Dragon Marked for Death occasionally runs into problems when playing alone, but it’s a trailblazing multiplayer platformer.
If you’re a fan of retro-style 2D platformers, you’ve probably heard of Inti Creates. This Japanese developer has had its hand in the creation of several games across many notable franchises. You might know them best for Mega Man 9 & 10 or 2018’s Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, but the studio has actually been expanding recently with its own IP. Azure Striker Gunvolt and its sequels all serve as decent evolutions of the classic Mega Man formula. Meanwhile, Dragon Marked for Death goes for something that feels more unique and original than anything Inti Creates has done before.
The game is both an RPG and platformer with roots in the Mega Man Zero and ZX series, both of which were previously developed by Inti Creates, with a surprising focus on multiplayer. While Dragon Marked for Death is markedly less interesting while playing in single-player and some of the characters aren’t as fun to use as others, its world is interesting and the multiplayer and game structure are two things I’ve not seen from a 2D RPG-platformer before.
When you think of multiplayer in 2D platformers, more competitive experiences usually come to mind. Games may lock players into one screen, like Towerfall Ascension, or they will throw light combat mechanics and interesting gimmicks into the mix to ensure only one player wins, like Runbow or Speedrunners. Dragon Marked for Death is different than any of the aforementioned games.
As I’ve mentioned, at the very core of Dragon Marked for Death there are some elements from games like Mega Man Zero and Mega Man ZX that fans of those games can latch onto. The more open structure of levels, graphical style, and basic combat all call back to those Inti Creates classics. That being said, Dragon Marked for Death piles deeper RPG mechanics and multiplayer onto that experience.
When it comes to the RPG mechanics, every character and enemy has a unique set of stats. Characters can level up and players can customize skill points, special weapons that take advantage of specific abilities can be found across the map, and missions are doled out MMO style from a hub town and can be replayed at higher difficulty either alone or with a party of friends.
There are also four unique classes, with each class filling a niche. Some of them were pretty fun to play in either single-player or multiplayer while one class specifically suffers from being quite complex, especially in single-player. That character disparity is a more of a problem because of how Inti Creates is selling the game.
Dragon Marked for Death is actually being sold in two different packages. The first, Frontline Fighters, features the Empress and the Warrior. As the title of this pack suggests, both of these Dragonblood clan members are more focused on frontline attack and defense. The Empress wields a sword and the Dragon’s Fang, which she can use to unleash fire-based attacks on enemies. She can end up doing the most damage out of any character if you allocate her stats right and equip the best weapons throughout the adventures.
She was fairly basic to use and is probably the best option for brand new players that don’t even have their feet wet in platformers with RPG elements yet. Meanwhile, the Warrior is the tank character, wielding a slow but strong axe that can do massive damage if paired well with the buffing abilities his Dragon Scales provide. He also has the highest defense and best shield of any character in Dragon Marked for Death.
For both of those reasons, the Warrior is a fantastic early-game character whose high damage output makes taking down Dragon Marked for Death’s difficult early bosses easier. Overall, Frontline Fighters is great version of the game to go with if you are new to the genre or just want to have an easier time understanding Dragon Marked for Death’s mechanics. That’s because, as the title suggests, the characters within the Advanced Attackers pack are much more technical in use.
The Shinobi fills the role of rogue in this RPG and can deal a ton of damage when used right; additionally, the Shinobi is equipped with the Dragon’s Wings, giving them the best mobility of any character. They can also tag enemies with the Dragon Dash, allowing for even easier ranged damage when you aren’t even near them. These are some more technical abilities that may scare off new players, but the Shinobi is an immensely rewarding character to use.
Finally, there is the Witch who is both the most complicated and my least favorite playable character in the game. Her magic abilities can be strong and have good range, but using her requires the memorization of spells that sometimes required several subsequent button presses in a game where enemies love aggro on you. She fills a fine niche in multiplayer but also take the most work with the smallest reward to use out of any character in Dragon Marked for Death.
After trying all four characters, I can safely say that Frontline Fighters is definitely the better pack to start with. The Warrior quickly became my favorite character and is who I played through most of the game as, while the Empress is the easiest character to get the hang of. On the other hand, more experienced players may opt for the Advanced Attackers, with the pack’s title not hiding the fact that they are tough to use.
While the Shinobi is my second favorite class, the Witch is too niche and frustrating to use in single-player to recommend picking up Advanced Attackers if you only want to play on your own. Considering same-console multiplayer isn’t an option, which is disappointing but understandable in a game with expansive levels, it is wiser to opt for the single-player friendly option unless you know for a fact that you will be playing Dragon Marked for Death with friends.
That also leads me to my next point and the biggest flaw of Dragon Marked for Death, its single-player experience is not super fun, especially when compared to past Inti Creates offerings. Many of the game’s mechanics and level layouts are geared towards multiplayer, and while that’s not an inherently bad thing, playing mostly in single-player before launch really highlighted this issue.
Bosses especially are usually quite difficult to tackle alone, and some more multiplayer-minded features like the time limit and shared health bar at the bottom interrupt the flow of single-player more than they should. A single cog turning is less interesting than an entire machine running and while Dragon Marked for Death is quite enjoyable and unlike much I’ve seen before while in multiplayer, it does cause the single-player mode to suffer a bit, which is odd considering how Inti Creates has previously mastered the retro-style 2D platformer.
Fortunately, the levels are all still visually appealing outside of a couple instances where dropped items appeared to be in front of the foreground and each level has an entertaining and unique gimmick or story focus. The story does try to deal with some interesting topics like the prejudices the Dragonblood clan faces from The Divine, but most of the dialogue was only passable and succumbed to a few odd translation issues and typos.
Still, the world still felt interesting and the story isn’t the main focus here. The multiplayer and tight gameplay is what’s spotlighted and any presentation problems are elevated by Dragon Marked for Death’s great orchestral soundtrack. These great tunes made the more frustrating or difficult levels in single-player a bit more tolerable and hopefully this will be a soundtrack I return to time and again in the future.
Inti Creates moved out of their comfort zone with this new IP and created something unlike much that came before it with Dragon Marked for Death. The result is an interesting mix of multiplayer, RPG, and 2D platformer mechanics that stand out within both Inti’s own lineup and the broader spectrum of platformers on the Nintendo Switch.
Dragon Marked for Death’s biggest hindrances are the fact that the single-player experience sometimes suffers due to multiplayer focused design and splitting the game into two packs may also segment the player base or fill online servers with too many of the same fighters. Despite these problems, Dragon Marked for Death’s special spin on the genre is something I hope to see tackled again in the future by Inti Creates.