Whether you're a casual or hardcore mecha gamer, DAEMON x MACHINA will satisfy all your giant robot needs
There are only two things in this world that are completely and wholly synonymous with anime. The first is magical girls. The second is, of course, giant robots. In the decades since Mazinger Z exploded onto the scene in the early 1970s and established the mecha genre as we know it, countless anime fans in Japan and abroad have found themselves fascinated by these flying hunks of metal battling out among the stars. Many of anime’s most well-known and highly regarded properties are mecha, such as Patlabor, Neon Genesis Evangelion, Tenga Toppen Gurren Lagann, and the unforgettable Gundam franchise. Seriously, stop a random stranger on the street and show them a picture of your favorite Mobile Suit. After you correct them it’s not a Transformer, their next guess will probably be Gundam.
This widespread fascination with mechas in media has also translated to the world of video games... somewhat. Plenty of games that let you pilot giant robots have risen over the years, though few have received widespread acclaim. The many Gundam and Super Robot Wars games have found their audiences mainly in fans of the shows they’re based on, while others carve out their own niches among mecha fans. Xenogears, Metal Wolf Chaos, and the Armored Core games may not rank among the most well-known franchises worldwide, but the fan bases they’ve found are nothing if not passionate about their mech games of choice. Armored Core in particular comes up more and more these days as a franchise that mech fans would like to see revitalized, especially given the FromSoftware pedigree behind it. Though it seems there’s no end in sight to the Armored Core drought just yet, a few series veterans have stepped in to fill the void with their new title DAEMON x MACHINA.
DAEMON x MACHINA is a third-person action game developed by Marvelous for the Switch. This post-apocalyptic mech-piloting game takes place hundreds of years after the Moonfall―a cataclysmic event where pieces of the moon broke apart and fell to Earth. This unleashed a new form of energy across the Earth called Femto that corrupted AIs and turned them against humanity. Pushed to the brink of extinction, humanity now resides within a union of nation-conglomerates called the Oval Link. This Link is overseen by a group called Orbital tasked with contracting out various mercenary groups to forge the last line of defense against the AI threat.
The stage that DAEMON X MACHINA sets for its story is a dire one indeed, though the game struggles with how much it tries to convey that. Players take on the role of “Rookie,” a custom-created character who sort of comes out of nowhere to join Orbital and wade into the world of mechs and mercenaries. After becoming accustomed to piloting the mechs (known as Arsenals) and passing the certification exam, you’re introduced to the Hanger, which is where you’ll spend all your time outside of missions. This enclosed area is your hub for viewing your Arsenal, purchasing upgrades, swapping out equipment, and accepting missions. The Hanger is populated with a handful of NPC mechanics with little to say, and outside of them the only other humans ever shown in the game are your fellow mercs.
There’s a civilization left to protect in DAEMON x MACHINA, but its complete absence from the game makes it easy to forget about. There are references to human refugee camps and settlements, but for whatever reason all your battles take place far, far away from them. The arenas you’ll be fighting in are total wastelands, complete with abandoned cars to throw and decaying buildings to topple on enemies. The saturation slider is turned up all the way as you battle under a blood red sky to industrial metal tunes as if to say “The world is already over, so just go hog wild in your giant robot.” DAEMON x MACHINA’s story is serviceable, and that’s all it really needed to be. I’m not saying that fans of mecha games don’t care about the stories at ALL, but let’s be honest, what the fans want most is to pilot giant robots and have fun doing it.
With that in mind, let me simplify things a bit. If you love to obsess over numbers, stats, and builds, DAEMON x MACHINA is probably for you. If you love convoluted control schemes that put you in situations where you’re holding virtually every button on the controller down at once, DAEMON x MACHINA is probably for you. If you love to feel like you’re actively fighting against the sheer weight of a zillion-ton metal behemoth while you’re playing video games, DAEMON x MACHINA is probably for you. If you like to build Gunplas and paint them purple and green like Unit 01, DAEMON x MACHINA is probably for you.
Everything in DAEMON x MACHINA is designed around making you feel like an extremely cool person flying an extremely cool mech. The character customization options are rad, if a bit lacking in accessories compared to NPC pilots. The Arsenal customization goes far more in-depth, with loads and loads of swappable equipment to unlock and upgrade throughout the campaign. There are plenty of builds you can fashion for your mech depending on how you want to approach the mission. Whether you want to play go agile or tanky, melee or sniper, land or sky, the options are there for you. The customization goes even deeper as you can change your Arsenal’s paint job and cover it in unlockable emblems if you so desire.
In addition to affecting your own health and defense, the parts you outfit your Arsenal with have their own individual durability stats. If they take enough damage, these parts can break completely, leaving you more damage-prone and potentially missing an entire arm to attack with. Luckily, whenever an enemy Arsenal is downed in a mission it can be scavenged for parts. If you’re missing an arm or weapon, you can find a downed Arsenal and replace it with one of theirs. If all your gear is in good condition, scavenged parts are automatically sent to your Hanger for future use. While you can buy new equipment in the Hanger, scavenging off dead enemies was how I acquired nearly all of the equipment that I used throughout the game.
All these various stats and customization options were a little overwhelming for me, I’m not gonna lie. I found it hard to judge what builds to go for or what parts and weapons to bring to different missions because there was no real indicator what worked best against the enemies I would be facing. The most common enemy types all go down pretty quickly, but most of the game ends up being spent fighting other Arsenals. Without a database of them and their own builds its tough to get a sense of what works best against them without a bit of intense observation and a lot of trial and error.
This overwhelming feeling extended into the gameplay. Arsenals are big and complicated, and not only are you flying them all around everywhere, you’re doing it with a total of six different weapons attached. There are a total of sixteen buttons across both Nintendo Switch Joy-Cons, and most able-bodied people hold controllers with four fingers on a button at a time: both thumbs on the analog sticks and both index fingers on the triggers. At any given moment in DAEMON x MACHINA you’ll probably be holding down six buttons at once and still feel like you aren’t holding enough. Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is all up to you.
While I did admittedly find it overwhelming (and frankly uncomfortable for my tiny hands) at times, I found it oddly appropriate. Have you ever looked at the cockpit inside of a plane? Imagine if that plane had two legs and arms and the dexterity to point accusingly at their archrival. It only ever became a hindrance when it came to the auxiliary weapons such as grenades. These weapons were mapped to the X button the Joy-Cons, so readying a grenade meant taking my thumb off the right analog stick to press the button. Problem is, that’s the stick that controls camera movement. Grenades were ultimately useless to me because there was no way to even aim them while inside the Arsenal. It seems like a major oversight, but fortunately controls are remappable and not every auxiliary weapon requires camera control anyway.
While Arsenal control is awkward and clunky in an ultimately appropriate way, controlling the pilot outside of it feels plain bad. Your created characters in DAEMON x MACHINA aren’t solely there to look at in cutscenes, by the way. During missions you can bail out of your Arsenal and fight enemies on foot. However, I found there’s little―if any―reason to do so. The weapons at your disposal are much more limited and there’s no way to recover health if you’re hurt outside of your Arsenal. Also, the levels are clearly designed for Arsenals alone, so it’s easy to get caught on the collision of slight inclines that Arsenals just glide over.
You can eventually upgrade your pilot to a point where they can manually repair your Arsenal when outside of it, but the repair process is painfully slow and your Arsenal just takes more damage since it’s just a sitting duck out there. You can already find health canisters scattered throughout levels, so the only time being able to repair your Arsenal on foot would be when it’s destroyed and you’re automatically ejected from it. Unfortunately, the repair ability doesn’t work on Arsenals that have been destroyed. At that point your options are to either die or hope you’ve already taken enough health off any remaining enemies that you can just find a secure corner and cheese the rest of the fight out. Which, to be fair, that’s how I beat the final boss.
The final boss, by the way, is terrible. It completely defies all strategies you’re taught to utilize up to that point throughout the game. Unlike every single other arena up to that point, there are no health or ammo pickups to be had. If your armor is destroyed, there are no enemies around to strip for parts. After trying it a few times I was so frustrated and in such disbelief over it that I turned to the internet for answers and found a good amount of others who had been stumped by it. I found out there’s a completely un-telegraphed gimmick to beating it that never actually worked whenever I attempted. I eventually managed to beat it and as a courtesy here’s my advice. Equip one of the katana weapons, upgrade chain attacks in the body mods, equip HIGH defense armor, and just go in over and over until it’s dead. If you can see ANYTHING other than the boss’s character model clipping through the camera then you’re doing something wrong.
Bee-lining through the story took in all about 16 hours, but there’s plenty left to do beyond that. As you progress through the story you’ll unlock side missions that can earn you parts and credits, and there are roughly as many side missions in DAEMON X MACHINA as there are story missions. If you’re tired of playing alone, there are also online modes available to players with a Nintendo Switch Online membership. You can play co-op missions with other players or face against them in 1v1 and 2v2 matches. My experience with the online modes is rather limited, but I found co-op missions went by extremely quickly given how many high-level players are there to farm for gear. I couldn’t find any 2v2 rooms open in the middle of the day on a weekend, but finding partners for 1v1 deathmatches was pretty easy. If showing off your cool mech design and challenging other players over who the better pilot is sound appealing to you, I’d definitely give these modes a shot.
The big question you’re probably still wondering though is, “If I like Armored Core will I like this?” As to that, well, I don’t know. I’ve never actually played a single Armored Core game before, and while DAEMON x MACHINA does seem similar to what I’ve seen of those games, for all I know the feel could be entirely different. I do know that there is some Armored Core pedigree behind it, though. Armored Core series producer Kenichiro Tsukuda acted as producer on DAEMON x MACHINA. Legendary mech designer Shoji Kawamori―who designed mechs for Armored Core, Macross, Patlabor, and many others―returned as well. The pedigree seemingly ends there, unfortunately. Marvelous developed and published this game, and a quick look into their previous output reveals few mechs and a lot of Senran Kagura.
So while I can’t guarantee this is exactly what you want or are looking for, I can say that I had a real great time with it. There were things I found myself wanting from this game that it didn’t deliver. I wanted my character to be more like a character. I wanted to make decisions and bond with my fellow pilots. I wanted to join a group of mercs and fight it out among the rest for supremacy. The more I played and the more I wanted these things, I realized I was looking at DAEMON x MACHINA the wrong way. Those kinds of RPG elements might belong in game like, say, Battletech, but that’s not what DAEMON x MACHINA is about. Though limited in its scope, it dials in on what it believes matters most to mecha fans: having fun being a pilot. DAEMON x MACHINA bogs you down so many stats and parts and controls because it knows that’s what being a pilot means. And once you’ve finally crafted and mastered your own perfect mech, it sets you loose under its blood red skies and tells you to let ‘er rip.
+ Beautifully saturated wasteland environments
+ Epic industrial metal soundtrack
+ Deeply customizable mechs
+ Controlling Arsenals feels clunky and convoluted in all the ways it should
+ Co-op and Vs. multiplayer options let you show off mechs and challenge fellow pilots
+/- Intriguing setting that the story does little to deliver on
- Control outside the Arsenal feels useless
- Abysmal final boss encounter
Are you a fan of mecha games? Where does DAEMON x MACHINA rank among your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!