Dragon Marked for Death: Advanced Attackers (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Renan Fontes 03.02.2019

Review for Dragon Marked for Death: Advanced Attackers on Nintendo Switch

Dragon's Crown meets Gunvolt, Dragon Marked for Death is Inti Creates' latest project, a side-scrolling action RPG with an emphasis on co-operative play and a development cycle dating all the way back to 2008. As if its development history weren't interesting enough, Inti Creates' release model for the title is equally as fascinating. Rather than releasing Dragon Marked for Death as a single package, consumers have the option of purchasing one of two packs for a reduced price. Frontline Fighters, which gives players access to the Empress and Warrior, and Advanced Attackers, home to the Shinobi and Witch. Purchasing either pack unlocks the full base game, but with only two playable characters. Where Frontline Fighters features the two more traditional characters, the appropriately titled Advanced Attackers has its fun with experimental play styles.

Regardless of character pack, Dragon Marked for Death tells the same story with the same stages and the same missions. While a bit of individual flavour would, of course, have been ideal given the focus shone on the four playable characters, it is worth noting that Inti Creates has opted for an incredibly traditional RPG approach to the point where each given character is simply meant to be an avatar, in spite of their back-stories.

Were the story more character-driven, this would certainly be a problem, but the plot benches overt character writing in favour of building up the world. For as light as the script can be, and it is more often than not quite light, Inti Creates does not waste a single breath crafting a world built on class inequality, religious persecution, and a perpetual cycle of revenge. The lore itself isn't much to write home about, but the themes at play are handled with a surprising degree of nuance. As a result, missions that should be dull - and often are dull contextually - end up carrying greater weight. The Medius Empire is one inherently built on oppression, a thread virtually every mission alludes to. In many respects, Inti Creates dips back into the themes that set the foundation for Mega Man Zero.

Screenshot for Dragon Marked for Death: Advanced Attackers on Nintendo Switch

Where Zero managed to offer strong level design alongside its gripping narrative and combat, however, Dragon Marked for Death periodically struggles to offer stages that go beyond their gimmick. Brevity is not only the soul of wit, but of a sustainable gameplay loop, as well. Stages are often too large and too long, held together by objectives that struggle to make use of the emphasis on combat except for mobs and boss fights. Missions are likewise held back by a timer that feels equal parts underdeveloped, inappropriate, inconsequential, and overwhelming. There is not a single justifiable design reason as to why each stage needs a timer. At its best, it incentivises smart play. At its worst, it kills the flow of gameplay by potentially forcing reckless play during difficult boss fights due to an ever-ticking boss fight. While such a gimmick does have merit in the right context - see The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask - the right context is rarely ever back-to-back boss fights with health sponges.

In a certain light, the timer and the sturdier bosses do make some sense. After all, this is a title designed with online multiplayer in mind. The core of the gameplay loop should be alongside other players taking control of other roles. Even just one extra character on the field is enough to make a world of difference. More ground can be covered, more enemies can be damaged, and boss fights naturally gain another layer of fun. Unfortunately, Inti Creates has implemented one of the single worst methods of online play imaginable: mission by mission. Rather than creating a room and selecting a mission after a party has been established, each mission needs its own dedicated party. Not even considering the fact that each mission has multiple tiers of difficulty, this essentially guarantees that the online community will be dead on arrival. In the best case scenario, the first week of release will see several players successfully co-operating the first and last few missions together. After that, though? Only a ghost town…

It certainly doesn't help matters that local co-op is of the "two players with their own Switches" variant. While split-screen multiplayer has been losing its relevance and popularity for the past two generations, indie titles tend to embrace it rather well and consistently. For Inti Creates to neglect such a crucial way of ensuring the multiplayer component survives even in just the most minor way possible comes off almost amateurish.

Screenshot for Dragon Marked for Death: Advanced Attackers on Nintendo Switch

Inti Creates has never been known for its level design, but Mega Man Zero always managed to feature engaging stages with unique set pieces and gimmicks for four consistent games. Ryota Ito even returns as director, yet the level design is the title's worst quality. All things considered, Dragon Marked for Death should not work… yet, somehow, it does.

In spite of the lacklustre level design and horrific online implementation, this is an action RPG that understands its main draw above all else: action. The two characters offered in the Advanced Attackers pack are so ludicrously fun to play as, built with so much care that it's hard to now find even the blandest of levels engaging. The Shinobi and Witch are characters designed with action enthusiasts in mind, creating frenzied gameplay loops that elevate an otherwise mediocre adventure into one worth experiencing by any fan of the genre.

Of the two playable characters, Shinobi plays more like a traditional Inti Creates character, like Zero or Copen. He can wall jump, dash, has a projectile, and uses slash based attacks. Although his base moves are similar to that of previous Inti protagonists, he very much exists in his own bubble, explicitly needing his dash to combo effectively. By dashing into an enemy, the Shinobi immediately locks on and can then use his base attack to chain combos mid-air. Combat isn't as simple as just dashing and attacking, however. During the lock-on, the Shinobi can move around the screen, toss his shuriken by using energy built up from attacking, and even move mid-air. For the more challenging boss fights, it's vital to lock on, dash away, and then find a rhythm that involves slashing and throwing shuriken at the most appropriate moments.

Screenshot for Dragon Marked for Death: Advanced Attackers on Nintendo Switch

The Shinobi is a character built around fast combos and creating distance. For novice players, this might mean getting hit quite often, which, for the Shinobi, can result in death rather quickly. For more advanced players, however, the Shinobi will create a gameplay loop of non-stop, aggressive action, built not around button mashing but smart, rhythmic play. Making good use of his wall jump and double jump, it's even possible to outright skip past platforming sections, heavily benefitting the flow of each mission.

While the Witch seems conceptually less interesting at first glance, she is by far the more complex character of the two, offering far more gameplay variety. Rather than a dash and lock-on mechanic, the Witch can use the R button to cast spells in real-time. By using the face buttons, the Witch can then chain different elements together into different spells that can be stored until use. Where the Shinobi is initially bound to his poison element, the Witch gains access to different elemental spells every five levels up to Level 15. Spell-casting does require a considerable amount of memorisation, which is overwhelming in its own right, but putting in the effort to learn her spells results in a character who can cover just about every elemental base, while also having the luxury of being able to heal.

Of course, the Witch doesn't have nearly as much mobility as the Shinobi, which can make dodging enemies and platforming difficult, but she can spell-cast platforms, which, when used strategically, make for great ways of avoiding damage at the last minute. Like the Shinobi, the Witch also has a projectile of her own - an owl - which can be sent out to do damage while players quickly chant up an incantation. Advanced Attackers may prove overwhelming for beginners to the genre considering just how demanding both the Shinobi and Witch can be, but putting in the appropriate amount of time into mastering either character will result in a Dragon Marked for Death very much worth playing.

Screenshot for Dragon Marked for Death: Advanced Attackers on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Dragon Marked for Death is a strong action RPG held back by a few strange design decisions. The online's very foundation will ensure that online multiplayer is dead on arrival; there is no option for same system co-operative play; and levels are more often than not held back by the arbitrary timer. At the same time, Inti Creates has developed an RPG very much designed around combat. Fortunately, Advanced Attackers shows off just how engaging the experience can be in spite of the more lacklustre design elements. The Shinobi offers an incredibly frantic play style that calls back to Inti Creates' previous titles, whereas the Witch emphasises memorisation and on the fly spell crafting. Both characters require a fair amount of skill to master, but that just makes gameplay all the more rewarding. Dragon Marked for Death struggles with the finer details, but Advanced Attackers ensures that even just the single player is more than engaging.

Developer

Inti Creates

Publisher

Inti Creates

Genre

Action

Players

1

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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