arsenal will be present on the platform in the middle of the area. Seeing four unique Arsenals lined up next to one another is always a cool sight.
Daemon X Machina may very well be the best mech-based title ever. Unfortunately, it’s far from the best game ever. The gameplay has seen major improvements throughout the development, and that’s a commendable and important thing to see. However, it seems that this focus on refining the gameplay and the mechanics around each Arsenal seems to have caused the rest of the game to fall behind and ultimately act as a detriment more than a supporting piece of the overall game. Daemon X Machina won’t be for everyone but cult fans of mech-based manga, anime, and video games should eat Daemon X Machina up.