Nex Machina from Housemarque games was released for the PlayStation 4 on June 20th, and ever since it has been a great back scratcher to get at that top-down shoot ‘em up itch. Housemarque’s offering has done well to stand up to the developer’s standard with its tight and fluid gameplay, aesthetically pleasing, yet mechanically functional visuals, and well paced, immersive soundtrack. I can definitely see myself continue to poke my nose back into Nex Machina for “just a few runs” quite a few times in the upcoming months.
In Nex Machina the player runs and guns through a series of zones themed together by an overarching world motif. In these worlds the objective is simple, destroy all of the robots while also rescuing as many humans as you can before they get snatched up by collector robots. Each world is quite different aesthetically, ranging from a lush cybernetic forest, to fiery constructs within a volcano, as well as a few other set pieces.
Players have multiple options for how they want to blast their way through these worlds. Players can go through a marathon session in Arcade Mode where they can unlock the latter half of the game’s worlds. In Arcade Mode there are no save files, so to unlock the later worlds players have to be invested for a longer single session than the other modes. They can also choose to play a single world at a time, compete in Online Arena (a score-attack mode of each world with varying challenges), or tackle the game cooperatively.
The gameplay of Nex Machina is very slick and satisfying. The player’s toolkit of shooting, I-frame dashing, and sub-weapon pickups is well balanced with the game’s threats and pacing. Twin-stick controls in Nex Machina are tight and responsive, and the clarity of the game’s visuals make it hard to miss any perceivable enemy or human. Along with the aforementioned enemy visibility on-screen, the game also provides the player with indicators for off-screen enemies, humans, and the status of the humans.
Once the player acquires a feel for the timing of the dash mechanic just about every threat in the game seems to line up perfectly with the dash’s invincibility frames. This is quite important, because if players want to pick up all of the humans for score bonuses, they have to play aggressively. After a brief learning curve the player will be weaving in and out of the swarm of robots and bullets while scooping up humans, and have a blast doing so.
Every color in Nex Machina seems to vibrantly pop, making the player’s objectives clear while looking great in the process. The design of each different world gives them a different personality to match the varying enemies encountered within them. Just about every color from Nex Machina’s palette of lasers just oozes the aesthetic of 80’s Sci-Fi Synth that is found within every part of this game’s presentation.
The soundtrack in Nex Machina is completely on beat with both the game’s visuals as well as the gameplay’s pacing. The tempo and tone of the soundtrack meshes beautifully with the gameplay speed, never feeling too fast or too slow next to the mayhem on-screen. Each track is catchy and driving, while doing nothing to distract from the shoot ‘em up dance the player is enjoying.
Overall Nex Machina left me with a very positive initial reaction and rode that high wave throughout each level. I can definitely see myself popping back on to play a world or two in Online Arena whenever the top-down shoot ‘em scratch shows up again.
+ Gameplay is tight, well balanced, engaging, and difficulty levels accommodate all skill levels
+ Dodging feels great
+ Each world is great to look at and enemies are graphically distinct at a glance
+ The soundtrack is good by itself, but when mixed with the gameplay and visuals, it’s great
– Arcade mode has no save state besides the player’s score