I knew two things before playing Daemon x Machina. First, it has a wonderfully inscrutable name. Second, it has giant robots. The latter part is all that really matters to me—I adore mechs, from Gundam to Armored Core. After playing Daemon x Machina’s demo, I’m excited for the full game, even if the action doesn’t quite have the gear-grinding grit that I crave.
Daemon x Machina is developed by Studio 1 and includes a few mech veterans, such as Shoji Kawamori, who handles the game’s mechanical designs and worked on things like Armored Core and the Macross series. A demo version dubbed the “Prototype Missions” released on Switch this week. It’s both exactly what I wanted and a little rough around the edge. You play as a sort of mech-piloting freelancer taking on missions to defend cities and fight colossal mecha monstrosities as well as enemy aces. It’s a pretty standard format, a sort of Armored Core meets Monster Hunter. Time is split between your home base, where you can wander about and tinker with your mech, and the field. It’s straightforward: take missions, loot mech parts, customize your robot, and then take more difficult missions. Whether you’re kitbashing together different mech parts or sitting down to customize your paint job, Daemon x Machina does a good job streamlining your mech building without ever making it feel too perfunctory.
Combat is the game’s weak point, not because it isn’t fun, but because it never quite captures the tactile feel of mech combat. Part of the appeal of giant robot fights comes from the ways in which they break. There’s an intensity to the bodies we put around our bodies shattering and melting. Games like Gundam Side Story 0079: Rise from the Ashes captured this by keeping the camera in the cockpit, while last year’s Battletech focused on a painful war of attrition. Parts broke, damages had cost, and there were never clean fights. Daemon x Machina has the flair of combat you might expect from an anime like Macross or Code Geass but never quite finds a sense of weighty danger. There are no breaking parts, and attacks have a limited amount of impact. Instead, Daemon x Machina focuses on the spectacle of mech combat. Whether that means dashing away from an enemy’s laser sword or picking up a discarded beam cannon to blast a titanic mecha beast, there’s a lot of flair. It’s a shame that things feel so safe most of the time, excepting moments where you have to eject from a damaged mech and run around on foot.
I have highly specific things I love in mech stories. I love when machines break, I love when the mech bodies we pilot mask who we are, I crave the moments when aces clash until the layers are broken away and there’s nowhere left to hide. Daemon x Machina’s demo doesn’t quite have the grit of an Armored Core or some of my favorite Gundam series, but when things come together—on the customization screen or in the field—it starts to capture some of the things I love about giant robots.
Oh yeah, and if you play with Japanese voices on, two rival aces are voiced by the actors for Gundam’s Amuro Ray and Char Aznable. That’s game of the year levels of self-awareness right there.