It’s hard to find a studio that is as passionate about twin stick shooters as Housemarque. The developer has proven its worth several times in the past with games like Resogun, Alienation, and Super Stardust. With Nex Machine, the studio continues its trend of delivering fast-paced arcade action games. At first sight, the latest entrant seems familiar in terms of design philosophy, but closer inspection reveals an experience that feels fresh in its own way.
Resogun took inspiration from the work of legendary developer Eugene Jarvis, building on classics such as Smash TV and Defender.In a similar way, Robotron 2084 laid the foundation for Nex Machina, which Housemarque expanded upon with its own ideas.Only, this time, the studio also had Jarvis himself on board as a creative consultant.
As with previous Housemarque games, the story merely serves as an excuse for all the action featured in Nex Machina, and core gameplay remains its primary focus. In a dystopian terminator-esque future, machines have evolved into sentient beings that have the agenda of, you guessed it, wiping out the whole of mankind. Each of the six levels consists of several mini-areas, in which you have to eliminate all machines in order to progress to the next area. The more people you save, the higher a score you rake in. As with most retro themed action games, an elaborately staged boss fight awaits you at the end of every level.
By killing machines and rescuing human survivors, you gradually increase your multiplier, which is reset whenever you lose a life. Fans of coop shooters will be delighted to know that the game supports an offline multiplayer mode, where you and a friend take on the machines together, with both sharing the same screen. An online multiplayer mode is missing, however, and this is the game’s biggest drawback.. It’s likely that a future update will add the feature, just as offline coop was later added to Resogun.
The action in Resogun took place on an endless cylindrical level, with plenty of room to maneuver around. In contract, Nex Machina throws you into a series of restricted arenas in order to evoke a constant sense of pressure. Therefore, relying on maneuverability alone is not the key to success. You will be pushed to engage in a more riskier style of play, by cutting through enemies that put a bulls eye on you and follow you around the confined areas. Add to this the stationary turrets, which constantly aim at you and readily turn your vicinity into a bullet hell with patterned projectiles, and you begin to realize the importance of shooting first and running later.
Fortunately, however, Nex Machina features very precise controls and the now well-known twin stick mechanics work flawlessly here. Simultaneously moving and shooting works intuitively and even risky maneuvers often feel rewarding rather than frustrating. The placement of enemies often feels challenging, but seldom unfair. Your character has the ability to dash through enemies without taking damage, much like the boost in Resogun. Just like in Resogun, though, it has a cool down period, so you can’t spam it all the time. This ability is especially useful against an array of enemies that are blocking your way. Once you establish a rhythm, the dash is quite possibly the most useful skill in your arsenal.
Raking in a high score depends not only on how many enemies you destroy capable you are at surviving through waves of machines. There are also several secrets to be unraveled in each level, and you’re rewarded for the effort you put into exploring the areas. This includes hidden people, accesses to secret passageways or hidden enemies, which have to be destroyed within a limited amount of time. Speed running through levels also nets you extra points that are added to your overall score towards the end of a level.
Along the way, several pickups will be scattered across areas, including collectible power-ups that are hidden away inside boxes. These power-ups enhance your fire power, by increasing their spread and range, for example. In addition, you can also find special weapons, such as rocket launchers and bombs, which can be used along with the primary weapon. It’s here that an element of strategy comes in. You have to be wise about which weapon to take along, and which to drop based on the types of enemies appearing in a level.
Much like Housemarque’s previous twin stick shooters, Nex Machina is a little on the short side. It’ll roughly take you four to five hours to make your way to the end credits. That’s not a bad thing, however, as it is ultimately an arcade game and the idea is to do multiple runs and improve your high score.
It would be a crime not to mention Nex Machina’s audiovisual feedback. The neon particle effects and voxel-based destruction are a sight to behold, and give the game a unique personality and visual flair. This is without a shadow of a doubt Housemarque’s finest looking game yet. It’s also possible to make cosmetic customizations and alter the appearance of your character with outfits, ammunition colors, and helmets.
Ultimately, Nex Machina is quite possible the most engaging twin stick shooter yet. The risk/reward mechanic works better here than it did in Alienation. Its precise controls, fast-paced action, and combat loop put your decision making skills through the paces. It’s hard to fight the urge to start another playthrough, if only to top your friend’s or your own previous score. Its only shortcoming at this point is the lack of an online coop mode.
Nex Machina Review (PS4)
Game Reviewed on: PS4
Game description: Nex Machina is a shoot 'em up video game developed and published by Housemarque. The game was released in June 2017 for the PlayStation 4 video game console and Windows-based personal computers.
The lack of online multiplayer hurts the longevity of what is otherwise the most engaging and addictive twin stick shooter yet.