Housemarque have carved themselves a nice little corner of the arcade action genre over recent years. Games like Super Stardust HD, Resogun and the Dead and Alien Nation series have proved popular and made them a big name when to comes to fun downloadable titles. Next up for them is Nex Machina, another twin-stick shooter.
In many ways, Nex Machina feels like the spiritual successor to Super Stardust HD, an incredibly fast shooter, with a flair for the visual. The controls are simple, only relying on the two sticks and the shoulder buttons. The left stick controls movement, the right fires the weapons in the required direction and the shoulder buttons control dash movement and special weapons. By not making the player have to concentrate on a complex control scheme, their full focus can be given to the action on screen. And both will you need a lot of focus.
Platforms: PC, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed)
Multiplayer: Local co-op
Price I’d pay: $19.99
Nex Machina doesn’t bother with any kind of story, only that the player takes control of a man whose job it is to clear out various stages of human hating death robots. To help him in his task, he will be granted with many different power-ups and special weapons, all of which will randomly drop. Power-ups offer things like shields, triple dash and weapon upgrades and all of these can be stacked. Special weapons are also collected in a similar way, but only one can be used at a time. Rocket launchers, lasers and mines are some of the treats available. These upgrades are at risk when the player dies, as is the multiplier. Lose a life, and players will drop power-ups and will also have the score multiplier bumped down a few levels, and much like Super Stardust HD, it’s all about that score.
There are also a few touches brought over from one of their more recent games, Resogun, in the form of humans. Each section will have a number of humans in it, some on display and others hidden away. Leave them alone too long, and the nasty robots will kill them, but dive in too fast to try and rescue them, and you may get overwhelmed. It’s a real risk versus reward mechanic, and it is a real challenge to try and get them all. Each level has 15 stages and ends with a boss battle and they all have their own attacks that get greater as you whittle down their health. Along with the Arcade mode, the game offers an Arena challenge, which amps up the difficulty but rewards you with medals. These medals can then be spent to buys new levels for the Arena and also cosmetic variants for our hero.
This game is challenging, but the Arena mode will really test your metal, and the medals are very hard to earn. But as with all Housemarque games, everything feels fair. If I failed, it was because I just wasn’t good enough, not because of some unfair game mechanic or bug. The game runs perfectly; the controls, the action and the game itself. You can also earn medals by unlocking in game feats. These are as simple as clearing a level and as difficult as rescuing tens of thousands of humans. Having these kinds of trackers readily available kept me playing and playing, and with each game lasting from 5 -15 minutes, it was easy for me to say “Just one more go”.
The level design in Nex Machina is also amazing, adding things like environmental obstructions to the mix as you progress through the stages. Navigating your way through them will require quick reflexes, as well as utilizing the dash function, something that will save your life many times, believe me. The care that has been put into each stage is outstanding, with each level feeling very different from the last, while at the same time feeling similar.
As well as the Arcade and Arena modes, Nex Machine also offers both a local two player co-op mode and single level plays. The co-op works really well and the game doesn’t drop a beat, even with two players on screen. The game doesn’t increase the difficulty in the co-op mode, but the two players have to share a single pool of lives as well as fighting for power-ups. There isn’t any online co-op play, but that isn’t surprising, as this game would not be playable with any kind of lag on show.
Everything about Nex Machina is excellently executed, showing that Housemarque are at the top of their game. Stunning visuals and sound design means that this game never looks budget and solid gameplay that never, ever gets boring. It also has HDR and Pro support, which gives the game this amazing neon color hue.
I have always been a massive fan of Super Stardust HD, but I never thought Housemarque would be able to reach those dizzying heights again. I was wrong. Nex Machina takes all that was good about SSHD and turns the dial up, making this game my new favorite Housemarque game and one that I urge each and every one of your to go out and buy. Be warned however, it’s going to make your thumbs sore.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.