Announced for the Switch back in the summer Nindies showcase, Dragon: Marked for Death is Into Creates’s latest release. Being known for developing both the Mega Man Zero and Azure Striker Gunvolt series, as well as bringing Blaster Master Zero to the Switch, Inti has plenty of experience making action platformers that have done moderately well. Their latest looks to add RPG and cooperative elements to their usual platforming formula, but will that make for a fun game? Let’s find out in our review of Dragon: Marked for Death for the Nintendo Switch.
Dragon: Marked for Death starts out with an interesting, if shallow, premise. The Astral Dragons came to the aid of a dying tribe, offering their blood in order to help them survive. That tribe became the Dragonblood clan, who was seen as tainted and evil by the Divine Family. The Divine Family ruled most of the world, and saw the Dragonblood clan as tainted. The game starts with the dragon clan being attacked and nearly wiped out by the Divine Family, with the survivors consisting of the heroes of the game and the Dragonblood Oracle, who was taken prisoner. The heroes are given power by a dragon thrall, morphing their bodies and telling them to avenge their people and collect the souls of everything they come across to increase their power. This felt to me like it positioned the heroes as kind of an anti-hero of sorts, until you begin to progress and you are only killing other monsters.
Gameplay feels like a mix of Mega Man and a splash of Monster Hunter. After a small and frankly incomplete-feeling tutorial, you find yourself in the slums of the Divine Family’s city, being told to build a reputation for yourself so you can gain strength and the attention of those in power. The slums act as a hub for the player between missions, where you can access shops, change equipment and characters, as well as look for jobs. Jobs can be taken either solo or up to a party of four, which can be done online or locally. I was only able to review the single player mode, though I am looking forward to release so I can find some friends or hop online to play. After picking a job, you are shown the default difficulty level, which corresponds to a recommended level, and you can increase this for better rewards on subsequent play throughs. From here, you will navigate the map and either find items, kill monsters or complete objectives to finish your job, all within a time limit. Different heroes have different ways to navigate through each map, while maps seem to be small sections of a larger 2d map that will be blocked off for you to move through. This means that it’s possible to learn sections of the world and have a general idea of an area, but the jobs will change specifics such as where you will need to go. These are also static, however, so it is possible to learn where objectives are and rush to them while passing the monsters in the way. Gameplay on the map is lots of run and gun side-scrolling, so you’ll constantly be on the lookout for hidden items and fighting off baddies while navigating the area.
Each of the game’s four selectable heroes have different move sets, strengths and weaknesses, and movement abilities. Each has a minor amount of customization available at creation as well, where you can pick from one of four voices (which are just the grunts when you attack or are hit) as well as a color for an accessory on your hero and a name. The Empress has the ability to fire attacks and grapple onto platforms. Her playstyle feels like one of the later Mega Man X games, in that you will be weaving in and out of melee range to swing at enemies to build up a charge for your gun, which you can drop back and fire off to deal damage. The Warrior is strictly a melee attacker, with the ability to go berserk and increase your damage dealt and taken, while also having the ability to form a bubble around yourself to stop attacks. His movement ability is a charge, which knocks back whatever he runs into. The Shinobi is based around quick movements, focusing on dashing into an enemy to gain a temporary lock on them so that you can hit them from any range. He is able to double jump, wall jump, and glide, making him able to explore lots of different areas safely. Finally, the Witch, is able to cast spells through overly lengthy button combos that have to be input correctly, which will store a spell until you are ready to cast it. You can add multiple enhancements to a spell, such as powering it up, adding an element, or making it a homing missile, but these will be single cast without using your special ability beforehand, which means you will need to learn a handful of combo inputs to be effective.
While the gameplay itself is fun, the RPG portion feels a little forced just to give a reason to replay some missions and encourage co-op play. When leveling up, you’ll get a stat point to assign to one of six stats to improve your character. Gear consists of two weapons (with one active at a time) and two accessories. Gear has a level requirement, as expected, and you’ll frequently be finding items that you cannot yet equip. You will find gear for all four classes, not just your current class, encouraging you to play through the game with each class. Items such as potions and antidotes can both be found and purchased in town, though you can only take a limited amount into each job and found items are not gained until the end of the job. This encourages careful use and engagement, as while you get three revives per job, each one takes 25% off your gold rewards for completing a job successfully. I still had fun gathering items and leveling up to take on harder missions, but I’d love to see either more gear to collect or maybe even a crafting system of some type.
Something of note as well is how the game’s purchase works. Inti Creates wanted to try to have a low barrier of entry for the game, which lead to creating two separate releases, Frontline Fighters and Advanced Attackers. Each version retails for $15 in the US eShop at release, coming with two of the game’s four characters. Frontline Fighters comes with the Empress and the Warrior, while Advanced Attackers comes with the Shinobi and the Witch. However, the games are the same regardless of the characters. This means you will get gear drops for classes you can’t play, as well as be locked out of paths in levels that require a specific character. None of this prevents you from completing the game or playing online, however, but it can be disheartening to pick up loot only to find out you can’t use it at all. I also found myself preferring to play both the Empress and the Shinobi, meaning that I would need to purchase both editions since I cannot select which two heroes I get. A physical version is planned which will include all four characters and extra DLC, where only the digital version is cheaper to get more to give it a try. While this sounds like a good idea in theory, I think this may upset some people that you can access the full game for $15, but have to pay that same amount to simply unlock the other two characters.
Note: Our Nintendo Switch copy of Dragon: Marked for Death was provided by PR
COMPARE TO: Mega Man Zero, Azure Striker: Gunvolt, Shining Soul