Nex Machina is the latest offering of twin-stick shooting mayhem from genre masters Housemarque. Are you fast enough to take on one of their toughest games to date?
Like most Housemarque titles, there isn't any story to speak of in Nex Machina. Instead, you're thrown into the action immediately with no tutorial and practically no prior warning. Your job thereon is to blast everything in sight (except the hapless humans) while trying to avoid an onslaught of robotic enemies and projectiles.
Nex Machina is certainly one of the studio's more difficult titles as it loves to repeatedly swarm you with dozens of enemies and bullets at once, meaning you'll be almost constantly on the move while blasting away with your weapons in all directions. As such, things zip along at lightning speed. Once you beat a level (which usually takes just a matter of seconds), your character is teleported onto the next one and the action restarts immediately.
This chaotic gameplay is accentuated by Nex Machina's graphical style. The colours are vivid and varied and when something explodes (which happens a lot), it's usually followed by a burst of voxels that spray across the screen. This makes for an impressive spectacle of carnage although it can sometimes make it hard to see the difference between an actual threat and decoration. Meanwhile, everything's underlaid by a pumping electronic soundtrack by Ari Pulkkinen, which is reminiscent of his work on Housemarque's Resogun.
Nex Machina isn't all about mindless shooting. You're also tasked with saving helpless green humans (another Resogun similarity) who aimlessly waddle around the levels waiting for you to come to their rescue. Saving them all will net you a bonus score but you have to act fast or some of the enemy robots will take them out. There are other objectives, too, such as discovering secret areas and neutralising certain targets before they exit the level. All of this gives you a serious amount of multitasking to do, something that's a huge challenge in a game where death is only ever a few pixels away.
Luckily, Nex Machina plays extremely well. The controls are fluid and not needing to reload your primary weapon means you can send out constant streams of fire. You can also upgrade your regular dash move so that you can dash three times in a row which is a vital attribute for the tougher levels and one that allows you to gracefully shift about the screen while surgically removing the tougher enemies from the playing field. Be warned, however; you lose all of your power-ups when you run out of lives, meaning you're back to your default peashooter. If this happens on the final boss, you're basically stuck with having to restart the whole game which is kind of a drag.
Although the high difficulty can be frustrating at first, the eminent playability means that once you've put in some practice, the feeling of breezing through levels that you died in dozens of times previously becomes very satisfying. The only negative here is that, while Nex Machina's environs are colourful and chaotic, there aren't very many of them. There are only six stages (or worlds), all of which usually take no more than ten minutes to beat. As each level's design is fixed with enemies spawning in the same locations, redoing the same few stages quickly feels repetitive. Harder difficulties change things up a bit by introducing more enemies and projectiles which makes the game much more challenging. This has the advantage of ensuring that all levels of gamer will have something to sink their teeth into but it still involves playing the same stages over and over.
Outside of the main arcade mode, there's Arena mode which tasks you with playing the levels under certain conditions such as a reduced time limit. These add a little more variety but there aren't that many of them and they still take place on the same stages. Perhaps to make up for its lack of levels, Nex Machina instead offers plenty of incentives for you to aim for with dozens of challenges available to work towards as well as some very taxing trophies. Also, when you beat a level, a video of your run is uploaded to the online leaderboards along with your score. This is quite a cool feature that allows you to watch the best players' replays in order to pick up some hints.
You can also play in local co-op. However, the increased onscreen anarchy caused by having an extra player (plus the fact that you share lives) can actually make this mode more difficult than single player. Also, the second player doesn't earn trophies and can't customise their character which makes their efforts seem a little undervalued. Nevertheless, it's still nice to have the option of playing with a friend.
As expected, Nex Machina is another exhilarating piece of dual-stick shooting fun from Housemarque. It's a blast to play with tight controls and satisfying shooting but its lack of content and emphasis on repetition stop it from being a true classic.
- + Bullet-dodging has never been so pretty
- + Provides an enjoyable challenge for gamers of all skill levels
- + Cool soundtrack
- - Very little mode variety
- - Playing the same levels over and over gets repetitive
- - So much onscreen stuff can be obstructive