Dragon Marked For Death Review – Perfectly Pixelated Punishment

Dragon Marked For Death Review

Beauty is only skin deep. It’s an exhausted cliche, but it still rings true. Take Dragon Marked For Death, or DMFD. Here we have a gorgeous game, dripping with pixelated polish and slick presentation. Yet, a bit of determined digging reveals little beneath the glistening surface. I wanted to love this game. I still want to, as a matter of fact. There’s just a couple of minor obstacles in the way.

Before I dismantle this plucky side-scrolling action RPG, let’s dig into the upsides. For one, the game is friggin’ beautiful. I have a well-documented love for quality sprites, and DMFD has them in spades. Each of the four heroes are bristling with flair and personality. The combat system features some crazy precise moves, there’s a ton of them to experiment with, and every fighter has a distinct play style with more or less no overlap.If you’re willing to put in the time, you can ascend to absolute mastery with DMFD. All of this keeps me coming back to the game, in spite of some troubling downsides.

A Feast For The Eyes

Take the RPG elements, for example. I want to delve into the gear, stat upgrades and treasure hunting, but it feels like the game itself is in my way. On the topic of mastery, every level requires repeated attempts with each character in order to get the rhythm down. This is fine, but it feels like every attempt adds up to half an hour or more. All too often I spent time and energy picking my through a massive stage only to be cut down by a section I’d yet to sufficiently perfect. Between this and the experience system, getting stronger is a slow, methodical process. I’m a proponent of the traditional RPG growth philosophy. Give the player a short period of unchecked expansion before slamming on the brakes. It just felt like that first full stop came way too soon.

Dragon Marked For Death

Those same RPG trappings have tricked me into thinking this game is anything but skill-based. No matter how powerful my weapons are, it’s my reflexes and my practice that will win the day. I’m of two minds on this idea. I want to see more of the game, but I can’t deny that getting better is an exercise in pure satisfaction. On the other hand, it feels like a lot of my victories are just the result of me spamming items at the right moments. Every boss fight requires several visits before their complex patterns are laid bare.

The Long Road Of Leveling

The key is time management. I don’t mind slamming into a boss fight over and over again, but having to slog through a whole huge stage beforehand really saps the game’s momentum. This heavy time investment pairs with your slow rate of growth to make the entire experience a pretty relentless grind. It’s not all tears, however. I really can’t overstate how tight the combat feels when everything falls into place. In particular, the Shinobi has a move set that lets you dance between strikes and smash into enemies like a white-haired cannonball. Meanwhile, the Witch is a multiplayer-only type fighter. She spends enough time sitting still that a bodyguard becomes essential. Although her magic skills are delightfully complex, with the developers mapping a whole book of spells to a handful of buttons.

Once I discarded the notion that DMFD is any kind of RPG, I started to enjoy myself a lot more. Stats, gear, and levels are less important than your actual abilities. Furthermore, nothing will sharpen these skills but practice and patience. With this in mind, every stage becomes a new opportunity to master the many moves at your disposal. I still wish the bosses weren’t walled behind such sprawling levels, but it’s not a dealbreaker. Although, as little as levels seems to matter, a lot of the game is separated by level gates. Every stage comes with a recommended level, and every item is only usable if you’re strong enough to put on. This is a major component in making the game feel slow. While I love the moment to moment action, the pacing can still get downright glacial at times. If you’re hoping for an RPG experience, you’ll be rather let down. As far as action platformers go, however, Dragon Marked For Death is a ripping good time.

***A Nintendo Switch code was provided by the publisher***


Special Note: Dragon Marked For Death is coming to North American retail on March 26. 

The Good

  • High quality pixel art
  • Excellent controls
  • Tons of skills to mess with

The Bad

  • Pacing is too slow
  • Challenge level spikes pretty early
  • Gear feels ineffectual