While arcades are a thing of the past, some of the most popular cabinets that gobbled up quarters in the 80’s and 90’s were twin-stick shooters that offered punishing, bullet-hell gameplay designed to test the dexterity of those who were up for the challenge. In recent years, Finnish developer Housemarque has carried this torch on to consoles with games like Resogun, Alienation, Super Stardust and others. Nex Machina is their latest entry in the genre, and it’s quite possibly their best work yet. In a collaboration with Eugene Jarvis, whose work includes Smash TV, Robotron: 2084 and others, Housemarque’s latest once again takes the genre and pushes it further forward.
While the story is most certainly not the centerpiece of Nex Machina, a stage is set by Housemarque. The game is set in a world where virtual reality and portable devices have taken over the lives of humans that have become so dependent on these things that they rarely take their eyes off of them. During this distraction machines have become more intelligent than humans and have gained consciousness — eradicating human life is now their primary objective. In Nex Machina, you play as a human looking to take on these machines, saving humanity across the span of dark cyberpunk-esque landscape.
Nex Machina builds off of what was really great about Housemarque’s 2013 release of Resogun. While it’s a wholly different game, you can see the influences for sure. The art-style, voxel explosions, audio design, and gameplay elements that were introduced in that game return in some form or another. On the surface, Nex Machina is a relatively simple game. It’s a top down twin stick shooter that uses one stick to move and one stick to shoot. Shoulder buttons are relegated to power-ups, and using the combination of these you’ll fight your way through stage after stage of enemies. At the end of a string of stages you’ll face a boss. Along the way, you’ll be tasked with saving humans and securing power-ups if you can manage to navigate the deadly terrain and seemingly endless streams of enemies that they throw at you.
What was really great about this type of gameplay in Resogun and now Nex Machina is that it has layers of mastery to be achieved that feels really rewarding once you become proficient at it. So much so, that Nex Machina scratches a competitive itch that’ll have you shooting for high scores in ways that many games don’t. Instead of feeding quarters into what feels inspired by its arcade predecessors, Nex Machina will have you scrapping for new ways to achieve high scores across it’s campaign, pitting you against others online. To achieve these high scores, you’ll not only need to survive the challenges of Nex Machina, but do it well.
Arena Mode Challenge Gameplay
Stringing together combinations to boost a score multiplier while completing level objectives, saving humans and collecting power-ups to make you more powerful in this process…. these are your objectives in Nex Machina. Combine this gameplay with an incredible presentation that skews towards Resogun’s busy onscreen action and it’s an incredibly addictive experience. Whether you’re playing the single player mode, competing in the online arcade for high scores, practicing a single level, or playing cooperatively, it’s a lot of fun to play. While we do wish there was a little more meat on the bone in terms of how many levels and bosses there are in the game, what’s there is enough to keep you busy if you plan on shooting for mastery. There are six levels, and each have numerous stages within that all culminate in a boss battle.
While that doesn’t sound like a lot, there’s a lot to master in Nex Machina. Even once you get the gameplay down pat, you still have objectives to complete like saving humans and finding hidden ones throughout the game. Those that fell into the addiction that was Resogun around the launch of the PlayStation 4 most likely won’t be able to escape the clutches of Nex Machina if they take the plunge. Taking that further, there are many secrets to uncover in each level as none of them are as straight forward as they seem at first glance. Everything in Nex Machina is destructible. Not just the enemies so you never know when you’re going to find a hidden exit, or item throughout each. Housemarque has added a bunch of challenges by the way of in-game “Feats” to perform in the game. To earn that Platinum trophy this time around, you’ll really need to dig into the game and play it in different ways to accomplish them all.
The real hook though is the Nemesis system in the Arcade Mode that has you shooting for higher and higher scores, rewarding you beating your “Nemesis.” The interesting thing here is that you see just how long your Nemesis took to complete their game, what secrets they found, how many times they died, and other information that can help you shape your strategy in tackling a specific level. Keep tackling these levels and completing challenges in the game and you’ll earn coins that can be spent to unlock new items in the game. This includes new challenge maps and character customization options that allow you to change the armor color, helmet style, and body shape of your character including male and female models. Nex Machina really feels like a next step for Housemarque, adding all the trimmings to what we’ve come to expect from the developer in terms of gameplay and presentation.
Nex Machina has more depth than we see from most entries in this genre. Twin stick shooter purists will love it for its fast paced action and incredible presentation, but this is a game that’s clearly been designed to keep you coming back for more.