The 2D action genre has steadily evolved over the years and it’s generally been a positive experience overall for fans of it. However, I’ve often hit a wall with some entries in the genre where I don’t have much to do after the quest is complete. Well, developer Inti Creates, who is known for their 2D action titles, have steadily supported their games post launch with new characters and DLC to keep players coming back for more.
In their newest title, Dragon Marked for Death, the studio seems to have rolled out all the stops and deliver a full 2D action experience that has everything that fans of the genre could want. However, although the features are all intact, Dragon Marked for Death is crushingly difficult which might turn newcomers away, and the game also has a large focus on multiplayer that is required for the best experience.
Dragon Marked for Death sets up a world and story that screams true fantasy lore. Creating a new IP is extremely difficult, but Inti Creates brings this story to the player as easily as possible. So there exists the Dragonblood Clan, who has recently had their home destroyed by the Devine Knights. This clan is granted incredible power by the Astral Dragon Atruum so that they can take their revenge. However, they meet push back along the way because this clan is not very well liked by the citizens.
The story rolls out across a series of missions, but it isn’t required to know or even understand in order to enjoy the game. With that said, the same can’t be said for the four members of the Dragonblood Clan who are each unique and must be understood completely by the player if they wish to get the most out of the game. You see, Dragon Marked for Death’s characters are so diverse in their skills that players must spend a good amount of time with them if they wish to get the most out of them in battles.
The game is separated into two different versions that tell the same story, but only has 2 characters each, Frontline Fighters and Advanced Attackers. By their naming alone, you can pretty much guess which pack new players of the genre will have an easier time with, and that’s why I chose the Advanced Attackers. The two characters available in this version are the Shinobi and Witch. Of the two, I focused most of my time using the Witch, because I’m a sucker for cute characters and extremely tough gameplay. With that said, I did spend some time in the multiplayer mode with the characters from the Frontline Fighters via a separate Switch console, which I’ll explain more later in the review.
The game has players accept quests from the pub. Over time, new quests are added that each has additional levels of difficulty. Quests in the game are nothing like your typical 2D action title, while some feature the straight forward approach of continually traveling right until you get to the boss, there is also a load of other objectives that players will encounter. For instance, one mission might have you protect a ship from monsters while another asks you to find a lost key to use in order to complete the quest. I think the zaniest quest I encountered was one that had me make sure that a weather balloon didn’t get stuck on its way up to the top of a tower.
There are plenty of dungeon themes in the game, but the developers are slow to roll to them all out. Instead, several missions will take place on the same map in different starting locations to make the most out of the levels. These levels also get larger as new areas are unlocked so returning to old maps in the game isn’t uncommon. There were some levels that I didn’t find enjoyable and it mostly has to do with the gimmicks of that particular stage such as a poison trap or needing to find batteries in order to activate a life. Sure, they added variety to the stages, but they also slowed down the action quite a bit. With the timer of the level counting down, having to deal with a missing battery is the last thing you want to encounter.
This leads to the game’s relentless difficulty. When I first started the game as a Witch, I approached the game as I would have any 2D action title, by killing everything in my path. However, that’s not really required in Dragon Marked for Death, and the developers made that clear by giving you 15 minutes to complete the first couple of levels. I’ll add that this time changes depending on the character, but I’m talking about the Witch right now. This means that there’s no time to stop and smell the flowers, I had to jam past every enemy. This theme of running past enemies is echoed in most of the levels, but the time does get more forgiving over time — I wish I could say the same about the difficulty.
Dragon Marked for Death is not an easy game, and even the easiest difficulties, it will give you a run for your money. But you don’t exactly have to grit your teeth and bare with how difficult the game is though since there are ways to improve your survival chances by grinding low-level quests and leveling up to get stronger — such as you would with a typical RPG. Leveling up allows the player to distribute a skill point to their character to boost their overall stats. The amount of customization in this game is insane. The developers seem to have spent a lot of time learning about what fans of this genre enjoy, like customizing every aspect of the HUD, button layout, camera control, and quick travel options. It shows how in tune with the 2D action fanbase the developers are by not holding back with the options at their disposal.
Dragon Marked for Death can be experienced completely in single-player, but I don’t recommend it. Since each character plays so differently, they are each needed in battle. Playing online with a friend was a fulfilling and enjoyable experience. With my online companion controlling the Empress and me as the Witch, my friend took on the enemies and bosses in close combat and fell back to me for healing and support magic. The teamwork required in Dragon Marked for Death is an amazing experience overall and relieves some of the difficulty encountered when playing single player.
With that said, the Witch is fully capable of holding her own in battle, but this also requires some skills by the player. You see, the Witch’s moves require a series of button presses while casting a magical incantation. Pressing Y Y Y will cast a wind attack, which can be charged up even further by pressing B, X, B, X, B, X. Furthermore, she can cast multiple magic attacks by using her built up Dragon Skill points. I’ll be honest, the Witch is a pretty tough character to use in battle, but she is essential for the group and can easily get through the game’s single-player campaign.
Dragon Marked for Death is a beautiful game, boasting next level pixel art designs and a musical score that brings the adventure to life. The amount of detail that went into this world is jaw-dropping and proves that this style of design is still capable of excelling and improving in the modern console generation. I also didn’t experience any significant framerate issues with my time in the game, but I would suggest playing with a pro controller for the best access to the shoulder buttons that you’ll be using a lot in the game.
What does feel like it’s missing are lower level difficulty options for the later quests. After a while, the choice for a level 5 quest is completely removed from the game, which means that you’re forced to level grind the same 5 levels until you reach a point that you won’t die after two hits against enemies. I also didn’t like the lack of control over the game’s timer. With that said it did make the game more challenging. Similarly, some of the missions don’t do well at explaining their objectives so expect to fail some missions before understanding like how you were supposed to go left instead of right from the start point.
Dragon Marked for Death is designed around the player. Everything in the game has been developed in a way that the player has everything they need to customize their 2D action experience. This is a game for the fans of this genre and will be a true challenge to those who haven’t quite spent enough time with games like it. Additionally, the game has been designed around multiplayer and requires players to work with others in order to take down some extremely challenging bosses.
There’s so much to do in Dragon Marked for Death which is fueled by the variety of quests available for the player to take. Similarly, those who explore a little more will discover secret bosses and loads of loot. This is a game that has everything the genre needs, including a lot of replayability which includes multiple endings and routes in levels to take to perfect their runs. I had a great time playing Dragon Marked for Death, a game that has truly raised the bar of the genre. However, its focus on multiplayer could end up being a good and bad thing in the end because the game is truly at its best when playing with others.
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