Dragon Marked for Death: Frontline Fighters (Nintendo Switch) Review

By Drew Hurley 21.03.2019

Review for Dragon Marked for Death: Frontline Fighters on Nintendo Switch

Originally developed as a PSP game, it's taken a long time for this Dragon to drag itself from development hell, now as a Switch exclusive. Dragon Marked for Death has a hell of a lineage behind it - it's coming from Inti Creates. This team has a rich history of 2D platformers, headed up by the Director Ryota Ito (former director of Mega Man Zero, Mega Man 10, and Mega Man 9), with character designs from Toru Nakayama and Hirokatsu Maeda, not to mention senior programmers, producers, sound designers, and writers, all with a huge wealth of experience. This seems an absolute winning formula... though the same team worked on Mighty No. 9, meaning this really could go either way.

Long ago in the fantasy world of Dragon Marked for Death, an age of war raged between the Gods known as the Celestials and the Divine Dragons. A war that the Dragons eventually lost, though the greatest and last of the Dragons found a way to continue their kind, by forging a contract with a clan of humans. He shared his blood with them, granting them monumental power but also putting a target on their back for the followers of the Gods known as the Divine Family. Now, eons later, the Divine Family have led a charge that all but wiped out these descendants of the Dragon known as the Dragonblood clan, and the few survivors are finally fighting back.

There are four survivors in the Dragonblood clan. Four who survived the final assault of the Divine Family lead by their commander, Vasith. There are four characters to play as in Dragon Marked for Death, and all four are available in the physical version of the game. But, in this digital version, the roster has been split into two separate versions. This one, Frontline Fighters, gives access to the Empress and Warrior characters, while the other version, Advanced Attackers, gives access to the Shinobi and the Witch. It's a nice system to give players the chance to try the game without paying out the full price, especially when the story doesn't really change much between characters and versions.

Screenshot for Dragon Marked for Death: Frontline Fighters on Nintendo Switch

For those with friends who also picked up one of the versions of Dragon Marked for Death, local and online multiplayer up to four players is available. Though, for some reason, when it comes to local multiplayer, there's no option to use the Switch's much touted single device multiplayer. This is an old-school handheld multiplayer experience, requiring a Switch console for each player instead of taking a Joy-Con each or playing in docked mode.

That multiplayer functionality feels an absolute necessity. Playing through in single player not only offers up a considerable challenge, but it also makes things progress much slower, as even the small enemies have much more health than what would usually be expected in this sort of title. It seems the game doesn't take into account the number of players at any given time, and instead delivers the same enemies regardless if it's one player fighting, or all four. There's no scaling of enemy stats. It's a terrible design decision and frankly, a baffling one.

Screenshot for Dragon Marked for Death: Frontline Fighters on Nintendo Switch

What further emphasises this focus on multiplayer, is how each of the four classes play very differently. The two here are drastically different, with the Warrior feeling very much like the tank, with huge dragon armour, and a two-handed axe. His special abilities focus on going berserk to give him a burst of extra damage, while also being able to summon a forcefield to make him invincible. Meanwhile, the Empress is a classic DPS character, using a rapier for quick slashing attacks, and able to use the Dragonblood on her arm to transform her arm for different abilities. She is also able to use it to hookshot onto items in the environment and swing, to transform into a flame spitting dragon head for ranged attacks, or to grow into a huge dragon sword that smashes down for big damage.

The character designs are great, a sharp anime-style aesthetic which looks superb on the Switch. In drastic contrast, the world is utterly mediocre in its design, a generic fantasy land with nothing to make it stand out and often feeling like an afterthought in comparison to its inhabitants. The star of the presentation though is the soundtrack. An extensive orchestral work that makes the whole experience so much more enjoyable.

Screenshot for Dragon Marked for Death: Frontline Fighters on Nintendo Switch

The core of the game is, of course, a 2D sidescroller, but this is more Dragon's Crown than Mega Man, with various RPG elements. After a brief tutorial level, the main hub of the game is introduced. A medieval style town where characters can level up, shop, change equipment, then take on quests and head off to a new level. Within these levels, there are plenty of chests to open, filled with various equipment items that are appraised when returned to town, and taking out enemies rewards experience points to level up the characters. Levelling up gives ability points to customise the stats of the character under the standard RPG system, increasing things like attack, defence, luck, etc.

When it comes to the actual gameplay, while out in the levels, as previously mentioned, it is horribly balanced. None of the enemies encountered scale to the number of players facing off against them. The rank and file enemies take far too many hits to take out, and the bosses are actually ridiculous. It's a terrible shame because there are some really impressive elements being overshadowed by this glaring flaw. For example, the combat has surprising depth, with lots of different combos and versatility, especially, once again, when playing in multiplayer. Similarly, in regard to balance, it feels geared towards grinding, having to repeat areas to finally level up enough to use equipment found or be able to progress.

Screenshot for Dragon Marked for Death: Frontline Fighters on Nintendo Switch

Cubed3 Rating

6/10
Rated 6 out of 10

Good

Dragon Marked for Death is a fantastic experience when played with friends - but, only when played with friends. The lack of balance absolutely buries the experience, making single player a horribly flawed one. That could easily have been addressed, or could still be addressed, in a post-release patch. Should this happen, the game would improve massively, and easily stand out as one of the most impressive 2D scrollers in some time. Unless that happens though, this will remain a slog, a wonderful game, horribly marred by foolish design decisions. There are a few DLC chapters in the works, giving an ideal opportunity to make Dragon Marked for Death the best it can be.

Developer

Inti Creates

Publisher

Inti Creates

Genre

2D Platformer

Players

4

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  6/10

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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