I can’t help but think that Housemarque is one of Sony’s secret weapons when it comes to success on the PlayStation 4. While the company isn’t pumping out games left and right, the games it is making are nothing short of phenomenal.
It really picked up speed releasing Super Stardust HD on the PlayStation 3 a few years back, a twin-stick shooter that still holds up well today – which is more than enough reason to see a special edition produced for the PlayStation 4 last year. And Resogun continues to be an addictive side-scrolling shoot-em-up, filled with strategies, action and crazy boss battles we haven’t seen in years.
Now the team has really stepped up its game with Nex Machina, an old-school twin-stick shooter that seems to have the essence of some of the all-time greats, including Robotron 2084 and Smash TV. That would make sense, since the creator of both of those games, Eugene Jarvis, hopped on board for the project. And it feels so decidedly old-school, yet looks so new, that I can’t really think of anyone it wouldn’t appeal to. (You know, unless you really hate twin-stick shooters for a reason.)
Plenty To Shoot At
The game whisks you all over a map as you fight your way through zones, eliminating as many enemies as you can within each one while trying to build up as high a score as possible. (There’s a lot of leaderboard support in this game, which works greatly to its benefit.) Along the way, you’ll pick up a variety of power-ups that will lend you a hand, including rocket launchers, detonators (a bomb that goes around your character) and a speed dash that can actually be modified, whether you’re looking for a triple dash move (to avoid trouble on more than one occasion) or something with a little explosion at the end (helpful if you’re dumbfounded enough to speed right into a group of enemies).
But that’s just part of what Nex Machina is all about. This world is littered with secrets, including hidden humans that you can rescue (along with the ones that are in the wide open and, like Robotron 2084, lethally harassed by larger enemies) and secret paths that will take you to another part of the map. We still haven’t found all the secrets that this game has to offer, and that serves into its benefit as well. It’s so loaded with replay value that it’s ridiculous. But then again, a good twin-stick shooter should work like that.
Along with the main adventure mode (which will take you through a variety of levels and boss battles), Nex Machina has a few other options as well. The Arena mode will challenge you to stay alive as long as possible in a certain part of the game as you attempt to reach high scores and unlock new goodies. There’s also a co-op mode, and while it’s kind of sad that it’s local only, it’s fun to team up with a friend and clean house on these alien enemies.
Tough, But Just Right
Nex Machina has surprisingly responsive control, even by Housemarque’s standards. When you make a mistake, it’s usually something on your end, rather than a slip-up in responsiveness. The gameplay is very precise and moves fast at a clip, with a non-stop “thrill a minute” feel that never lets go. What’s more, the power-ups serve a great benefit – well, most of them, as the charging power-up laser takes forever to shoot – and the dash ability is really something.
The only downside is that it may be a little too tough for some players. Granted, that’s why there’s an easy difficulty setting, so they can still feel like they’re conquering something. But Nex Machina was built with die-hard shooter fans in mind, and even on medium difficulty, you’ll get put through your paces, especially with the ridiculous boss battles. Good luck surviving on a higher difficulty setting than that.
Housemarque also did a bang-up job with Nex Machina’s design. Instead of just making a series of small stages banded together (like Smash TV had), it created a fantastic world with a number of paths (depending what you find – again, we’re still looking), and it moves quickly and beautifully. What’s more, the enemy design is imaginative, whether you’re dealing with the usual creepy-crawlies, or laser-shooting behemoths that don’t seem to let up in the least. The loading time is awful quick as well, which is no easy feat when it comes to the detail involved.
Consider Nex Machina To Be A Not-Miss
The music is fun, too. It may not be as good as Super Stardust’s soundtrack, but it’s still decidedly retro, with plenty of fun beats that play in the background. That said, the announcer seems to be borrowed from Resogun. Not that she’s a bad choice, mind you, but I almost expected the Smash TV guy (“Big prizes, I love it!”) to come back. Ah, well, you can’t have everything brought back from the retro days, right?
In the end, I was very impressed with Nex Machina. In fact, small squabbles aside (like the lack of online co-op), this may be my favorite Housemarque game to date. Of course, you can credit Jarvis’ contributions as well, as his prowess really shines through with the game’s design and gameplay. I’d love to see more partnerships like this in the future, where an old-school style of play is brought back in a wonderfully redesigned package, just to remind us that, hey, it’s fun to go back to the old days every once in a while.
Imagine what Jarvis could do if he teamed up with Lucid Games on an arcade racer. Granted, we already have Cruis’n Blast, but, hey, it never hurts to experiment, right?
RATING: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Disclaimer: A review code was provided by the publisher.