Nex Machina marks a significant milestone for Housemarque, being the first title in company history to be both developed and published in-house. Solidifying themselves as the king of dual-stick shooters last generation on the PlayStation 3, it was their PlayStation 4 launch title Resogun that propelled themselves as frontrunners during the current console cycle. Housemarque has done retro with Nex Machina, developing a Robotron/Smash TV style game, complete with sharp voxel-based visuals, bright neon colors, and slick bullet-hell style gameplay.
Housemarque, the team behind Resogun, partnered with Eugene Jarvis, a legend to those that grew up idealizing arcade classics. Nex Machina feels like a throwback coin-op experience, yet with the charm that we’ve all come to love in their recent console titles. Set in an alternate universe, you are humanity's only hope against robots that believe they are far superior to their creator’s. The twin-stick gameplay is intense, featuring tight and simplistic controls that don’t overcomplicate matters. While I found Alienation, a great attempt at combining twin-stick shooting mechanics, a loot-based gear system, and progression, some found it needlessly complicated. Nex Machina strips the best elements from previous games, using the gameplay style of Robotron and Smash TV as a base and expanding upon it. You’ll be swiftly flying through the small levels, saving humans, destroying thousands of robots, and discovering plenty of secrets.
Progress is made by completing the short stages across different themed worlds. Each is populated with dozens of enemies, some that follow clear-cut patterns and others that seem intent to move directly towards the player. The frantic action never lets up, as you transition between stages upon the death of every enemy. However, depending upon the stage, you may not want to rush through killing everything you see. Stages vary in size and layout, with many of them hiding secondary power-ups or secret exits. In similar fashion to Resogun, you must “save the last human,” but collecting the scattered humans before the large robots can bleed them dry. They aren't essential but are another carrot to chase as you attempt to keep your multiplier as high as possible. While I have yet to save every single one across an entire world, you’ll also have to locate secret humans hidden inside voxel boxes.
While you can upgrade your primary weapon to be stronger, have increased range and increase the spread, secondary weapons play an integral part of the experience. From sniper-like power shots that can burn through countless foes, to remote-detonated bombs, these power-ups can save you in a pinch. If you find yourself between a wall and many neon colored bullets, you can dash through, granted you land in an empty area. Defensive power-ups, such as a shield, and even the triple dash is a necessity, as a single bullet will kill you. You’ll respawn almost instantly, but have to recollect your current upgrades. Use up all of your lives, and you continue depending on the current difficulty. Gone will be your current score, so you can forget about placing on the online leaderboards.
Each world culminates with a massive boss battle, testing your lightning fast reflexes with bullet-hell style patterns that litter the entire stage with bright colors. While dodging is an essential component you must learn to master the art of dashing through bullet patterns. Each one is designed unique, ensuring that you won’t ever know what to expect. During critical moments, the bosses will alter their attack, and release a set amount of enemy waves to stop you. Just like in Resogun, completing a world sends voxels soaring through the sky in a burst of glowing neon colors.
Replayability is a key factor to Nex Machina, considering you could play through the arcade mode on the lowest difficulty setting in under an hour. However, there are higher difficulties that will truly test your reflexes, increasing the game’s speed dramatically. Considering Housemarque is chasing the classic arcade-style of shooters, you’ll want to compete for a higher place on the leaderboards. Multiplayer is currently limited to two-player locally, which is a disappointment when you consider the popularity of online multiplayer, but you never know if it will be added to the game at a later point. Single world lets you practice on any of the six locales in the game, but I’ve found the arena mode to be quite addicting. These challenges reward players with tokens that can be spent to unlock customization options. Similar to online competitive shooters, you can set a profile picture, but you’ll only see it if you click on someone’s name on the leaderboards. The other options let you purchase different bullet colors for your character, as well as customize the color and look of the character.
Although Nex Machina lacks online multiplayer, the game’s euphoric use of bright neon colors and impressive use of voxels is only surpassed by the tight gameplay mechanics. At its heart, Nex Machina is a modern day arcade shooter, with plenty of secrets and the addicting element that will have you challenging for a higher position on the leaderboards well into the wee hours of the night.
Note: Nex Machina was reviewed based on a digital PlayStation 4 copy of the game, provided by the publisher.