I’ve always been a fan of top-down, twin-stick shooters. Games such as Smash TV and Robotron 2084, devoured quarter after quarter in my former local arcades. And then, like that, they disappeared. Sure, we got the occasional game, but for the most part, the genre was dying up and on it’s way out. So image my surprise when Housemarque, the same team behind Resogun had announced they were working on a twin-stick shooter – Nex Machina. A title that would capture all the gameplay and feelings from old-school arcade games. My interest was already piqued at that point. Then, they announced that a fellow by the name of Eugene Jarvis would be working in conjunction with them. The father of Robotron: 2084, Defender and Smash-TV, working with Housemarque? Yep, I was sold!

Game Name: Nex Machina
Platform(s): PC & PlayStation 4
Publisher(s): Housemarque
Developer(s): Housemarque
Release Date: June 20th, 2017
Price: $19.99

To be perfectly honest, this review is being pushed out much later than I would have liked. Why was it delayed so much? Well, I love twin-stick shooters and I also happen to love bullet hell shooters. And it just so happens that those crazy folks over at Housemarque have created a game that combines them both into a very nice and appealing package. So nice that I haven’t been able to put this game down since I started playing it. But for the sake of this review, I had to. And trust me, it was very hard to do, so I think I’m owned some kudos here. I take checks and cash!

The game is broken down into five levels that pit you against waves of unique, yet unrelenting foes that will do nothing other than ensuring your pending doom. Each of those levels contains an assortment of sub-levels that you’ll have to beat in order to move on. Now, this is where it gets interesting. Each sub-level will have you saving scientists that are scattered across them. But you have to be quick as there is a certain enemy type that makes a beeline to those helpless guys and will scope them up. Failing to rescue them will result in a computerized voice taunting you that you failed. Save them all, becomes the hero and well, repeat that for every level.

It’s more than just saving people, you still have to manage to stay alive and that’s easier said than done. Sure, the first level may have you pounding your chest and making you feel like you’re unstoppable. But that’s just a trick, as each level gets progressively harder. From faster enemies, environmental challenges, traps that you need to think about defeating, and much more. It’s simply mind-blowing on just how deceptive this game starts out while nearing the end your poor brain and fingers will be wishing for a quick death. 

Thankfully, you’ve got the tools to at least try and make it through this alive. First up is the controls – and they are super responsive. I’ve yet to experience any issues with them. If I died during any of my gameplay, it was because I screwed up. There are few twin-stick shooters that manage to do what Housemarque has accomplished here. However, you truly have to play the game to appreciate how finely tuned they are.  Boss encounters light up respective areas Christmas tree. Yet, thanks to the controls, you’re able to dodge and move between the bullets like you were doing your best Neo impersonation. 

Controls alone don’t will battles, but add in some cool weapons and abilities, then you got a chance. There’s a nice selection of secondary weapons that supplement your primary blaster. During the game, you’ll find weapon crates that contain rocket launchers, smart bombs, swords, lasers, power shoot (hold down to charge). Each weapon changes your playstyle, so be creative and check each out. Originally I loved the rocket launcher as it was fast, however, the cooldown makes it a hindrance at times. While the smart bomb acts like a shield and an AOE attack, which became my weapon of choice.

You’ll also pick ability enhancements like a triple dash to dash without a cooldown or dash explosions, that leaves a small explosion at the end of your dash. It’s pretty helpful for clearing out enemies that are in your way. Speaking of dashing, you can dash at enemies and through them thanks to a short moment of invincibility. Use this to also get in and out of attacks and other things that could end your day. You can only dash for so much and if you aren’t careful, you could end up a bad situation.

Cosmetically, Nex Machina is one of the most beautiful games I’ve seen in a while. The levels are colorful, bright and paint a completely different picture as you attempt to survive during a never ending barrage of fire. The audio is equally impressive with a multitude of high-energy techno music plays in the background, getting you pumped up. It’s very similar to being in an arcade of old, which always throws a fuzzy blanket of nostalgia over me whenever I fire up the game. Since I played this on the PC, I also experienced 60fps or beyond, on multiple gaming rigs. This was played on a mid-range, and two high-end PCs, consisting of an i7-5820k and a Ryzen 1700. I never went under 60fps at 1080p/1440p and yes, even 4K. This was also tested on a GTX 970, GTX 1060 and GTX 1080.

Outside of the main mode (Arcade), there’s plenty to do once you have completed the game. You could always go back in and the higher difficulty, along with some really high stakes.  You could visit the Arena mode, that comes with a vast set of bizarre challenges, while the world mode will have you attempting to beat your best score. while you compete against others via a global scoreboard. Or you could do it again with a second player, thanks to the local co-op mode. Sadly, there isn’t an online co-op action going on and to be honest, this is the only negative to this entire package. 

Either way, if you enjoy twin-stick shooters, you’re going to be in bliss with this gem.

*A copy of Nex Machina was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes. For more information on how we review video games and other media/technology, please go review our Review Guideline/Scoring Policy for more info.

Summary

Verdict

Easily one of the best homages to old-school arcade gaming in quite some time. Easy to pick up, hard to master, but damn if you won’t have fun along the way. With some fast-energy tunes, a gorgeous looking world and plenty of frantic action, Nex Machina has me wishing the days of arcade gaming weren’t over. The only thing that would make this game even better is the addition of an online co-op mode.

Pros:

  • Tight and responsive controls
  • Easy to pick up
  • Fantastic sounding music and great visuals

Cons:

  • No online co-op
  • Screen gets really busy at times, which results in cheap deaths
  • Witty sentence here and the score. remember to use the star system!
Overall
4.5