Daemon X Machina was the shock announcement out of Nintendo's 2018 E3 showcase that had us excited. It was explosive, featured giant mechs, and was all wrapped up in a delightfully tasty cel-shaded art style. We sampled the third-person shooter at this year's Gamescom and our initial thoughts were pretty positive, but now we've had chance to delve deep into the full release.
Things start out looking bleak, as from a satellite we are shown the moon crumbling to pieces, with Earth being struck by the falling debris (there's quite an interesting anime-style prequel video we would advise that you watch for more context on this, although be warned as it is only in Japanese). We then step into the shoes of our fully-customisable protagonist, who is a rookie mercenary tasked with eliminating the corrupted AI that waged war against mankind following the traumatic event that we witnessed earlier. With our protagonist being the silent type - and with many interactions taking place through static text boxes - we often found our attention waning and our finger was never too far from the skip button.
Missions within Daemon X Machina are divided into two categories, offer missions and free missions, with the former progressing the story and the latter providing an opportunity to earn yourself some extra cash and loot on the side. Missions typically revolve around the same core objectives, where you'll have to destroy waves of AI, undertake investigations, or protect a certain ally. For us these missions became stale quickly and not even the tightly stuffed toybox of weapons could help to alleviate the tedium we felt trying to push through. There are occasional exceptions to this though, like piloting colossal immortals, but these are far and few between.
Piloting your mech is simple, as you can just push the B button to thrust yourself into the air, and flying here is limitless, so you won't need to land to regain your stamina. You can temporarily boost with the R button and the shoulder buttons each represent different weapons that you'll equip in the hangar before jetting out. The combat introduces a great sense of verticality, as tanks will attack you patrolling on the ground and aerial threats such as choppers and drones will cause a similar nuisance in the air. What we couldn't get a feel for, however, was the fact that our mech couldn't comfortably stand with its feet planted firmly on the ground, and would instead slip and slide around is if we were walking across a sheet of ice.
Within the hangar you can customise your mech's loadout, equipping different armour pieces and weapons that you have looted off fallen rivals. You can have two main weapons equipped at a time, as well as shoulder and auxiliary weapons, and these include the likes of swords, bazookas, shotguns, and assault rifles. There's an obscene amount of gear here and this can all be tested out within a training area known as the testing ground (funnily enough), where you can shoot AI dummies and measure the distance and impact of your shots. You can also save up to 10 custom loadouts, which is handy if you're like us and fancy switching things up frequently.
Your piloting protagonist also has their own dedicated RPG-like tree and can exit the mech at any point in battle to lay down traps or get some powerful hits in with their drone. In the lab there are three different skill trees (head, upper body, and lower body) that you can choose to progress your character with money that you've accumulated by completing missions. What's interesting about these upgrades is that they modify your appearance as well as give you buffs, but be careful, as only one skill can be selected per each line of the tree and it can be costly to reset. One of the skills that we invested in, for example, enabled us to scale greater heights with a double jump by adding a pair of thruster packs to our legs.
With a striking cel-shaded visual style and Kenichiro Tsukuda from the Armored Core series at the helm, we envisioned that Daemon X Machina would be a solid return to form for the once-beloved mech shooter genre, but sadly things here just didn't live up to our expectations. We found that missions felt stale due to repetitive objectives and we struggled to feel engaged within the central story due to our lifeless protagonist and an over-dependence on text boxes. Customisation is very deep, however, and there's a multitude of different weapons and stats you can tweak in your pilot's skill tree, but it's a shame that there isn't anything more fulfilling that we could be doing with everything at our disposal.
We have yet to play multiplayer with the pre-release version, but we'll update this review with impressions soon.