Review: Daemon X Machina

Last year at E3, Nintendo opened its presentation with a brand new title known simply as Daemon X Machina. At the time, it didn’t garner a ton of attention likely due to the lack of explanation. It would be a while longer until we saw anymore of this mysterious mech title, but eventually there was a solid look at it when the first demo released this year. Following its reception the team went to work fixing player feedback until it finally launched. Now Daemon X Machina is here, but does the mech combat hold up enough to make it stand out or should it remain lost in the sea of September releases?

The story of Daemon X Machina comes across as a bit confusing at first, but the basis for it all is that at one point long ago the moon broke into many pieces and rained down onto the earth. These pieces of moon were imbued with a mysterious substance known as Femto which cause the artificial intelligence to turn against humanity and genetically change any humans who came in contact with it. Those who came into contact are now known as Outers and have the ability to control mech arsenals in combat. They alone are the sole people capable of fighting the AI, with many creating their own mercenary groups in order to work together. While a perfect world would have them working together, many of these mercs follow the money, consortiums that hire them and other mysterious forces at play. It’s up to them to sort out their differences while trying to help humanity, or end up fighting in the process.

As players begin they are first tasked with creating their Outer mercenary who works for Orbital, an organization tasked with helping cosortiums and stopping AI. Players then get free roam of the Orbital headquarters, which acts as the hub between missions. Once ready they head out into their missions and are introduced to basic mechanics. Arsenals are capable of both land and flight combat, with their mechs automatically locking on once they’re close enough. A stamina meter is used in order to boost through stages, and a Femto meter allows the use of special attacks and weaponry. Each weapon comes with its own ammo supply which can be replenished by defeating enemies on the battlefield. In addition to the weapons they bring, temporary weapons can be picked up from the surrounding area and used once. Finding a crashed arsenal can be another great way to pick up weapons if they had any equipped. Battles are extremely fast-paced, with arsenals able to boost through stages while enemies and objectives are clearly marked. Most missions will just require enemies to be defeated, but some need teams to defend certain locations or even escort machinery. Most missions will also have additional allies from other mercenary groups to help out and act as source of conversation and plot progression outside of Orbital’s main computer. Once the mission has been completed players can scour the area for any remaining items and head back to the hub to go at it again.

There are two main types of missions in Daemon X Machina: Offer and Free. Offer missions are essentially story mode and the core way to progress. These are the missions that have cutscenes attached and will often introduce new characters, in addition to doing a brief overview of what’s expected of the mission. Free missions on the other hand aren’t story driven and are entirely optional endeavors. They will still have a briefing to explain the objective, but are otherwise just there to be a way to earn more money and equipment. Free missions also come with challenges in order to earn bonuses like skins or decals for the arsenal. Challenges range from trying to beat the mission under a certain amount of time, killing a certain amount of enemies or even making sure health doesn’t drop too low. Free missions also allow players to bring along additional allies they’ve befriended at a cost. Recruited allies get a cut of the mission bounty, but it’s worth having a helping hand for more difficult stages. The Offer missions also cannot be replayed immediately, unlike Free missions, and require beating the main campaign before they can be revisited.

Although it acts as the hub, there’s a lot that can be done at the Orbital base. This is where the player’s arsenal can be customized and new items bought or created. Players can straight purchase weapons or armor with the armor they’ve made or visit the factory to create new ones. The factory required an exchange of one weapon or armor piece in exchange for one that will be made after the next mission has been completed. Attachments that give bonuses to equipment can also be removed or added here in order to build a stronger artillery. Outside of the menus players can visit the Lab in order to change their Outer’s appearance or take a complete break and check out the Ice Cream Parlor. The Ice Cream Parlor allows players to select a cone and one to two scoops in order to give bonus stats for the next mission. This main hub area is also where players can take the challenge into multiplayer.

Multiplayer in Daemon X Machina has both local and online co-op. This allows up to four allies to work together in order to complete challenging quests. Unfortunately players cannot do story or free missions together, but instead have their own individual quests which are heavily focused on combat. Multiplayer quests either require the fighting of a giant Immortal or taking down other NPC arsenals in close-ranged combat. The online hub is simple and straightforward, with connection while in missions feeling great even when playing with others in different countries. It would be nice if there was a little more variety to online missions, but the selection available is still great to play either with friends or randoms online.

One big draw to Daemon X Machina is the sheer weapon variety available. Early on, weapons tend to be a tad on the basic side with occasional differences in attack power, but players unlock even more fantastic weapons as more missions are completed. There are assault rifles, machine guns, sniper rifles, laser guns and melee weapons such as swords that act as the main artillery for handheld combat. Additionally there is a slot one shoulder weapon, which can be offensive or defensive, and an auxiliary weapon that’s usually support or grenade based. Weapons can be given as rewards for completing a mission, but most commonly are found by looting an enemy Arsenal and taking their equipment. In combat if a player tosses their currently equipped weapon or is missing one, they can automatically take one off the downed arsenal and use it for themselves. Otherwise the chosen equipment, weapon or otherwise, is sent back and can be checked out post-battle.

If there’s one particular thing that’s great about mechs, it’s customizing them. Daemon X Machina has a whole slew of customization options for players to choose from and really make their arsenal feel like their own. Each main colored portion of the arsenal can be changed, either changing all of them at once or individually, in addition to being able to choose from full paint jobs that can be unlocked throughout the various missions. Decals are the biggest way to decorate even further, with over 100 decal options to be added onto areas of the arsenal. These decals will need to be unlocked, but many can be obtained through normal missions progression. Since most of the time in will be spent staring at the arsenal, it’s great being able to decorate it freely whenever in order to mix things up or just find one fantastic look and stick with it.

The strongest points Daemon X Machina has to offer are its visuals, soundtrack and general gameplay. The cel-shaded approach looks fantastic, especially when moving into some of the later stages that incorporate a lot more color. The soundtrack is hard rock with tons of lyrical incorporation that makes each fight feel intense and keeps every encounter’s excitement level high. Gameplay is endlessly fast-paced, and aside from a few missions that require the use of slow Immortal mechs, typically stays enthralling throughout. Where Daemon X Machina tends to fall short is in the story. While many of the characters end up becoming memorable favorites, the early portions are confusing for anyone interested in a plot or coherent story telling. Later portions piece things together little by little for those who pay close attention, but it isn’t one to write home about. There are also occasional frame drops in combat, but are usually tied into loading lots of enemies at once and don’t linger. Handheld mode is also surprisingly smooth, with visuals holding up well and any frame drops feeling no different than when they might occur while docked.

Closing Comments: 

A modern mech title that can easily be a gateway drug to hours of fast-paced action, there’s nothing else quite like Daemon X Machina on Switch. While its story falls a bit short, it’s still enjoyable and intriguing enough of a ride to keep up with even when confusing. It shines strongest in its amount of replayability and sheer mountain of additional content that can be unlocked. Daemon X Machina is a title that’s hard to put down and is easy to get sucked in and just want to keep going further and see what other crazy things it has waiting around the corner. It’s obvious that a ton of time and dedication was put into Daemon X Machina, and it’s one that fans of the genre or those with the tiniest bit of interest should check out.