When game developer Kenichiro Tsukuda was a kid, he took apart his Famicom, the Japanese version of the Nintendo Entertainment System. He was annoyed that the cable that connected it to the TV was too short. “I wondered if there was anything I could do about that,” he told me recently. “And my parents got mad at me.”
These days, Tsukuda and a team at Marvelous Interactive, is making a mech game for the Nintendo Switch. It’s an exclusive published by Nintendo and, even more surprisingly, kicked off Nintendo’s big showcase of new games for last month’s E3. Nintendo didn’t start its big hype reel for the show with a Mario or a Smash Bros. or a Pokémon. It started with mech combat, bathed in red and set to a heavy metal soundtrack.
The game is called Daemon X Machina, and in it, you play as a mercenary who dons a mech suit and battles robots. Once you’ve destroyed them, you can rip off their parts and add them to your suit. This time, when you tear the machines open, mom or dad isn’t going to get mad.
The game is visually arresting. At an E3 full of dark, gritty games outside of Nintendo’s booth and full of bright, squishy games inside it, Daemon X Machina presents a different proposition: a colourful but violent clash of bipedal machinery, helicopters and other vehicles of war.
“These days a lot of games are starting to look a little similar,” Tsukuda said, “but we would delighted if users appreciated something that stands out and looks a little different.”
It’s been in development for about a year, according to Tsukuda, and won’t be out until some time in 2019. Because of that, the game’s creators weren’t sharing many details at the show. There’ll be multiplayer, seemingly for four players, local or online, but that wasn’t shown. There’s a story, something about a moon crashing into a planet and humans besieged by AI, but they didn’t get much into it. There’s a lot of character and mech customisation, which was shown in small bits.
To the masses, the game was shown via a trailer and a gameplay demo hosted by Tsukuda a during Nintendo’s E3 stage show. In that showing, Tsukuda talked through a few action sequences, showing how the game’s basic free-form mech combat works.
In a meeting room above Nintendo’s booth, Tsukuda talked to me a little more about the game, explaining the basics of how players will scavenge for parts to improve their mech while battling enemy artificial intelligences that can transfer their minds from one machine to the next.
As he piloted a mech into a battlefield of enemy tanks and bots, he directed my attention to five icons representing parts of the player’s mech suit. “If you take a certain amount of damage to a certain part, you can take that piece of armor from a fallen enemy and replace your own,” he said. He showed me that an enemy he defeated had a right arm and some legs for the taking, but he chose instead to scavenge a weapon. As he played on, he grabbed guns and a sword, shooting and hacking through the kind of colorful action seen in the trailer.
Several of the game’s main developers, including Tsukuda, previously worked on Monster Hunter Stories, a Pokémon-style spin-off to that series. Asked if that was an influence on this project, he said it mostly was in terms of simply trying to make something unique. Tsukuda’s more obvious inspiration is Armored Core, the From Software mech series he worked on early last decade.
Daemon X Machina brings Tsukuda back to mechs and back to a love-hate relationship with machines. That Famicom? He loved it. Planes and cars? He’s into them, too. But as we chatted, he confessed to not really liking his phone or computers. “So I have this phone but I’m a little scared of whether I’m using it or it’s using me. Are we using machines or are we being used by them?”
Given Tsukuda’s ambivalence about machines, it’s little wonder that we’re both piloting machines and dismantling them in this game, both being part of them and being attacked by them.