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Free-form approach is exciting

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Game Time

DAEMON X Machina was about a year into development prior to its public unveiling at the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2018. The reception was good, and not simply because it had industry giants Nintendo and Marvelous behind it. As a stylized third-person mech-action shooter, it certainly benefited from the involvement of veteran producer Kenichiro Tsukuda; his excellent work on the highly regarded Armored Core series raised expectations. And it didn’t hurt that noted character designer Yūsuke Kozaki was likewise on board.

In this regard, Daemon X Machina’s arrival on the Nintendo Switch a couple of seasons later proved to be more miss than hit. For all its pedigree, it received a lukewarm reception both critically and commercially when it was launched late last year. In retrospect, it did itself no favors by doing the publishing equivalent of buying the lede; while it had a lot of things going for it, Nintendo’s relative inability – or, as the case may be, failure – to sustain the push for its release, especially in light of the competition it faced, all but ensured that it would fight an uphill battle from the get-go. It elbowed for shelf space alongside such notables as The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening and Astral Chain, thereby limiting its mass appeal in an already-saturated market.

Which was just too bad, because Daemon X Machina came as advertised – its polished version, that is. Earlier in 2019, Marvelous released a demo on the Nintendo eShop that wrongly gave gamers the impression it was close to completion. To the contrary, the developer wanted the early look to be a call for constructive feedback, deeming the reception as a compass by which work would be guided. In its aim to please, however, it wound up telegraphing the mistaken view that it still needed a lot of work late in its production cycle.

As things turned out, Daemon X Machina could not overcome the backlash. Never mind its intriguing narrative. Gamers begin their journey as part of the Outers, a group of pilots in command of mechs imbued with special abilities. They act as the world’s protectors, forming the last line of defense against a genocidal artificial intelligence that seeks humanity’s destruction. By bringing into battle a wide assortment of machine guns, sabers, grenades, and rockets, they seek to accomplish missions aimed at ensuring that the remnants of humanity will survive, and then thrive.

It’s a lofty story, and one that provides an interesting backdrop to Daemon X Machina’s gameplay. Unfortunately, the themes don’t get wholly explored, instead taking a backseat to more pressing pursuits. From the myriad battlegrounds up for exploration, it invariably gives off the impression that its overarching narrative is nowhere near as important as its general feel. The grim, almost hopeless reality is conveyed extremely well through its bleak environments and terrifying enemy mechs. Meanwhile, it employs a sleek anime art style, vibrant and eye-catching in its design, and clearly meant to wow and entrance. Its deliberate stylistic choices definitely add to the appeal; gamers are invited to focus on the world around them while giving in to their instincts and kicking AI butt.

And oh, the many ways success can be had. Employing an intriguing combination of Armored Core, Zone of the Enders, and even Front Mission, Daemon X Machina gives gamers free rein to customize their mechs. That means sticking a variety of dangerous weapons onto any limb, orifice, and bag. The equipment all handle differently, and, coupled with the open-ended combat system, make skirmishes pretty exciting. Want to engage from afar, taking out enemies with lasers and sniper bullets? Check. Want to relive Gundam dreams, machine gun in one hand and shield in the other, with a laser sword handy for encounters in close quarters? Check. And the mechanics work, employed at a fluid and exhilarating pace that never lets up from mission start to mission end.

Broken down to brass tacks, the free-form approach makes Daemon X Machina so exciting, and, when paired with the ability for cooperative play, continually giving. In this regard, it proves very much at home on the personal computer, where Xseed Games has thankfully given it a new lease on life. It’s a bit light on story, but more than compensates with robust customization and battle elements presented in pleasing aesthetics. Gamers can dip into the well time and time again, and find sustenance and nourishment in any number of flavors.

THE GOOD:

  • Great customization elements
  • Wide variety of weapons to choose from
  • Outstanding visual design
  • Appropriately engaging music tracks
  • Excellent voice acting

THE BAD:

  • Relatively slow early missions that feel out of place
  • Fairly weak and cliched narrative

RATING: 8.5/10

POSTSCRIPT: As a tank simulator, Battle Supremacy: Ground Assault is likewise steeped in customization. Upgrades are presented in abundance via card-building mechanics that allow for the continual trading of engines, parts, and weaponry. And, on paper, the premise is sound. A seemingly endless array of combinations – from the cosmetic to the critical – is in offer, with only imagination serving as the limiting factor. These will then be put to the test while exploring vast and varied environments through 60 levels of intense action.

There’s just one problem, however. The buildup to Battle Supremacy: Ground Assault is excellent, but the implementation leaves much to be desired. Frame rates vary wildly, and can lead to hiccups at the most inopportune moments. Meanwhile, the AI is all over the place in terms of the challenge it presents; some enemies can be quite easy to overcome, while others offer extremely stiff, even borderline unfair, resistance. And most egregious is the waiting time between any type of action. The lure and allure of customization lie precisely in the capacity to put collected parts in circulation as desired or as necessary. Unfortunately, twiddling thumbs invariably becomes the cost of equipping and using them, thus negating their purpose in highlighting progress.

Battle Supremacy: Ground Assault boasts of a handful of multiplayer options, among them the self-explanatory King of the Hill and Capture the Bases modes. Up to 16 players can participate, but the seeming lack of an online population makes matchmaking iffy at best. Which effectively compels it to lean on its single-player strengths. If only it did so from the outset. It might have well delivered on its promise.

THE GOOD:

  • A bevy of customization options
  • Engaging campaign mode

THE BAD:

  • Frame drops
  • AI all over the place
  • Long load times
  • Iffy matchmaking

RATING: 7/10

THE LAST WORD: Atypical Games tries to move the Battle Supremacy series forward with Battle Supremacy: Evolution, which takes on a science-fiction bent and brings the action to the air. The name of the game remains customization, though less on inventory and more on characteristics. Nonetheless, players will likely be spending much time ruminating on the possibilities. And, thankfully, the outcomes are shown with nary a skip; a mere flick of the shoulder button transforms the machine they have on tap from a tank to a drone to a fighter plane.

The missions provide any and all sorts of challenges, with the number of levels raised to three digits; even racing gets in on the act. Perhaps accepting the absence of a thriving online community, it moves to provide multiplayer options ad hoc. Thankfully, controls are intuitive and a blast to use, especially in the skies. For good measure, Battle Supremacy: Evolution allows gamers to leave maneuvering on auto pilot; combat thus becomes the lone task at hand. In other words, it takes pains to engage its audience precisely at a point where the latter is most comfortable.

Battle Supremacy: Evolution’s presentation is sleek and fast, and certainly better than Battle Supremacy: Ground Assault’s. The sheer wealth of content on offer should provide hours upon hours of gameplay.

THE GOOD:

  • Customization remains the name of the game
  • Fast-paced
  • Technically sounder than its predecessor

THE BAD:

  • No online multiplayer options
  • Clunky tank controls

RATING: 7.5/10





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