Imagine yourself in front of an arcade with the name Nex Machina on it. On the outside, techno songs are pounding your ears, along with some flashy lights coming out from the screen. You press Start and find yourself with only a handful of controls: you move your character with the left stick, and not only aim but shoot at the same time with the right one; add Dash and a Secondary Weapon and you are pretty much set.
Just as the classic arcade games Housemarque’s latest work is meant to be challenging from the very beginning. But, it offers plenty of difficulty and modes options to welcome everyone aboard. All of this goes along perfectly with its huge simplicity in terms of control.
Nex Machina introduces itself as a top down twin stick shooter, packed with a highly fast paced feel at all times. Set in a not so distant “cablepunk” themed future, robots have claimed their power over humanity, and they won’t stop at nothing to achieve their goal. We control an anonymous hero throughout six different worlds packed with a vast number of levels each, and our objective, aside from pure survival to see how far we can go, will be rescuing as many humans as possible. In order to do so, the character has to face hundreds of mechanized enemies, pick up power-ups to increase the chances of survival and uncover many secrets hidden in each level.
This isn’t a story driven game, but rather a retro experience in its purest form. Everything you do in Nex Machina has an impact on your score: the time it takes you to clear each world’s levels, defeating special enemies or the amount of secrets you manage to find. The humans you rescue are also taken into account, and they will be vital to increase your score as they serve as multipliers, including humans that are not on plain sight. The longer you can keep rescuing them without letting the multiplier to go back to 1, the more points you’ll be collecting.
There is a vast army of different enemies, traps and lasers that will take you back to square one if you are careless. Thankfully, there are a number of upgrades and secondary weapons to aid in our mission to save humanity. Multiple dashs, a one-hit shield, an explosion trail for whenever we perform a dash, and then a few upgrades to our main weapon, like a wider shot spree and increased range. Not all of these can be stocked up or further improved later on.
As for secondary weapons, there are five of them: a power shot that deals heavy damage to a pointed direction, a sword for a quick close quarter slice that can damage multiple enemies, a smart bomb for a quick explosion around us, a laser than can actually be rotated to different directions for as long as it’s activated and the detonator, a throwable bomb that we trigger manually. All these open up for many combinations, but there is also a catch if we want to specifically obtain one, as the secondary weapons belong to an unique power up that cycles through them for a limited time. While in the lower difficulties there is no issue to wait for a few seconds, it gets practically impossible later. Nex Machina won’t let you breathe in the highest difficulties.
If all of this didn’t make you think that it’s a perfect tribute for retro games, there are a number of bosses that await the player at the end of each world. These are very distinct among themselves and very funny to battle against, but can be kind of easy to take them down until the later levels.
There is no doubt that Nex Machina has been developed with an arcade-lover audience in mind, which also leads to two important aspects of the game: Score and Progression. As mentioned above, your score is affected by every action you do during the game (literally as the time is one of the elements that the system takes into account), and at the same time is tied with progression.
Players earn different medals according to the score they obtain: Bronze, Silver and Gold. This in-game currency (no, there are no microtransactions whatsoever) can be used for many purposes, such as buying aesthetic items for our avatar or more important/core related stuff, like unlocking certain Challenges. It’s an interesting system that does not require a massive amount of grinding, and you can unlock everything just be playing and getting better at the game.
There is, thanks to the mentioned systems, a huge sense of replayability. I started dying over and over, but a few hours later, I had reached the end of the game for the first time. And, while it was nice to see the credits roll, the sense of achievement was minimal compared to how I felt after spending some more time with the game, learning its systems as a whole and getting better and better with each game. That’s when Nex Machina really shines. Returning to levels in higher difficulties, finding new hidden items to beat your high score and compete with people from all around the world never gets old. Oh, and there is also the possiblity to create and take part of Friends and Community Leaderboards, aside from local co-op.
Nex Machina is an outstanding experience that will take you back to the arcade era in no time. Its systems offer a ridiculous amount of challenges that take hours to complete and truly enjoy, but you will get the most of it by trying to achieve greater scores and getting better at the game.
This copy of Nex Machina was provided by Housemarque for review purposes. Diego Argüello spent 15 hours trying to leave his mark in the global leaderboards and rescuing humans hidden in bushes.