NEX MACHINA (Housemarque) PS4, Steam
The fine Finnish folks at Housemarque sure do know how to make excellent shoot ‘em ups. From Super Stardust to Dead Nation, if it involves twins sticks and filling the screen with projectiles they almost always deliver. Their PS4 masterpiece Resogun is nearly four years old, and I still turn to it on occasion for a taste of bullet hell. Such a tradition of excellence had me excited for Nex Machina, a follow-up to Resogun’s elegant simplicity. My excitement doubled when I learned that Housemarque called upon legendary game designer Eugene Jarvis as a creative consultant. Those unfamiliar with Jarvis’ work should probably play more video games. He’s responsible for Defender, Robotron: 2084, NARC, Smash TV, Total Carnage, and the Cruis’n series in addition to contributing to some truly classic pinball tables.
Where Resogun is clearly an homage to Defender, Nex Machina is more akin to Smash TV and Total Carnage. This game is a twin stick shooter in which the left stick moves the player and the right stick aims/fires. One shoulder button (L1) dashes (an essential means of evasion that becomes absolutely necessary for survival) while the other (R1) fires special weapons that range from launching a rocket to swinging a sword in a 360 degree arc. Difficulty is primarily determined by the number of available continues. The rookie setting offers unlimited chances to try again, experienced limits players to 99 continues, veteran provides only ten, and master only five. An increased number of enemies move and fire faster at higher difficulties, and there are more humans to save. Fans of Resogun will instantly recognize the validating sound of, “Human saved,” as much as they’ll be repeatedly crushed by hearing, “Human lost.” I’ve played through six stages, defeating the rookie and experienced difficulty levels. However, I’m certain there are plenty of secrets that I have yet to uncover.
Nex Machina is a whole lot of fun played alone, but where it truly shines is in its local cooperative play. Lives are shared between players, so covering one another’s back is encouraged. Anyone familiar with the shoot ‘em up genre knows about “the zone.” It’s that place of total concentration where the rest of the world melts away and the pair of instinct and reflex take over. Nex Machina is very challenging and demands that players enter into “the zone” in order to be successful. The fun and excitement of entering into this trancelike state of focus along with another human being by your side is pure shooting bliss.
The tone is established right off the get go as players enter the opening stage on hover bikes and immediately get to blasting alien invaders. It’s all high-speed shooting, skin of the teeth dodging, and increasing that sweet, sweet score multiplier. Nex Machina is pure twitchy fun. If this speaks to you in the slightest, play this game. The sooner the better. (Housemarque) by Kris Poland