After playing through Daemon X Machina‘s “Prototype Missions,” a free download available on Nintendo Switch, I was left underwhelmed by Studio 1’s latest mech-filled action game. Released after the Nintendo Direct on the 13th, the demo allows players to create their character, customize their mech a bit, and play four missions which introduce the main mechanics. The game is set to release this summer and in the Direct, Nintendo announced surveys would be distributed to some players who download the demo. There’s a lot the game does well, but based on my time with the demo, the sum of its parts doesn’t add up to a whole I’m interested in.
From an aesthetic standpoint, I have mixed feelings, but overall like the style they’re going for. The soundtrack varies between violins and brass in the main menu and screamo and metal in a boss fight. It feels like particular songs are being chosen to fit each moment individually, but the overall score lacks any cohesion to convey an overall mood. Visually, I was met with several environments which were mostly washed out in reds and oranges, making it easy to get lost or lose sight of enemies which blend into the ruinous cities where the battles take place.
The character customization options offer a lot of choice in hair and eye color as well as skin tone. There’s a color slider which lets you choose any color you want for each option, which is great for customizing your skin tone outside of the surprisingly large selection of base colors from which they let you choose. The game does lock you into a gender binary and in the demo only allows for three faces each, but does not lock the six available hair styles to either gender. The two facial hair options weren’t great, but you are able to have two different colored eyes with differing iris shapes as well. There is also eyeliner and lipstick, but I didn’t love what they added to the textures on the character model’s faces. There are currently no options to customize body type, so if you don’t fit the cookie cutter mold of conventional beauty, you’re in for yet another game where you can’t represent yourself accurately. You can also customize the color on each part of your Arsenal (the game’s term for your mech) and you’ll acquire differently shaped pieces on the field in missions.
The game sports fully customizable controls including camera inversion and button layouts if you aren’t comfortable with the three preset layouts the game offers. The default button layout is how I played through the demo, but I was tempted to remap the attack and movement controls. The face buttons are control movement like flight and a speed boost and the shoulder buttons control various attacks. Maybe it’s my constant search for another Zone of the Enders, but I wanted to switch the movement commands to the shoulder triggers and attack commands to the face buttons. However, because you can set different pieces of equipment to either arm, the attack buttons are inputs for your mech’s arms rather than weapons, so you have to be conscious of where you equip what weapons or shields depending on your layout. I did obtain a gun with an auto-fire mechanism making the placement of one attack button mean less, but weapons also consume ammo, so having an auto fire mechanic may be less advantageous if you’re worried about running out, which I was. This left me feeling hesitant to mess with the controls too much for fear of trapping myself into uncomfortable hand contortions.
You can also customize your HUD layout, which is helpful because the screen is cluttered with gauges, sights, and icons on default settings. I was happy with all the customization options, but the actual act of playing the game feels really underwhelming compared to how complex all the logistical and aesthetic details. The gameplay is centered around destroying enemy mechs by zooming up, down, and around and either shooting with whatever weapons you acquire or hurling objects found in the environment. I wish movement in the game felt smoother than it is, as I found the act of jumping into the air and boosting forward clunky. The combat was repetitive and I never felt like I was zipping around as purposefully as enemy mechs, but maybe with a larger stamina meter, the game allows for more useful speed boosts.
Though there were tutorials, I felt like I was missing a lot once the missions began. In each mission, I inevitably ran out of ammo and when enemies stopped spawning, there was nothing I could do to find more, making the remaining enemies impossible to clear without my mech being destroyed. Once my mech was dusted, I was able to take out the remaining enemies on foot as an Outer (the term for your character when they are fighting outside the mech) but it felt like I was winning out of luck based on how much damage my character was taking with each hit. It was unclear if I should have been managing my ammo better, or if there was a way to find more ammo which I was never taught.
Speaking of combat outside the mech, it was much easier to notice texture pop-in when I was running around on foot. I was never told what to do if my mech is destroyed–and it was indeed destroyed in each mission after what felt like a real difficulty spike after the tutorial–and though there is a “Board” command in the controls, I could find no other mech to board in any mission. I also can’t speak for what the AIs controlling my partners were doing on the field, but they certainly weren’t fighting alongside me or doing much to progress the main objective. One of the missions was entirely comprised of a boss fight which was repetitive enough to bore me. What’s worse is the boss’s attack patterns seemed only to draw out the battle rather than encourage strategy. The fight was more about the boss moving the obvious weak points that needed to be shot way out of view in a way that felt cheap and annoying. I played the last mission with the boss battle in handheld mode and I do not undocking the Switch to play this game. Everywhere you look there are pixelated edges and though the frame rate still felt fine, the visuals took such an obvious dip, it lessened the overall experience for me.
Overall, my first impression of Daemon X Machina is that it seems to want to be both a methodical number cruncher and high octane action game at the same time. Comparing weapons results in walls of stats that may or may not affect much in gameplay and only served to make my eyes glaze over. The ability to customize each part of your mech is cool in theory, but these complex stats and loadouts feel at odds with the speed at which the game seems to want the battles to unfold. I wasn’t left wanting more out of Daemon X Machina and while I can see how it may evolve into a smoother play experience a dozen hours in with the correct equipment, I wasn’t enticed by anything enough to feel motivated to invest the time.
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