‘Nex Machina’ Review: Twin Stick Perfection

out of 5

It’s said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. In Nex Machina, a new twin stick shooter from Finnish developer Housemarque, each time the player dies, they respawn and must start that platform over again. Well I must be crazy, because I absolutely loved Nex Machina. As in previous TSS, players use the left analog stick to move and the right to aim and fire. Played in an overhead view the genre is known for, Nex Machina throws wave after wave of enemies at the player. Your objective is, of course, to destroy them all and if possible rescue scattered bystanders for extra points. Once all enemies are defeated, your avatar will fly to the next area and the insanity continues. Keep shooting, dodging, and rescuing humans until your brain and thumbs can’t handle it anymore, and then push through it, because it’s just that much fun!

Nex Machina reminded me the most of Smash TV back in my arcade days. Each area is like a stage, enemies spawning in the same location. As you die and repeat, players will learn the pattern and thus increase in skill with each reset, if they pay attention. What will look like complete chaos, with enemies and projectiles flying everywhere, is actually very well patterned, and like a dance, once you learn it, it becomes second nature. Housemarque does an amazing job on steadily increasing the difficulty, not only as levels and worlds progress, but also in the different difficulty choices before starting. This gives Nex Machina an incredible replay value and increases the playtime for anyone who gets hooked. I do not mind repetitive games, if I am still having fun.

Nex Machina is addictive. Once I found my prefered secondary weapon and learned to make use of the dash ability, I was hooked. While challenging, I did not find myself frustrated. That in itself is an impressive feat. Deaths come fast, and reloads, even after using a continue, are so quick, the action never stops in Nex Machina. The chaotic dance just continues as the player races back to their death point in hopes of re-acquiring their dropped power ups. Power ups are plentiful, found in the wreckage of destroyed objects scattered around. Secondary weapons range from missiles to lasers, and even a sword. Don’t laugh, the sword is actually pretty useful. I found that I was always just firing my standard blaster and saving my secondary for those “Oh shit moments” and boss fights.

Bosses in Nex Machina are some of the best I have ever seen. Huge, screen-filling, pattern-based monsters with three different modes that change appearance and attack patterns as their health decreases. Music is a fast paced, house/techno mix that fuels your destruction and keeps you moving. Nex Machina also offers challenging Arena modes that will change up the levels with different enemies and more difficult patterns of attack. There is also local co-op, but unfortunately both players much share lives, so if one player is more experienced, the other will tend to use up the remaining lives and then have to sit and watch. I was also disappointed in the lack of online multiplayer, as I could see Nex Machina being a blast to play with friends, if we didn’t have to share lives and be in the same room.

Nex Machina is a masterpiece in the twin stick shooter genre. To say it’s intense is an understatement. It’s one of the most fun games I have played this year. The only flaws I saw were the lack of online multiplayer and the shared lives in local co-op. Housemarque incorporated the best features of the last 30 years worth of twin stick shooter games in Nex Machina. Having utilized a forefather of the genre, Eugene Jarvis, designer of Defender (1981) and Smash TV (1990), as the creative consultant didn’t hurt. There is even a rumor we will eventually see an arcade cabinet version of Nex Machina. This is a developer who gets it. They understand the joy these games brought to so many, even if we did lose all our lunch money dropping quarters in the machines; it was always worth it. I recommend any fan of the genre pick up Nex Machina, just be ready for sore thumbs the next day.

Nex Machina is available now on PlayStation 4 and PC. This review is based on a PS4 copy provided for that purpose.

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