*Insert 99 quarters to continue*
Nex Machina calls back to those glorious 90’s era arcade staples in the best, most ridiculous possible way. Insanely hard in execution but so simple in concept that anyone could pick it up to play, but it’s going to take some work to master.
Much like those games of old, there is most certainly a reason for the rampaging robots, hapless humans you rescue for points, and the wild, layered construction of the many environments you tear through. Nex Machina certainly wastes zero time with that expository nonsense, to the point where I don’t even really know what, if any idea the avatar has. But I also know it doesn’t matter.
"Voxel explosions and particle effects leap off the screen in an incredible, vibrant showing that just looks stunning on PS4 Pro."
Siring such fantastic shooters as Super Stardust and Resogun, Housemarque’s involvement in Nex Machina is immediately obvious. The tight, dual stick controls respond just as quickly as you can maneuver them, with Guy having a pitch perfect movement speed and no obvious momentum that could otherwise screw the player over. Voxel explosions and particle effects leap off the screen in an incredible, vibrant showing that just looks stunning on PS4 Pro. Bringing it all together is a bass heavy techno and rock soundtrack that backs the action to a tee, or as suggested earlier, some hot jams of choice.
Dual stick shooters have traditionally been a very score chase heavy genre, and Nex Machina is no exception. The objective is very simply conveyed by the encroaching robots who you shoot and boost through to get out of danger, and the wandering humans you save. Along the path, you’ll go for that big score, and grab some power ups and weapons along the way. Power ups add to Guy’s abilities in ways that enhance his standard skills without breaking the game, and weapons such as lasers and rockets are almost all uniquely fun to use, and can turn the tide when used properly.
"Sound design feeds back into this with great, crunchy impact and explosion sound effects, and a corny robotic voice vocalizing the action and pickups."
Colour is the big conveyance in what is and isn’t a threat, with darker reds, pinks and purples showing you what to avoid while on the opposite side of the colour wheel, power ups and score multiplying humans to rescue use brighter greens, blues and yellows. Each world has its unique colour scheme too, carefully chosen to make sure these elements always stand out, making each distinct and delightfully colourful as the particle effects and explosions of cubes bounce around every which way. Sound design feeds back into this with great, crunchy impact and explosion sound effects, and a corny robotic voice vocalizing the action and pickups.
On top of the surprisingly vibrant presentation, Nex Machina goes for a far more varied level design. Instead of room after room where you’re swarmed by foes and can get away with using the same strategy repeatedly, completely different room structures push different rapid fire challenges. Sometimes, open areas are cordoned off by lasers and the challenge is figuring out where to direct yourself to reach all the humans in time.
"The boss characters are just as delightfully varied as the worlds, requiring different finger gymnastics to finish off, and eventually culminating in a bullet hell that would make legendary shooters like Ikaruga proud."
Sometimes cramped hallways challenge you to maneuver through tight enemy fire to survive, and occasional set piece moments like fighting your way through while fleeing a massive boulder, Indiana Jones style. Each world layers on additional mechanics to consider and learn to work around, like dashing through lasers in world 1 is followed up by enemies that aim and fire those lasers in world 2, and then later in world 5 you become introduced to a more wild looking, purple laser that you can’t dash through at all. This iteration keeps each run of the game interesting as the challenges relayer themselves in a new fashion each time.
You’ll massacre through the six distinct worlds, including the expected Forest, Mountain and Volcano levels and more interesting city, lab and space station levels, and then face off a boss robot at the end of each. The boss characters are just as delightfully varied as the worlds, requiring different finger gymnastics to finish off, and eventually culminating in a bullet hell that would make legendary shooters like Ikaruga proud.
"When you finally manage to [beat the boss] however, and see that glorious shower of cubes explode outwards, it’s such a satisfying feeling. "
On the top two difficulties, one could mistake the unlimited or 99 continues the game offers as generous, but make no mistake, the game will make you use them, and mostly in the boss battles. Threading the needle between their fire while still making sure you’re hitting them isn’t easy, especially in that final stretch when you’re probably nearly out of lives as well. When you finally manage to make it however, and see that glorious shower of cubes explode outwards, it’s such a satisfying feeling.
There are a handful of modes to dive into with unique spins on each as well. Single World runs challenge you with topping the leaderboard within that single level, but otherwise play like they would in arcade and are great for practice, while Arena behaves like a challenge mode, asking you to top challenges like finishing a level with insanely fast enemy spawns and bullets, or reaching a score threshold with the handicap of needing to be under a human combo bonus.
"it’s frustrating that the otherwise pitch perfect experience of the game can’t be shared without specifically making face to face time."
Arena mode is the fastest way to earn in game currency to customize Guy and your profile avatar, but this option does fall kind of flat with Nex Machina bafflingly omitting online co-op. Couch co-op exists in the game, but the more mature audience that’s going to be playing this having adult obligations to attend to, it’s frustrating that the otherwise pitch perfect experience of the game can’t be shared without specifically making face to face time.
Nex Machina has no interest in wasting your time, and with the variety of difficulty levels it has a lot of meat to offer to anyone remotely interested. Mechanically simple and yet satisfyingly difficult, a quick game can easily turn into hours of robot crushing, adrenaline pumping action. The lone nitpick of no online play melts away into the fantastic presentation and controls. Does this have my recommendation? Here’s what I have to say to that. I’d buy that for $20.
This game was reviewed on the Playstation 4.
Fantastic, colourful presentation, great controls and rocking soundtrack, Varied level themes and designs, with unique set pieces keep moment to moment play fresh, Great boss design that’s super satisfying to conquer, Arena mode challenges are great fun, Mechanics layer on each other world by world, creating a nice skill curve.
Lack of online play is a huge missed opportunity.
Housemarque has another hit on their hands, and Nex Machina is probably their best, smoothest and more varied shooter yet. The mechanics masterfully layer on top of each other world on world to keep the crazy action fresh session after session and the entire game has a colourful 90’s joy to it that sucks you in. Online co-op being the one nitpick that could come patched in later, I can only wholehearted recommend Nex Machina as the shooter you pick up this summer.