A few days shy of 10 years ago as I write this, I was introduced to Housemarque through its PS3 release Super Stardust HD. Both the game and its development studio were totally unknown to me at the time, and it was just random curiosity that led me to trying the team’s modern homage to the classic arcade shooter Asteroids.
After playing Super Stardust HD, the name Housemarque was forever burned into my brain. I fell in love with the game, which just so fantastically provided me an intense and exciting score attack experience that felt so far beyond so many other similar releases that I’d tried. That success was again replicated in Housemarque’s PS4 launch title Resogun, which took inspiration from 1981’s Defender and was, in its own ways, equally fantastic.
I’m now not sure that the team from Helsinki, Finland, can do any wrong when re-imagining the days of gaming gone by, and that’s been proven once again in Nex Machina. The foundation this time around is build on top-down dual-stick shooters such as Robotron: 2084, with that game’s creator, Eugene Jarvis, even serving as a creative consultant on this project.
There are the basic threads of a story here, with a tale of humans who became complacent and their robot servants rising up to fight for control, but none of that matters seconds after you begin your very first playthrough. All you need to know is that classic set-up: kill the enemies that swarm you, save the humans, keep yourself alive. Even the controls don’t ask much of players, with the left stick moving your character, the right shooting, the left shoulder buttons dashing, and the right shoulder buttons using whichever of the six special weapons you have equipped (if you’ve picked one up, that is). That may sound simple, but Nex Machina throws hordes of foes your way without giving you time to catch your breath, and the action only lets up once you’ve defeated each world boss, allowing you to savor a few moments of rest thanks to the score results screen. Even on Rookie, the game’s supposed “easy” mode, you’re going to have to think fast and shoot even faster as you struggle to survive.
Each member of Housemarque’s arcade homage trilogy have drenched players in sensory and action overload, but I actually think Nex Machina may be the most stress-inducing of the three for those who are serious about score. There’s a lot to mentally juggle here, from not only saving the humans that appear in most zones and keeping up their combo bonus, to destroying all of the special robots that pop up before they get away, to discovering and completing a number of secrets that I won’t spoil. (And, much like before, don’t look for instructions explaining everything that’s going on—discovering what everything means for yourself is part of the fun.) This is in no way a bad thing, as I definitely enjoy the pressure Nex Machina puts on the player, reminding me a bit of the “one little screw-up ruins everything” nature of my beloved Pac-Man CE. However, I do think some players might end up feeling a little too overwhelmed, unless they’re willing to go for less impressive high scores.
Beyond the standard Arcade mode, which takes you one after another through the game’s worlds, there’s a Single World option for focusing in on one special world (once you’ve unlocked them), an Arena mode where you can earn in-game customization credits for high scores, and Local Co-op that—after Reviews/Previews Editor Ray Carsillo and I tried it—we both agreed was neat, but not as fun as going solo. Finally, a Feats option gives players a longer and more specialized achievements list of sorts, for those who really love digging into and completing gameplay requirements. Visually, Nex Machina builds on the voxels ideas we previous saw in Resogun, and both the enemies and backgrounds are fitting if not a tad uninspired (and/or chaotic) at times. There’s no disappointment in the soundtrack, however, which is both fantastic and perfectly suited to the game.
It took me a few extra days to review Nex Machina because I really needed to process how I felt about it, and after doing so, I think it’s my least favorite when compared to Super Stardust HD and Resogun—but that’s like saying I prefer to be given $110 or $105 dollars for free instead of $100. This is no way a bad game in any regard, it’s simply the case that, in terms of gameplay styles, those previous two games were more aligned to my personal tastes. Nex Machina is still a game that is simply fantastic, and one that I’m having a ridiculous amount of fun trying to perfect as I reach for some of the impossibly high scores gracing the top of its leaderboards.
If you easily panic due to high-pressure gameplay situations or screens filled with enemies, then Nex Machina probably won’t be for you. This is a game that requires skill, patience, and some quick thinking on your virtual feet, with enemies that are ready to humble and embarrass you in every level of every stage. If you enjoy that kind of punishment, however, then Nex Machina is one of the best twin-stick shooters in recent memory—and another reason to be paying close attention to the men and women of Housemarque if you aren’t already.
Nex Machina is another fantastic arcade-inspired retro homage from the folks at Housemarque. I think it may be the most stressful of the trio of such releases from the studio so far, but that’ll give more hardcore players an added push to get good and improve their scores. Lesser-skilled players, however, may feel even more lost among the madness.
T - Teen
|Nex Machina is available on PlayStation 4 and PC. Primary version played was for PS4. Product was provided by Housemarque for the benefit of this coverage. EGM reviews on a scale of one to five stars.|
Mollie got her start in games media via the crazy world of gaming fanzines, and now works at EGM with the goal of covering all of the weird Japanese and niche releases that nobody else on staff cares about. She’s active in the gaming community on a personal level, and an outspoken voice on topics such as equality in gaming, consumer rights, and good UI. Check her out on Twitter and Mastodon.