For years now, Finnish developer Housemarque has been holding the torch for arcade twin-stick shooters. They’re masters of their craft – delivering games that are usually simple in nature, but ascribe to that arcade ethos that has you mentally grabbing for a digital coin to insert so you can continue playing.
In recent memory, their unerringly excellent output has been exclusive to PlayStation platforms. That’s been great for PlayStation owners. Their launch title Resogun is still one of the finest games on the platform – with the power of Sony’s machine allowing for the company’s signature shooting shining in an explosion of voxels and neon lights. That’s true of their latest, Nex Machina, which is also available for PC.
Where Resogun may have been a spiritual successor to Defender in many ways, Nex Machina finds its roots in games like Smash TV and Robotron. Perfect then, that it’s been made with the help of Eugene Jarvis, who helped design all three of those classic arcade games. His influence is immediately apparent. Though the game has the modern trappings of shiny graphics technology and the aforementioned voxels and lights, it feels very much like old-school arcade games – in the very best way.
When I first fired up Nex Machine and did a run through its first world, I was less than enthused. Having come off Alienation, which tries to layer on deeper RPG mechanics, Nex Machina felt decidedly simple.
You’re a guy, trying to avoid what seems like a billion bullets flying in your direction as an army of increasingly tricky, devious robots do their best to kill you. It’s a future where lazy humans have entrusted everything to AI, who have risen up – and it’s up to you to stop them. That’s really as much narrative as exists, and that’s about as much as there needs to be because Nex Machina isn’t about that. It’s about those arcade fundamentals: great twitchy gameplay and high scores.
In each world, you’ll move through a series of rooms that are filled with robots, turrets, and other deadly machines. You’ll rescue humans in each are as you did in Resogun, seamlessly zooming off to the next area once you’ve disposed of every enemy. Areas are frequently littered with secrets exits and hidden humans, tricky things to pick up as you dash around shooting everything in your path. It’s incredibly fast-paced stuff, with death as frequent as the continuing rush of enemies. There’s an impeccable flow to it all. Dashing gives you temporary invincibility, which you’ll use to move past an impenetrable barrage of bullets or around a cavalcade of insurgent machines. Weapon power-ups help in your destructive, defensive, and dodging capabilities, though, like the score multiplier they decrease with each death.
Death is fleeting too, and within seconds you’re back in the fray, hopefully with a lesson from your last death burned into your brain; don’t do that stupid thing or you’ll die again.
It may feel simple, but it isn’t. There’s a layer of strategy necessary if you want to rack up the highest scores and find your way to the top of the leaderboards – and you’re able to watch those strategies yourself. Every run in an area is recorded and uploaded to the leaderboards along with high scores, so you’re able to watch the best players’ replays to find the secrets, and the best routes through areas to help raise your own scores.
It’s honestly challenging enough on Rookie mode, which grants you unlimited continues, but ramps up in difficulty, speed and magnitude with further levels capping the number of continues available. It’s on those levels where the race for leaderboard position will be hottest. There’s also an Arena mode that repurposes the game’s arcade levels, adding an extra, modified challenge. There’s even a local co-op mode if your eyes are able to even discern that much frantic on-screen action.
Last Updated: June 19, 2017