If you’re already familiar with Housemarque then you know exactly what you’re getting into with Nex Machina – explosive, twin stick, arcade carnage. And if you are not familiar with Housemarque, I have just told you exactly what you’re going to get.
• Developer: Housemarque
• Publisher: Housemarque
• Reviewed on: PlayStation 4
• Also Available On: Steam
• Release Date: Available Now
The main bulk of Nex Machina is played in Arcade mode. Arcade mode is made up of five worlds, and each world is built up of several stages, and each stage is cleared when all of the enemies have been destroyed, and the world is cleared when the boss is defeated. It may sound simple,but it isn’t easy, not by a long shot.
As the stages progress, the number of enemies increase drastically, and newer, tougher enemies with varying fire power are introduced. Nex Machina isn’t a ‘bullet hell’ game by definition, but it increasingly flirts with the idea as the levels progress.
The controls a simple, but more importantly they’re tight and responsive. Left stick is move, right stick is shoot, and L2/1 houses a dash button that is used to not only avoid enemy fire, but offers a few milliseconds of invincibility to get through laser barriers and enemy hordes. In fact, mastery of the dash is absolutely essential of you hope to stand a chance in Nex Machina.
Considering how tough the game is it never feels unfair. Every time I died in Nex Machina I knew it was my own fault, and not that of some broken mechanic or another. This made me want to try again and get better, not give up and play something else, and in a game where you die as often as I did in this, that’s a good feeling to have.
The odds aren’t completely against you, however, as there are numerous power-ups to find in each level that you will need to beat the games five world. Powers stack, and when you have collected a combination of five powers-ups (spreader, weapon range, e.t.c) you reach maximum power, and believe me it makes a difference.
On top of the power-ups there are additional special weapons to find and range from sword to smart bomb. These are used my pressing R2, and although they have infinite uses some of them come with a minor cool down, so learning timings and proper usage is a must. They also instantly swap out the moment you collect a different one, so be careful, too many times I found myself happily firing rockets at enemies, only to accidentally pick up detonator and put myself at a disadvantage.
Dying will send you back to the beginning of the current section you are trying to clear, and you will lose the secondary weapon you were carrying. This weapon can usually be picked up again around the general area you died, but the short journey back there can be a pain without it.
There’s more to do than just killing, however, people also need to be saved,and their are several humans to save in each level Collecting all the humans in a stage will get you a nice a nice points bonus for doing so, so what more incentive do you need?
You start the game with three lives, but additional lives, along with weapons and power-ups, can be found hidden in each level, and this is where the longevity of Nex Machina comes in. The levels are a lot bigger than they seem, with hidden items, humans, and even secret areas to find in each, and due to the beautiful carnage playing out on screen they’re not immediately apparent.
It isn’t until you finish a world and your score has been tallied up. The first time I finished the incredibly short arcade mode I was shocked at just how much I’d missed, so when jumped in again I started to take my time and shoot the walls and crates littering the levels, and I was amazed at just how much stuff there is to find here.
Nex Machina is not a long game. The arcade mode is made to played in one sitting, and will take you around an hour depending on difficulty. But it’s the hidden secrets and need to beat your own (or your friend who is now secretly you rival) score.
For such a ‘short’ game there is an awful lot to do. On top of Arcade mode there is Single World, which lets you replay any world of your choice, allowing you to explore every nook and cranny, memorising every secret, enemy pattern, and optimal route around each area until you’re ready tackle arcade mode again and push your score even higher. Both arcade and single world modes can be played with local co-op too, which is a great touch.
Then there’s Arena mode, which offers numerous challenges over all difficulties. High scores reward you with tokens that are used to unlock more challenges, such as everything being sped up, or getting your highest score within a short time limit.
The game looks absolutely gorgeous too. The world itself is basic, with digital, almost Tron-like environments, everything looks like it lives inside a computer. Where the visuals really stand out is in combat.
Everything here is colour coded and instantly tells you what is what; the player avatar itself glows blue, and the enemies glow red, giving a clear distinction between the two. Humans glow green, and power-ups glow blue, e.t.c. It’s such a simple system, but it works beautifully so even when the screen is an explosion of digital fireworks nothing gets lost in the chaos.
The music by Ari Pulkkinen and Tuomas Nikkinen is amazing too and offers a heavy techno soundtrack which fits perfectly with the digital/industrial world you’re rampaging through. Apart from the music over the credits, someone put vocals over it and they’re a bit rubbish.
If you’re a fan of Housemarque’s past titles, or just looking for something to kill 10 minutes with on occasion I can’t recommend Nex Machina enough. Its fast and furious fun will keep you hooked until the machines take over.