Thursday, December 19, 2019

Daemon X Machina (NSW) Review

We move on from our trio of Mario-related reviews to entirely different territory--territory of the mech variety. From the creative talent behind the Armored Core franchise, it's the Nintendo Switch exclusive Daemon X Machina, and here's SuperPhillip Central's review.

Welcome to your battlefield

Announced at the beginning of Nintendo's E3 2018 showcase video, Daemon X Machina hopes to fill the hole left in gaming by the out-of-commission Armored Core series. After all, it's got many of the creative minds from that franchise behind Daemon X Machina. With the latter, you get a shot of high-octane mech action, enough customization to make any mech fan happy, and a convoluted story starring loads of oddball characters mixed with plenty of existentialism. Okay, maybe we could do without the last part there, but overall, Daemon X Machina hits many of the high notes that players of mech games generally like--some initial gameplay inaccessibility notwithstanding.

Daemon X Machina has you entering all kinds of fast, frenzied and frenetic aerial and ground battles in your fully customizable mech, an Arsenal. Arsenals have all sorts of abilities and customization options. They can fly, they can boost, and they can equip multiple weapons, one for each arm, one shoulder weapon, and one auxiliary weapon. The left and right arm weapons are assigned to the ZL and ZR buttons respectively, while your shoulder weapon is assigned to the L button. Boosting is performed by pressing R, but you have a limited amount of stamina. If you run out, your Arsenal immediately gets grounded, taking some time to cool off before allowing you to get back into the air and jet set around once more.

Like anything in life, controlling one's Arsenal takes some practice to get used to...
But will most players want to take the time to do so?
Of course, you won't be zipping and jetting around the battlefield in style or with much grace at the very beginning of your journey with your Arsenal, and the game does little to provide assistance to ease you into piloting your machine outside of a weak tutorial at the start of the game. You don't generally get much of the nuances of each system in the game, whether it's regarding gameplay or mechanics. I could see this being a potential barrier of entry for plenty of players.

If you're going to be a target, you might as well be a moving one, so get going!
That goes into customization as well. While there is a plethora of options available to you as the player, the game does really explain them all in as much depth as I would have liked. Regardless, you can mix and match parts from various Arsenal models to make your Arsenal mech--from the head, to the left arm, right arm, legs, and body. As you progress in the game, more body parts unlock, and options for researching new parts, whether they're armor or weaponry, becomes available as well. You can also assign attachments to your armor and weapons to make them stronger and provide different bonuses, such as higher defense from burning weapons or better accuracy.

You can customize the look of your pilot and Arsenal at the base.
The body parts you equip to your Arsenal aren't just for show either, as they also affect stats like overall defense, bullet defense, laser defense, weight, speed, and much more. For instance, if you prefer an Arsenal that favors high health and defense over quickness and evasiveness, then try equipping parts from the Goliath line of armor. It's a great system that allows the player to select a play style that suits them best. I just wish the nuances were explained a little bit better.

One of many Arsenal loadouts I created, meet SkyGunner.
That said, you can't just place every part you'd like on your Arsenal without worry. Arsenals have a limited amount of memory to them, and each part and weapon takes up an amount of that memory. Thankfully, you can buy and research memory chips that boost the amount of memory your Arsenal has. Even still, I never really ran into an issue where I was close to running out of memory by equipping too many parts.

Combat in Daemon X Machina takes some practice to grow accustomed to, and even then, it's quite challenging even for a seasoned vet of the genre. There's some feelings of rubbing your stomach while patting your head at first, with that feeling of trying to multitask: turning the camera, boosting, attacking enemies, all the while trying to evade shots being blasted in my direction. It's quite crazy at times when you have 360 degrees of movement where you have to watch what's in front of you, be aware of what's behind you, to your sides, and everywhere else. Speeding around at insane velocities while trying to keep enemies in your sights is no easy task, as you can probably imagine.

Daemon X Machina also features no lock-on functionality--well, at least in a traditional sense. You can't simply hone in on an enemy and lock the camera on them. Instead, you have to keep them in your sights long enough for a target to appear over them, allowing you to more accurately hit them with your attacks upon firing. This is crucial for things like homing missiles in your potential Arsenal's arsenal. While fights with larger targets that are easy to spot and hit, and battles with smaller AI robots that are destroyed with a few shots are simple enough, it's when you're going up against other Arsenals that all heck breaks loose.

Phew! I'm going to need some shades for this mission!
You're in a perpetual state of trying to keep your enemy in your sights so you can line up shots and hopefully hit them. This is all the while you're zipping around to dodge their attacks, and they're zipping around to dodge your attacks. Aerial combat is very difficult when you're doing battle with another Arsenal because they're zooming around in a 3D area where you have to account for all axes. It made it so ground combat was my preferred way of engaging with Arsenal opponents. It's a drastic day and night difference in just how easy it is to duel with a fellow Arsenal on a literally level playing field as opposed to the wide expanses of a 360 degree space.

Defeating rival Arsenals and pillaging their fallen remains yield rewards in the forms of weapons and Arsenal body parts for pilfering purposes. This, in turn, allows you to either send them directly to your base, where they'll be available to equip at a later time (permanently being in your collection) or equip them on the fly in battle.

If only this particular fort was really just a bunch of pillows stacked on top of each
other instead of a rampaging mechanical monstrosity. If only...
When you're not fighting enemy AI cannon fodder and other Arsenals, you're fighting gigantic Immortals, huge robotic creatures that can both deal and dish out take heavy damage. They can come in many forms, such as a humongous quadruped mech to a massive, mechanical, burrowing worm. These battles have you chipping away at an Immortal's armor, eventually breaking them off to reveal their weak points, and then unloading everything you've got into them to deplete their generous amounts of health. These particular battles, like some of the Arsenal encounters, can go on a little too long for my liking, but they add some freshness to an otherwise stale mission-based structure that Daemon X Machina uses.

Bob and weave through these killer laser beams. Nothin' to it but to do it!
There are over 45 missions in the story of Daemon X Machina, and the greatest number of these involve eliminating enemies, whether they be weak AI that go down quickly, other Arsenals, or the aforementioned Immortals. The latter are definitely the most entertaining of the types of elimination missions. Less entertaining are the handful of escort missions where you must guard and protect a certain mission critical structure. Part of the problem with these escort missions is that the teammate AI is practically useless. They're great in missions where you are facing an Arsenal or team of Arsenals. Not because they help deal a lot of damage to the enemy. No, it's more because they're terrific distractions, so why they're taking enemy fire, you can unleash a barrage of bullets and attacks on the Arsenals going after them. Regardless, in escort missions, they're essentially without worth.

A further issue is that failing a mission can be so obnoxious. Not only is there a lengthy loading time to restart a mission, but there are no checkpoints to speak of within the game. So many of these missions have multiple cutscenes that, while they can be skipped, get annoying when you have to jam on the + button to cycle through them just to get back to the action. Then, there are missions where you can easily breeze through the first part only to get utterly decimated in the second, completely leaving you demoralized and aggravated--in addition to forcing you to redo both parts once more. Again, this is where those aforementioned missing checkpoints would be godsends.

What is this, an interpretation of "The Star-Spangled Banner"
with rockets' red glare and bombs bursting in air?
That notwithstanding, the mission structure and tiny amount of mission variety bring a small sense of monotony to the experience, especially as you enter deep into the game, so much so that I opted to just skip as many mission briefings as I could without it making the already confusing story of the game more so confusing.

Speaking of which, Daemon X Machina's story is one that tells the fate of humanity after a cataclysmic incident known as the Moonfall occurred. Here, a humongous portion of the moon fractured off from itself and slammed into the planet, wiping out countless human lives and resulting in the rise of hostile AI taking over various machinery once used to serve man, now rebelling against their creators. Several corporations have since started hiring mercenaries to complete missions for the greater good of the planet. You play as a rookie who finds themselves taking on missions, assisting the numerous consortium groups and their cult of personality members that take on these missions. The story itself is obvious window dressing for all the cool mech action players get to do, but it has its moments. Unfortunately, most of the time you're watching chat window communication sessions between the various mercs, which I got to a point where I didn't feel guilty for skimming through them, or outright skipping them altogether. The cutscenes that appear during missions, however, are entertaining enough.

There's a lot of gibberish and nonsense with Daemon X Machina's story,
so just sit back and enjoy the wild ride.
More than entertaining enough is the online play, offering co-operative and competitive multiplayer for up to four players. These feature missions that pit your squad up against teams of Arsenals from the story mode or mode-exclusive versions of Immortals that are extremely challenging to face. The latter reminded me of my Monster Hunter days where I'd team up with a group of randoms to take down a hulking beast like Lagiacrus in a half-hour long battle. Communication is key in these kinds of games, and the Nintendo Switch fails to achieve a sophisticated or worthwhile enough message system to work well with this type of game. While selecting from a series of canned messages from a list is fine and typing in custom messages via an in-game keyboard is good for when you're in a lobby, chilling out, it's not so effective or efficient when being barraged with enemy bullets on the battlefield.

When two swords strike simultaneously, mash on the A button to win the duel.
Daemon X Machina will most assuredly find its niche with a subset of mech game-loving Nintendo Switch owners. (There are dozens of us!) That said, the game isn't at all beginner-friendly, and will even put off some seasoned gamers as well with its complex controls and systems. For mech lovers, there's nothing like upgrading your Arsenal, prettying it all up, and then taking it out on the battlefield, whether online or off, and shooting and slicing the hell out of enemies on the battlefield. If you liked Armored Core or have any interest in mech games--while also having the patience to learn the ins and outs of its gameplay mechanics--then mecha no mistake--you should play Daemon X Machina.

[SPC Says: B-]

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