In a gaming landscape filled with open-world games that take 40+ hours to complete, Nex Machina is a refreshing change of pace, reminding gamers that sometimes all you need for a good time is simple, frenetic action. Nex Machina is a top-down, dual joystick shooter from the folks at Housemarque, the makers of games like Resogun, Dead Nation, and Alienation. If you’ve played Housemarque games before, you’ll have an idea of what to expect. The action is heavy and rapid, the graphics are beautiful, and there is something underneath the surface that you can’t quite understand in just one playthrough. It’s also worth mentioning that Eugene Jarvis, known for his work on Defender, Robotron: 2084, and Smash TV was brought on to this project as a creative consultant, and it shows.
Nex Machina doesn’t waste time, it dumps you right into the action once you press go, and it’s all guns blazing from there. Each of the game’s five stages are divided up into separate sections, or rooms, where your goal is to defeat waves of robots before moving on. Every world adds in new enemies with new combat proficiencies, so learning their patterns and being able to shoot and dodge accordingly is key. If you’ve played Resogun, the familiar mechanic of saving humans will feel right at home as it creates a sense of panic as you try to quickly save the humans despite running right into danger to do so.
Like the Jarvis games that inspired Nex Machina, there isn’t a progression for the character in between levels. Instead, the progression comes as you gain power-ups in the levels themselves, and they come randomly. These types of power-ups, from a bigger weapon spread to a faster dash, are extremely helpful and their randomness makes the progression to a stage’s end exciting and different. However, you’ll realize after the second stage that the power-ups are always the same; and once you reach the end of a stage, you will be the same powered up character you were last stage, and that’s a shame.
Nex Machina is hard. It is a game that is not for the feint of heart when it comes to fast-paced twin-stick shooters. Death in the game means you lose a power-up and have to run back to your corpse to get it, slogging through enemies to do so. While that seems fairly normal, it’s worth pointing out that on harder levels, losing just one power-up, let alone two or three, can make a level almost impossible to navigate as you just can’t defeat enemies without the necessary power-ups, or at least not unless you are an ace at this game. Much like old-school games that inspired Nex Machina, this meant giving up and resetting the level, something I did multiple times to get to the end with enough power to make it through the bullet-hell boss fights.
Much like Housemarque’s previous titles, Nex Machina is gorgeous. They’ve upgraded the engine that Alienation ran on and it shows. Explosions are particle-filled bursts of colors and fury, and level art is absolutely sublime in its smooth and clean presentation. Enemies have a great look to them and their design, while hard to appreciate due to the game’s speed, is something that is subtly clever. The game looks great and runs even better, keeping a fast pace that is smooth and enjoyable the entire way through.
Hardcore fans of this genre will feel right at home as they’ll have endless challenges and scores to beat. Gamers looking to just make it through the main stages will find a good five hours or so of gameplay that is well worth coming back to a second and even third time. While the end stages can get a little tiring due to their difficulty, they are beatable if you bang your head against them long enough.
In a gaming landscape where every game has bountiful side quests and unending DLC, it’s nice to play a game that knows what it is and sticks to that formula from beginning to end. While Nex Machina won’t be for everyone, it’s a game that absolutely excels at being what it set out to be: a challenging, beautiful arcade shooter that will constantly ask if you want to continue.