In the golden days of yore, story and cinematic experiences were often put on the back foot to make way for intuitive gameplay mechanics and addicting systematic approaches. This is largely due to the lack of power available in the hardware. But mostly because developers had no history lessons to draw upon when creating games, thus leading many unique games that can be fondly looked back on to this day.
Arcades were also the go to place to enjoy said games. Not many people owned a console themselves and instead would meet at arcades to play with friends. A time I wish I could of grew up in as today’s alternative online multiplayer community is one filled with hugely negative Millennials.
So when I say to you Nex Machina is a game that I will probably cherish for a while is not to be taken lightly. Developed by the Finnish studio Housemarque in collaboration with the Arcade Cabinet Veteran Eugene Jarvis, the mesmerising Nex Machina takes inspirations from Jarvis’ Smash TV and combines them with Housemarque’s craftsmanship demonstrated in their Stardust franchise.
A twin-stick shooter where the player assumes the control of an unnamed helmet donned protagonist and pits them against an onslaught of mechanical monstrosities with only a big blue gun to guide their way. The back story you ask? Well it seems that humanity decided to spend too much time in front of their screens reading reviews like this one, playing games just like this one and became the gaming equivalent of the humans from WALL-E while the robots they had created decide to take over the planet.
Bullet hell titles are a dime a dozen, but true gems come out so frequently that after my first full complete run the game consumed me. I’ve played it pretty persistently since receiving my review copy and only until now have I actually been able to put the game down to write about the damn thing.
We’ll start with the visuals: A masterpiece in my eyes. Honestly, I can’t remember the last game I played that uses its limitations with such efficiency. Nex Machina is not the most detailed or graphically intense game you’ve ever seen no, but it stays within the confines of it’s own space. It utilises every space, texture and particle effect in an exuberant and effective fashion. Pushing the boundaries in every aspect whether in the enemies exploding in to shiny cubes of glory, the big purple balls of fire exuding from robots or the voxel-based environments that ripple to the players reactions.
During gameplay you’re met with a bombardment from more colours than Picasso could of even dreamt of using in his life time and enough particle effects to make any low range GPU cry. Thankfully on my GTX 1070 Nex Machina runs like I dream and I was left all but stunned by the visuals at display.
Everything seems very alive and organic, the world free flows from one level to the next with fluidity using a very neat flying cinematic that focuses on getting you back in the action as quick as possible. Not only that but this transition between levels creates a world that feels connected, bringing a whole new dimension to the playing field.
Nex Machina not only shines in its visual department but also in its audio design. The score can probably be described as Tron meets modern day House music. A delight to listen to throughout and provides enough variation for it to be a viable persistent pleasure from start to finish. It never drops its altitude and keeps the adrenaline pumping causing a players motivation to sky rocket during the hardest of moments.
This is all well and good to describe but the real genius comes from the psychological factor the developers deployed in the score. It remains at a consistent tempo that aligns up perfectly with a humans natural rhythm, helping in both enjoyment and concentration. Because of this it doesn’t just stay as back ground noise or a foreground of great music, it acts as an in game mechanic interwoven into everything else that makes the game work so well.
The sound design is actually pretty decent, it does a fine job of alerting the player with audios queues pointing to various bits of information like weapon drops and powerups. But it drops the ball in the overall impact of its weapons and enemies. The protagonist itself provides next to no noise when firing his primary weapon. While I’ll admit it would probably get tiring to hear the constant pew-pew’s from Neo-Mega Man’s weapon but the secondary weapons you pick up just give no feedback to get me excited. Other than that, the voice over work is excellent and I’m always excited to hear more of the game as I progress throughout its 100+ levels.
When I was a child I had a PC that struggled to run games like Total Annihilation and Red Alert, but I spent an unbelievable amount of time booting that thing up to play Robotron 2084. I spent hours upon hours in that game, well over months of gameplay. I spent even more playing Smash TV with my little brother. I was addicted to Bullet Hell games pretty early. They’re quite special to me in that sense so I’m trying to maintain neutrality when reviewing Nex Machina.
With that being said I don’t think my bias towards the genre is becoming an issue. My heart might not be able to take it much longer though. The gameplay is fast, frenetic and stressful, but its tight controls save it from becoming frustrating. On top of that the hitboxes are some of the most well tuned that I’ve witnessed in recent years. Nex Machina also sports a dash mechanic that provides you with invulnerability frames but you can still die by the slightest of margins, death always felt fair and down to my own lack of concentration however.
The arcade mode itself contains five worlds that take around 10 minutes to complete. Each possess secrets to uncover and new enemies to defeat. Exploration of these small levels is rewarded with power-ups and secret items that increase your overall score. They also include secret levels to uncover that also give extra score points.
The game at its heart is very much an arcade game, one that is easily completed with one credit but on the higher difficulties this is harder said than done. Nex Machina isn’t long but it sure is tough, I’m pretty good at these kind of games but it took me a good 20-30 tries to actually complete it on the Experienced difficulty.
The the only negative I would like to mention here is that death is pretty punishing, you get a maximum of five lives, once you are hit you drop a power up that can be collected, but once all five lives are gone and you use a credit to continue you lose all but one power. The difference between a completely powered Neo-Mega Man to a vanilla one is absolutely night and day, trying to continue without these power ups on the higher difficulties is next to impossible and results in a complete game restart rather than a continue. But in some ways, it should be this punishing, it’s supposed to harken back to those old arcade games kids used to swarm around in the 80s. If anything it adds an extra layer of soul for those who’s nostalgia this game is trying to tap.
A nice touch to the game is that it also comes with complete customisation options for your character that can be unlocked through completing the game. But with the lack of an online multiplayer and only a local one, this seems like a system that stays at nice but not a game changer. It would be cool to be able to jump in to others games and tackle the robot menace together. Housemarque have included a cross platform global leaderboard however, which also includes the ability to watch other players runs. I suggest to anyone trying to complete the game at higher difficulties to check out the top 5 players, they’re insane.
Addicting is a word that gets thrown around a lot with video games. But Nex Machina isn’t just addicting, it’s freaking intoxicating. I haven’t wanted to keep blasting enemies for such a stretch of time ever since those early days of sitting inches away from a tiny portable TV with my little brother. It’s a love letter devised by the masters of the genre and these kind of games were a big part of my childhood.
It was an absolute pleasure to return to that trance of absolute focus to annihilate every foe that opposes me, while also being able to rub it in my friend’s faces that I’m much better than they are. An Arcade masterpiece and an overall perfect evolution of the genre.
For more information and to purchase the game head here