Whilst twin-stick top-down shooters have proven to be mighty popular with modern gamers, it’s easy to see how they’ve been influenced by classic releases from yesteryear such as Robotron 2084 and Smash TV. Sure, those games might not have had the incredibly intuitive twin-stick controls, but they did set the foundation for the highly successful formula of non-stop shooting action and quick paced movement. It’s a formula that developers Housemarque have established themselves at becoming experts at creating, especially with releases such as Super Stardust, Dead Nation, and Alienation earning plenty of critical acclaim from both press and consumers alike.
With Nex Machina they’ve really gone all out though. Housemarque actually worked with the creator of Smash TV and Robotron 2084 to craft a title that is not only a tribute to these classic releases, but one that also has the super stylistic flair of a modern release too. It’s proven to be a very successful collaboration – not only is Nex Machina a fantastic game in its own right, but it’s also oozing with the style of those arcade classics.
Nex Machina takes the twin-stick shooting action back to its roots, putting you through a series of intense worlds that span across a wide range of glorious environments and that always end with a tricky boss encounter. It’s all incredibly straight forward and it’s easy for just about anyone to pick up and play. Surviving though? Well, that’s a whole different ball game…
The game takes place in a world that has been taken over by robots thanks to humanity’s ignorance and obsession with mobile devices. Sounds kind of familiar, right? These robots are mean machines though and want nothing more than to wipe out humanity altogether. It’s up to you to stop them, all whilst trying to save as many humans as you can along the way. It’s nothing new as far as the narrative side of things go, but when have gamers ever needed a reason to blast robots to pieces?
Nex Machina challenges you to blast through five different worlds that are each made up of fifteen smaller stages that are inter-connected. These stages are full to the brim with enemies to smash apart into block pieces, humans to save, and secrets to discover, all whilst stringing it together in combos to put together as high a score as possible. Each level then culminates with a boss fight that’ll push your shooting (and twitch-reaction) skills to the max. It’s all fairly standard stuff as far as top-down shooters go, yet Nex Machina’s stunning visuals, intuitive controls, and downright enjoyable gameplay ensure that it stands out from the crowd.
It does spice things up a little though by allowing the player to dash in order to avoid attacks and get out of sticky situations. Nex Machina’s stages can become a bullet-hell paradise at times, so having this extra trick up your sleeve to avoid incoming attacks can be the difference between life and death. It might feel like a small addition, but it was a live saver when trying to clear a level without dying or when trying to maintain a combo of kills. Everything about the game just feels so finely crafted and intentional – it’s a testament to Housemarque’s capabilities as a game developer.
Perhaps the game’s only real downside is that it doesn’t do anything you wouldn’t have seen before. It’s difficult to complain though when everything it offers is done to perfection. So what if all you’re doing is shooting waves of robots for the millionth time? When it feels as good as it does in Nex Machina, it really doesn’t matter.
Whilst Nex Machina is fairly simple in design, the game itself can be pretty challenging. Thankfully there are plenty of difficulty levels on offer to cater for different players. The easiest difficultly mode gives you infinite continues, guaranteeing you that you’ll be able to see the game through from start to end. It’s not the most satisfying way to play the game, but having the option will certainly please those who just want to play the game for fun. Those who like a stern test can push up to the high difficulties though, which not only limits how many continues you have but actually throws more enemies your way that also happen to be faster and stronger too. My attempts at these difficulties have proven futile so far, but hey, the game’s so good that it keeps me coming back for more anyway.
When you’re done with the main mode of the game, there’s plenty on offer to keep you coming back for more. ‘Arenas’ lets you replay through each level of the game with a set of extra challenges imposed upon you, whilst the high-score chasing nature of the game will push you to keep bettering your scores on each level. Then there’s the local co-op modes that see you taking on the game with a friend – something that will definitely prove popular with couch co-op fans. It’s the kind of game which is complimented by playing through with a friend, with the hectic action and busy levels guaranteed to offer a ton of fun for two players.
Anyone who has played Housemarque’s previous release Resogun may feel a sense of familiarity with Nex Machina’s voxel aesthetic style. Sure, you’re not flying around in a space ship this time around, but the cubic feel of each world and its inhabitants will spark a few moments where you’ll think “I’m sure I’ve seen this before”. This sense of familiarity doesn’t stop the game looking distinctly unique though and you won’t be able to help but be impressed at every vibrant landscape you battle across. Each environment just has so much detail in it, plus they each offer so much variety that you never get bored of what you see. Actually battling across them, seeing neon lit streams of bullets and explosions, and then watching as you transport from one section of the level to the next always looks sublime. Plus, you get to see all of this in a slick and constant 60fps – it makes for a stunning showcase of colour, depth, and action that makes Nex Machina a spectacle to see in motion.
I have to be honest, I was a little surprised at just how good Nex Machina is. I felt like I’d seen everything twin-stick shooters had to offer, and whilst the game doesn’t really invigorate the genre nor does it do anything you wouldn’t have seen before, it just feels so damn good to play. I’ve spent hours with it already and find myself constantly coming back for more.
If you’re a fan of twin-stick shooters you really need to give Nex Machina a purchase. If you’re a fan of classic arcade experiences that push your skills to the limit you need to give it a purchase. Hell, if you’re a fan of gaming, just buy Nex Machina – you’re not going to regret it.
Release Date: 20/06/2017
Format(s): Playstation 4 (Reviewed), PC