While it’s always a good idea to ask for help when you feel like you might need it, it doesn’t always benefit you in the long run. This is something the team behind Daemon X Machina may end up learning when the game releases this week. After developer Marvelous released a demo way back in February and explained that it wanted feedback on how to improve the game, a number of players instead interpreted it as a product that was close to completion, and so decided that because it was a bit on the shonky side they weren’t going to buy it.
Fast forward seven months and it’s fair to say that Marvelous was absolutely right: Daemon X Machina has certainly improved in numerous ways thanks to user feedback. It does throw up two questions, though: exactly how much has it improved, and is it too late to get back those who were disillusioned by that extremely early demo? We can’t answer the latter – only time and the charts will tell – but we can at least confirm that the finished game is a solid piece of work, even if it isn’t quite an absolutely essential one.
Playing as an unnamed rookie mercenary who specialises in piloting giant mechs, your job is to take on a series of paid missions to do your bit in the war against artificial intelligence, which turned against the human race after a colliding moon sent some strange radiation across the planet. It isn’t all bad news: this radiation also increased your own abilities, meaning your fully customisable avatar has more to offer than your typical civilian. Accompanying you on your quests are mercenaries from other factions, who turn up and drop out depending on whether they fancy a piece of each mission.
This whole idea of characters popping in and out can make it difficult to get a grasp of the plot early on, and as the storyline develops and you start getting a load of conspiracy theories and “can you trust this faction, can you trust that one, can we even trust the company we’re working for” shenanigans, it can continue to be a little tricky to stay on top of things. That isn’t the fault of the voice acting (which is generally of high quality) or even of the dialogue itself, which is well written. There are just far too many active components in play here: it’s like playing chess and having the pieces swapped out for new ones every few turns. The fact that many of the cutscenes between missions simply involve different characters turning up to stand practically motionless in a room and talk to each other does nothing to help matters: even if what they’re saying is of interest, the set-up is dull as dishwater and it can be hard to keep focused.
Games like this do their talking on the battlefield, of course, and it’s here where Daemon X Machina shines for the most part. Mech games can be a bit of a slog to control but that isn’t the case here at all: your Arsenal (which is what the game’s mechs are called) is a breeze to commandeer, and while the hefty command list can initially seem quite daunting, it only really takes a couple of missions before you’re swooping around with all the grace of... well, a 50-foot robot. A graceful one, though.
When you’re in the air movement is a simple case of looking in the direction you want to go and heading that way, while more extreme altitude changes can be controlled with either the 'B' button (to quickly boost upwards) or pressing in the left stick (to kill your jets and drop quickly downwards). A useful dash button assigned to 'R' is an essential piece of kit, especially as the game progresses and you find yourself in increasingly larger firing lines. When on the ground, you’re also able to exit your mech and run around on foot, though this is rarely useful: technically it lets you continue to get involved in the action while you wait for a partner to repair your downed mech, but you’re so vulnerable in this state that it almost always results in death, at least in the early stages of the game.
Combat, meanwhile, is similarly satisfying. There’s a generous aim assist in play here, meaning as long as you look in the general direction of an enemy you’ll lock onto them and start firing at them with decent accuracy. Some of the self-appointed ‘hardcore’ may object to this but it does make sense: many of the game’s standard enemies are also airborne and it would be a bit odd if your extremely expensive, technically impressive giant mech struggled to accurate take down a basic flying foe. There’s something very gratifying about taking on a group of five or six enemies and picking them off one at a time with relative ease.
This aiming assist also goes some way to make up for the awkward feel of twin-stick controls you typically get when playing the Switch in handheld mode: since there’s no need to be absolutely spot on with your aiming, it’s far less frustrating. You have an option to switch to motion-controlled aiming should you so desire but we were happy enough with the standard settings that we didn’t feel the need to swap over. If you’ve been put off by mech games in the past because of their apparent complexity, this is the approachable one you may have been looking for.
Customisation is the main order of the day here, though. As well as the extensive options available to you when creating the look of both your pilot and your mech, there’s a wealth of weaponry that can be unlocked as you progress: some by simply clearing the main and side missions, others by looting the wreckage of downed enemies. While your mech starts off with a basic combination of an assault rifle in one hand and a shield in the other, before long your hangar will be stocked with swords, laser guns, sniper rifles and the like, giving you plenty of options.
Naturally, you can’t take all your guns into battle with you, but the game’s at least generous to an extent in that regard: it’s possible to enter a mission with a weapon allocated to your left arm (which is fired with the 'ZL' button), one allocated to your right ('ZR'), a missile launcher on your shoulder ('L'), an ‘auxiliary weapon’ like grenades or mines ('Y') and two more spare weapons that you can attach to pylons above you and swap out for your main ones whenever the situation requires. This means lengthy battles – and they can get very lengthy, especially when fighting bosses – can at least stay entertaining as you make the most of all the weaponry at your disposal.
At its core it’s an enjoyable mech game, then, but Daemon X Machina is not without its faults. Despite taking on user feedback and tweaking the game accordingly, elements of the game can still be pretty overwhelming, especially to beginners. Your HUD consists of no fewer than 21 elements, ranging from three different gauges to all your weapons’ ammo counters to a whole array of icons showing the health of each element of your mech (head, body, legs and each arm). The detailed options menu lets you turn off any of these as you see fit, but they’re all useful to an extent so we don’t necessarily recommend that: you just have to get through that initial adaptation period.
It also gets repetitive after a while. The majority of the game really is just a case of ‘do a mission, get paid, watch a cut-scene, do the next mission’ and as the plot gets more complex and your inventory gets progressively larger (though you can sell some of it off) you do start to get the sense that it’s just a rinse and repeat situation. Although there’s some variation to the missions – one minute you’re defending buildings, the next you’re taking on other rogue mercenaries – there’s still no escaping what is a fairly rigid structure.
If you get bored of the single-player missions there’s also the option to take part in some co-op ones, be that online or locally, with up to three other players. These are generally quite meaty (you’ll be fighting giant bosses, scrapping with groups of powerful enemy mechs, that sort of thing) and give decent cash rewards for completion, even though in the grand scheme of things they’re still more of the same sort of stuff. If you detest the idea of other humans you can take these on solo, and as you play through the main story you also unlock AI partners to recruit and fight alongside you (though they’re often as useful as a chocolate teapot).
If you’re still on the fence about Daemon X Machina, our advice is simple: download the free prologue demo that’s currently available on the Switch eShop. This gives you the first few missions and, should you like them and decide to buy the full game, you can carry your save file over. While a lot of other demos are too short to really get across the full picture of the game they’re representing, the fact that Daemon X Machina is such a formulaic experience means that by the time you reach the end of the Prologue you’ll have a pretty good idea of how most of the rest of the game is structured. By that point, if you want more of the same, you can feel safe in the knowledge that if you buy the full game you’ll be getting exactly that.
At its core Daemon X Machina is a solid mech action game that controls well and gives the player a generous helping of customisation options. Its mission structure can get repetitive, and its plot is so difficult to grasp it may as well be soaked in grease, but as long as you’re willing to put up with these and get through its initially bewildering array of gauges and icons you should have a good time with it.