Nex Machinia Review- Gamunation
The masters of the modern twin-stick shooter are back with Nex Machina, a game that is more akin to their PlayStation 4 launch title, Resogun, and Super Stardust than last year’s Alienation. However, as many twin-stick shooter fans may notice, Nex Machina is clearly attempting to pay homage to arcade classics such as Robotron: 2048 and Smash TV. Housemarque even hired Eugene Jarvis, the developer of those classic games, to work on Nex Machina and recapture what made those games so special.
As with any arcade shooter worth its salt, Nex Machina doesn’t have much in the way of story. Artificial intelligence has surpassed that of humanity, and machine lifeforms have risen up in an attempt to wipe out their former masters. Your mission: Destroy each and every one of them while rescuing the humans who haven’t yet noticed the chaos because they’re too focused on their phones. That’s right, in Nex Machina, screen addiction has resulted in the near-destruction of humanity.
From the get-go, Nex Machina demands your undivided attention. Upon actually starting Nex Machina’s main arcade mode, you’re shown a brief loading screen and get dropped right into the action. Each of the game’s six playable worlds are broken into 15 small levels, which are filled with waves of enemies as well as the humans you need to rescue for a higher score.
All of the game’s controls are mapped to just two buttons and the analog sticks. At your disposal is a blaster, which fires automatically and you direct with the right analog stick, as well as a dash. You can pick up special items like rocket launchers, lasers, and even a sword at certain points. It sounds simple, but it’s more than enough to take on Nex Machina’s legions of murderous machines.
Beyond your standard shots, which can be enhanced with “spread” or “range” pick-ups, there are a slew of powerful secondary weapons to uncover and grab that each have their uses, run on a cooldown, and are all satisfying to wield. One requires a charge-up but destroys everything in a line, another is a mass of energy that you can fire off and detonate, and there’s also a crowd-clearing sword.
Whenever you die (and inevitably die a second and third time, because you just lost your sense of flow), you’ll feel super vulnerable without these pick-ups. The key to doing well in Nex Machina is knowing when and where to use them, recognizing the numerous enemy types and their quirks, and keeping your human-collecting combo going from level to level. Oh, and secrets. There are loads of secrets, including alternate levels, to help bolster your score. It’s a deceptively packed game.
The gameplay is also so simple and accessible, yet challenging to perfect, that replaying levels is consistently fun and gives you the chance to improve. Nex Machina’s control scheme only utilizes two buttons aside from the twin-sticks that are used for movement and shooting – one for dashing and one for using a secondary weapon, both of which are vital to setting high scores and mastering the higher difficulties.
As you make your way through the techno themed worlds, hundreds of robotic enemies swarm towards you and you need to destroy every one of them, saving the glowing green humans, as introduced as a side objective by Resogun, until you meet the world’s boss in the final level. It is frenetic, brutal, and on the higher difficulties, extremely challenging. It is never unfairly difficult, however, as it is clear to see how quickly you are improving as you replay levels. The difficultly is also tweaked by the number of continues you get in each world. In Rookie difficulty, you get unlimited continues per world, 100 in Experienced, ten in Veteran, and five in Master, with enemies getting faster and more powerful as you increase the difficulty level. Nex Machina is generally quite tough though, requiring total focus in every moment. So much so on the higher difficulties that, at the time of writing, only one person has completed the second world on Master difficulty, according to the leaderboards. You cannot get cocky or look away because, without you knowing it, a crawler will be on top of you and you’ll lose whatever multiplier you have managed to rack up. Manoeuvring your way around the level, away from the threats, requires quick decisions and spacial awareness, yet the game never feels like it gives you no options.
Not getting distracted, though, can be hard because Nex Machina is a joy to look at. From a presentation standpoint, Housemarque’s game is perfect. The action is incredibly smooth, with no hiccups or stutters to be seen no matter how much debris is exploding on the screen. The neon pink lasers and orbs that the robots fire towards you stand out in the melee, the bright green humans act as beacons of light amongst the chaos, and the clouds of tiny pieces that plume when an enemy is defeated often engulf the screen. The game’s wonderful visuals not only make the gameplay more satisfying but they make each individual world, some of which you only spend a matter of seconds visiting, stand out individually.
The design of each level is equally impressive. Each world has a theme, whether that be a snowy mountain or a futuristic laboratory, every level gives you space to escape the enemies momentarily and offers you a variety of orders in which to take them out. If you stay still for too long in certain places in the later levels, a enemy type that fires a slow moving circular laser across the entire map will corner you. The design of each level prompts you to keep moving and to think about how you are going to take out the hoards of bots that are about to come your way. That also keeps the action tense, as while you know there is a way around the enemies, you also know that there is nowhere to completely escape to.
Nex Machina’s music also adds to the intensity of the action. The soundtrack is predominantly pumping techno that matches the robotic style of the game but it all matches the intense gameplay. It is fast paced and is designed to get the heart pumping, just as the action does. It makes every moment feel more frenetic and builds as you get through the levels and crescendos as you reach the boss level. Ari Pulkinnen’s song, Let Me Save You, the game’s title music and the song you hear during the credits, is also an excellent song in its own right.
To my mind, there are only two major issues holding Nex Machina back: a lack of online co-op support, and not as many modifier challenges as there probably should be (because they’re all great).There is offline co-op that sees you and whoever is sitting next to you on your couch take on the same worlds on the same difficulties, with nothing tweaked to account for there being two players.These are both things the studio can address down the road, and even if it doesn’t, this is still a sublime arcade experience as is. There are a few other complaints — it can be too easy to get lost in the colorful bullet-hell patterns with two players going at it, and the bosses are vicious if you don’t have enough of (and the right) pick-ups — but they’re insignificant problems in the grand scheme.
Nex Machina isn’t perfect. A few late-game segments, including the boss fights, could be a little more forgiving on the default difficulty. But at a time when many developers try to reinvent the wheel when it doesn’t need to, Housemarque’s“back to basics” approach is refreshing. Twenty minutes with the game can quickly turn into two hours, and it doesn’t feel like wasted time – every second is a literal blast.
SCORE: 4.5/5 – GREAT
- Excellently designed levels.
- Visually stunning and runs perfectly.
- Enlessly replayable.
- Simple yet challenging, intense, and fluid gameplay.
- No online multiplayer.
- Five worlds feels like slightly too few.