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Daemon X Machina Review

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1588773741_DaemonXMachinaboxart.png.6f4b4a9f00c6d466c2e33800d08d3f36.pngNintendo continues to expand the Switch library into every genre they can, this time dipping a toe into the world of mechs with Daemon X Machina. Fast, frantic aerial mech combat with plenty of customization options feels like a must for the genre, but even if Daemon X Machina manages to nail that sense of action, it can't shake a sense of tedious repetition from its gameplay.
Daemon X Machina takes place on a devastated Earth, where a chunk of the moon has crashed into the planet, causing not only destruction but somehow sparking all of the Earth's artificial intelligences to rebel against humanity. You play as an Outer, a mech pilot mercenary who takes on jobs to battle these rogue AIs (called Immortals in-game). You team up with various other mercenary groups to take on any quest the planet's corporate-states offer. Now, that's a relatively complex backstory, so you might think the game eases you into the setting by gradually and clearly explaining various elements of the story. Not quite. The game has a terrible habit of throwing you into the deep end, story-wise, which can make the plot a little hard to follow and, worse yet, just kind of boring. Despite having a fairly large cast of mercenaries, the game gives little opportunity for you to really get to know them, which is only exacerbated by the fact that some missions have you fighting other mercenary teams, so for the first half of the game you really don't know anyone's motivations. It's hard to care about characters when you don't know anything about them. Then when their backstories finally do get a little time in the limelight, they come off as two-dimensional and melodramatic. Sure it might seem silly to complain about poor storytelling in a game that's all about piloting a mech and blowing up robots, but it really makes any cutscene or dialogue sequence a real bore when you have overly dramatic characters that you just don't care about.
The meat of the game is, of course, flying around in a customized mech and shooting everything in sight. There are plenty of great moments to be had: soaring through the air, blasting away with machine guns before swooping in for a close-range sword strike. But Daemon X Machina really makes you work for those moments, partly because there's a fairly tough learning curve to truly move and shoot efficiently, and partly because there are some horribly tedious parts to this game.
The controls definitely take some time to get used to, but given the relative complexity of your mech's movements and attacks, the developers have done a decent job of making the controls feel smooth. Still, your early missions are going to feel pretty stiff and clumsy as you slowly master the art of flying and aiming, and even by the time you get the hang of things the game will start throwing super fast enemy mechs at you which can make many missions feel more like an endless chase than a battle.
Shooting robots out of the sky is, not surprisingly, awfully satisfying, and Daemon X Machina features a fairly generous lock-on targeting system to help your aim. Sadly this doesn't mean you can lock onto an enemy and keep the screen aimed at them, which would have been vastly preferable to the current system that requires you to rapidly spin the camera to keep track of enemies that can move so fast they seem to be teleporting around the battlefield. Simply put, too much of the game is focused on these mech-on-mech battles that are disappointingly tedious—enemy mechs often feel like bullet sponges so all you can do is tick away at their health slowly but surely. In a way it's almost impressive that the developers could manage to make two mechs fighting each other feel so dull.
Aside from fighting, the key feature of Daemon X Machina is customizing your mech with various weapons and armor pieces to craft just the right balance you prefer. This is pretty overwhelming at first since the game throws tons of details at you, like breaking down your weapon's efficiency into not just damage but fire rate, effective range, bullet velocity—a lot of these details honestly seem meaningless unless you meticulously take the time to compare each weapon's stats, but then again that might be what mech fans want in a game. Most other players will likely find the wall of text that is weapon stats overwhelming and just swap parts without getting into too much of the nitty gritty.
You also have a variety of weapon types at your disposal (and can ultimately bring several into a mission) so there's a decent amount of room for experimentation. The selection of weapons actually feels pretty underwhelming though, or at least too much of it is hidden behind grinding for random drops from enemies. Halfway through the game the variety of weapons seems to drop off sharply, and I mostly saw repeats of weapons I already owned, with the only alternative being grinding battles in the hopes of earning new parts from random enemy drops. There's also a shop and a crafting system that allows you to make new parts, but Daemon X Machina simply makes it too inconvenient to compare parts quickly, or even see what parts might be scavenged/crafted.
The whole structure of the game is also undeniably repetitive. Daemon X Machina is mission-based, so a little repetition is naturally unavoidable, but even so the game starts to feel monotonous pretty quickly as there aren't that many varieties of enemies to fight. That's a real shame considering rogue AI robots should provide near endless opportunities for coming up with creative enemies, but no, you mostly fight the same robots and mercenaries over and over. If solo play does get too repetitive though there's always co-op, both local and online, which can at least boost the game's longevity a bit, but even adding friends to the mix doesn't quite fix the inherent tedium of the game's mechanics.
Whatever the issues with the story and gameplay, there's no denying that Daemon X Machina looks sharp. The anime character designs and bright, vivid color palette are gorgeous, and even in the heat of battle the art style doesn't lose any of its slick charm. The chaos of battle might be a little disorienting while you're flying around, but it at least looks great while you're doing it. The game also has a fairly solid action-oriented soundtrack, full of appropriately intense and dramatic tunes while you're engaged in an aerial mech dogfight. And even if the writing leaves much to be desired, there is at least plenty of solid voice work to enjoy.
Daemon X Machina has a great shell of a mech-based action game, but fails to fully build up the experience with engaging challenges or interesting characters. Instead the game too often feels like a chore as you chase down enemy mechs over and over with only the small chance of a new weapon or armor piece as a reward. The balance of combat never feels quite right, whether it's the steep learning curve at the beginning or the rote mechanics once you do find the right weapon strategies for you. Ultimately, only die-hard fans of the genre will click with Daemon X Machina's flashy but tedious gameplay.
Rating: 6 out of 10 Mechs

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