Review: Dragon Marked for Death

Developer: Inti Creates
Publisher: Nighthawk Interactive, Inti Creates
Genre: Action, Platformer
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Rating: T for Teen
Price: $49.99 (physical; includes both versions with $9.99 season pass), $14.99 (digital; Advanced Attackers or Frontline Fighters)

In the early days of gaming, action and platforming went hand-in-hand with the likes of Mega Man and Metroid on the NES and SNES. While they are less common now than they were generations ago, a notable few releases remind us of a time before 3D graphics was even a conceivable concept. Dragon Marked for Death feels like once such example.

Content Guide

Violence: A variety of weapons such as swords, axes, and shuriken are used to deal damage to a multitude of fantastical enemies, from goblins to sea monsters and everything in between. There is some blood when you attack, but the more intense blood splashes are within the cutscenes. An example would be when an ogre is seen chowing down on one of its prisoners. It is not gory by any means; a big splash or two when he bites down.

Language: There is some coarse language used in cutscene dialogue such as sh*t and b*stard.

Sexual Content: A NPC’s pixelated breasts bounce ever so slightly in one cutscene. It is clear she is bearing cleavage, but it is not something to dwell on since they are not front and center on the screen. The Empress player character wears a tube top.

Spiritual Content: Fishermen speak of a statue that they believe keeps them safe and the waters calm. Your characters are imbued with power by entering a contract with Atruum, a dragon spirit. Magic is used as a tool for combat and other things, like lighting up a room or creating a platform.

Review

When it comes to action platforming fares, I prefer the 3D space. There is more room to perform the actions you may need to take to ensure victory, making the world feel more alive. Even when the game is top-down, my preference is freedom. These are things that Dragon Marked for Death is not. This game faces something of an uphill battle to me. Generally, things that I dislike in a game will not prevent me from play. If I feel hungry, which I am currently, I will eat pizza with olives on it. I may not have that on my favorites list, but I will eat it nonetheless.

From the start, Dragon Marked for Death shows the influence Mega Man Zero has on it—this should be no surprise, as both titles share directors. However, instead of one protagonist, you can pick from four. Each protagonist is available at any point in between missions; you will not be stuck with one character the remainder of the game if you were not so keen on the one you began with. Whatever role you wish to take, one of the four should suit you.

These protagonists are Empress, Warrior, Shinobi, and Witch. Empress is equipped with a sword and a chargeable shot for medium to short distance bouts. Warrior is the tank; he may be slow, but he deals a lot of damage with a Berserk mode to do even more. Witch is the most complex one to master. She has a tome from which she can cast spells, activated through incantation. During this time, you are completely open to attack. Each spell has a certain button combination that you must enter in order to use them. You can take your time with these, so the only pressure you face is from the enemies around you.

Shinobi plays the most like Zero from the titular Mega Man Zero. He is the fastest of the four with his lock-on dash. This allows you to deal damage for a short time even if you are not near the enemy, as long as your dash connects.

Each of these heroes have one of five elements tied to them as well, and your abilities do various effects depending on which one is assigned. You will be given one of the following: fire, ice, wind, thunder, or poison. Each of these do as you would expect; fire burns, ice freezes and slows, wind blows, thunder paralyzes, and poison damages over time. Every enemy you encounter also has these elements too. This levels the playing field, because we both know the director of a Mega Man game would not let you stroll in his park without you taking some lumps. If you do not like the element given, you can offer Atruum a piece of Dragonite to change it. Any bonus stats you earn from leveling up can also be reset with Dragonite, so choose wisely.

As you can tell from these descriptions, they all play quite differently. From slow to quick, these strengths change how you approach the quests you embark upon. Should you go bursting in to take no prisoners with your Warrior and wreck shop? Or should you aggro your enemies and take them out one at a time? Maybe you should play as your Shinobi and just speed past anything that is an obstacle in your way. Each level, while still featuring the same platforms and overall design, give each character options to change how you go from Point ‘A’ to ‘B.’ While the Shinobi and Witch can reach higher platforms with relative ease, Warrior and Empress cannot. In the same way, Warrior and Empress can tackle heavy objects and grapple respectively to reach ledges outside of their jump height.

The biggest drawback to having all of these characters available is that their mission progress is tied to only that character. If you had a tough time with one character, you will have to beat it again with the other three too if you aim for 100% completion. However, the inventory is shared in one large pool once you complete the mission. This means that you are unable to use what you pick up in the mission. I honestly am not a fan of this, as it feels like padding. I would much prefer a system with one person who can freely swap between each class power on a whim during missions like in Mass Effect Andromeda‘s skills menu. I would also prefer the inventory be accessible immediately. If I am low on healing items, I would like to use the item I just picked up instead of hoping for a low-percent healing drop to spawn from an enemy.

What would make this grind bearable is an option for co-op play with friends via local wireless or online. Unfortunately, I was unable to use these features, because the online function did not work for me and I had no friends who also owned the game. I would have much preferred having couch co-op, where two people could play using two Joy-cons. Blizzard was able to do it with Diablo III, a much larger and complex game, on the same system with more commands.

While Inti Creates is a smaller developer I am sure, I would rather have couch co-op that works using a single Joy-con than online with a Pro controller that does not. I can easily see the controls working like this if the quick chat options were non-existent. I do not know if hardware limitations kept this from being a reality or not, but it baffles me as to why this was the path the developers chose. It just feels like the tools available are not being used to the fullest potential.

Dragon Marked for Death is solid when it comes to its gameplay—it simply is not where its focus should have been. If you want players to play with others, have the systems in place that make it enjoyable and work properly. Lean into what you want players to enjoy, but make sure that the solo players can enjoy it fully as well. I hope you are a Mega Man Zero fan, because this is clearly built as a love letter to that. However, if you are not a fan of that series, I would not recommend this. Consider this dragon dead.

Review code generously provided by Wonacott. 

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Andrew Feistner

Jesus, Memes, and Streams. What else is there to say? You aren't here for this part, you want the stuff above this.

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