Action mech games typically fall into one of two categories: Steel Battalion or Gundam VS. Piloting your very own super fighting robot in a video game is either an in-depth statistician simulation that reads like a Dwarf Fortress fan game or it’s an all out breakneck speed war, laser gun fiesta, and never the twain shall meet.
The demo for Studio 1’s, Daemon X Machina brings carefully chosen elements of each mech flavor together, in one game. This is a lofty goal that Daemon x Machina accomplishes, for the most part.
The demo features four replayable missions, one of which includes a feature length boss fight. This gives players all they need to know about Daemon x Machina within its short, but sweet playtime of about an hour and a half.
Getting Anime up in Here
Something seasoned fans of mecha anime will notice immediately is that Daemon x Machina wears its heart on its sleeve in regards to influences. That distinct 90’s mecha flair of a morally gray mercenary organization in a post apocalyptic world goes down smooth. The sheer scope of the giant boss monsters, referred to as the “Immortals,” is a perfect tease for the big boys you’ll certainly face in the full game.
The motley NPC crew you’ll be working with features some classic anime tropes that really drive home this nostalgia. You’ve got the grizzled old veteran, the super serious no nonsense pro merc, and of course, the goofy Persona-esque best guy friend. the gang’s all here and completed with help from two Japanese voice actors of Gundam fame. Daemon x Machina knows its audience, and it shows.
Become the Mech Pilot of Your Dreams (or Nightmares)
Speaking of Studio 1 knowing their audience, character creation puts you in the shoes of an anime protagonist of your own design. Using a simple, but effective set of sliders you can make your character as weird as you want. This is taken a step further in Daemon x Machina‘s body modification system.
Whenever you purchase upgrades for your mech, they’re reflected on your character in one way or another. By the end of the game I had spooky cyber eyes, Star Fox metal legs and a robot arm. This can all be reset for a small fee of 20,000 in game credits, but these little touches are welcome additions.
The freedom to make your character as silly or serious as you’d like and getting to watch them change into a Robocop as your mech gets more and more badass is a very nice quality of life option that Daemon x Machina affords us. I love when games show your character’s progression visually, and these small attention to detail elements really made Daemon x Machina feel just a little bit more special. Not to mention you can Armored Core dash around the hub world, which is always welcome.
Something Old, Something New
The core gameplay of Daemon x Machina is what can both gain and lose its simultaneous target audience of mech fans and mech newcomers. What it does right is keep relatively simplistic combat fresh and engaging. You’re given a decent amount of firepower from the start of the game coupled with generous enemy weapon drops that all give a green light to blow the hell out of whatever the you’re allowed to lock onto.
This is our gameplay loop: take a mission, nuke everything in sight, after you’re done cleaning house you take your loot back to the hangar and swap gear for higher numbers, rinse and repeat. While this sounds repetitive, the freedom of mobility in Daemon x Machina keeps things upbeat.
If boosting all over the map Zone of the Enders style, shooting everything in sight (or hacking it apart with your laser sword) before jumping onto the next wave of cannon fodder sounds at all engaging to you, then please stop reading now and go download the demo because you’re already on board.
Daemon x Machina‘s combat has the addictive arcade quality you’d usually find in a really awesome beat ’em up. Yeah, on paper you’re just doing the same thing over and over again, but the right combination of sounds, spectacle and promise of better gear keeps you locked in.
The mech’s movement doesn’t start off incredible. You’ll have to unlock some of the slicker options, like a double jump. Not to worry though. After two missions (at most) you’ll have all the money you need to start going fast. Unfortunately, it was never quite as fast as I’d have liked.
What ends up going wrong with Daemon x Machina is a twofold issue. The first part deals with the aerial movement. While I had gotten used to it by the end, even after investing in the movement-centric upgrades, air maneuvers still felt sluggish. Even when you’re glued to the boost button things can feel slow, and the maps in Daemon x Machina are not small.
There were definitely times when it was easier for me to hit the ground running (where boosting feels great) and just tear ass towards my target before taking to the skies to engage. This is fine between battles because I loved zooming across bombed out cities and over desert dunes. In the middle of a fire fight though, I would much rather just beeline towards the guy I want to shoot.
Buffering the Bots
Though it isn’t anywhere near game breaking, it’s worth mentioning that Daemon x Machina‘s frame rate can feel a little underwhelming. Things don’t slow down to a slideshow, but there was enough to become noticeable during the final boss fight mission.
In a fast paced game full of enemies and a giant, bullet-sponge boss that can decimate your health if you aren’t paying attention, having the game start to hiccup is the last thing anyone wants. Studio 1 is aware of these frame rate issues and this is still only the demo. Even so, the frame drops coupled with the crazy amount of shots it took to kill the last mission boss was definitely one of Daemon x Machina‘s low points.
Another part of Daemon x Machina that might raise an eyebrow for fans of the genre is that the demo definitely leaned more into the high octane combat. Not so much for the actual mech customization.
Daemon x Machina features Armored Core and Macross alum Shoji Kawamori at the helm, but longtime fans, who loved the stat heavy elements present in his previous games, will definitely be left in the lurch. Sure you’ll get better stuff and you’ll get to slap it on your robot, but you won’t be scratching your head over what’s the better option.
The Nitty Gritty
The lack of upgrade micromanaging is a double-edged sword for a mech game. While newer players won’t feel bogged down with methodically comparing every piece of gear, veterans will almost certainly be left wanting more.
Daemon x Machina feels like someone found a very cool PS2 game and updated it for modern consoles, which I sincerely mean as a compliment. It’s light weight, old school, Armored Core.
Got to Start Somewhere
If you’ve ever wanted to pick up a mech game but kept putting it off because of analysis paralysis, Daemon x Machina is a great place to dip a toe. If you’ve been training your whole life to pilot a mech, you’ll likely feel a bit let down. Daemon x Machina will certainly be a fun little weekender, but don’t come in expecting a full blown sequel to the number crunching games of yore. Oh and you have the option to manually save your game, which I know you love.
Download the demo for Daemon x Machina free on the Switch right now, and if you like what you see watch for the release later this year.