Sometimes you will play a game that is simple in its premise and yet the sheer quality of the individual components goes beyond what we have come to expect. These titles break the ceiling on an entire genre and with Nex Machina, that is exactly the type of game we have.
So in the words of the developers, what is Nex Machina all about? ‘From the collaboration between Housemarque (Resogun, Alienation, Matterfall), and Robotron and Smash TV legendary creator Eugene Jarvis comes Nex Machina, an explosive arcade experience created with competition in mind.’The game I know the best from this impressive list is Resogun, a fantastic sideways scrolling game that throws polygons around like the Tasmanian Devil having a toddler tantrum. I had a bit of thing with Resogun a while back, I would always start my day with thirty minutes of this excellent title: kinda like digital coffee to get my blood pumping.
There isn’t really a story you need to worry about with Nex Machina but then again, it doesn't need one. Nex is largely played on a two-dimensional viewpoint but the entire game is made up of 3D assets. As you beat each stage your avatar hurtles to the next in what can only be described as city sized Rubix cube that's been broken into pieces. What is really cool is that these usually flip your orientation and defies gravity, because you’ll now be playing on the underside of the land mass you just circumvented. I actually loved the amount of detail that has gone into the environments around the play area, from sprawling power plants to neon-infused industrial areas and some structures that transcend explanation. This extra polish makes the levels feel like an actual place as opposed to a layer of filler on the way to the next battleground.
Every level is split into many smaller stages in which you much defeat an army of robotic enemies. These will come at you in waves and a combination of ranged or close quarters fighters. On top of ventilating these robotic fiends, you are also tasked with saving scientists from an impending mulchathon. Some enemy types have the specific role of moving toward your little green friends, so you can’t hold up in a safe corner. Getting a higher score is also a valid motivation in this game as it was in Resogun, with various bonuses and multipliers on offer. In this way, the Nex is constantly enticing you into more dangerous situations: risk and reward in motion. The game also does an incredible job of letting you know what is going on and where. For example, you will always have a coloured line tracking the position of scientists that turn red when they are being nobbled. This might sound like easy mode but trust me, in the heat of these frantic fights, these little prompts can be lifesavers.
As you progress through the various stages you start to acquire upgrades for your main weapon and you may also carry one secondary weapon. These second weapons are great and offer a level of customisation to your play style. In one instance you might find a good old fashioned rocket launcher the best option and in other Power-shot will lay waste to huge swathes of enemies. I have to say that while the main weapon does get upgrades, it is really missing some of that oomph I loved in Resogun. This feeling of being underpowered is more about what I was expecting if I’m honest because it doesn't really hinder your efforts to win the game. In addition to your weapons you can pick up shields and you also have a handy dash which can also be upgraded into a weapon of sorts. Using your dash effectively is one of the key mechanisms of the game because for a very small amount of time you can move past projectiles unharmed.
The boss fights waiting for you at the end of each level deserve a special mention because they are epic. Every single one makes you consider what you have learned in that level: if you don’t adapt you will fall. I’ve beaten a lot of bosses in bullet hell games, but these really do stand out both in challenge and design. If you die repeatedly while fighting a boss you could end up significantly underpowered for that encounter due to losing power-ups. Unfortunately, this could result in some players having to just restart the whole level: those who are less proficient in shooters might find this infuriating and ultimately a bad thing.
This has to be one of the best looking bullet hell games currently on the market. Right from the off you are treated to detailed and well-designed enemies that display many effects in a bid to end your ability to breath air. Each explosion fires what seems like millions of tiny cubes out in every direction, almost like you are breaking the very fabric of reality. The environments themselves are very well presented and with a level of destruction that is off the chain. While making digital confetti out of your foes you will also knock ten bells our of everything around you. Towers, containers, computers and even entire sections of the wall are all open to your destructive wrath. Indeed, you are encouraged to lay waste to everything because this is where secrets be.
The soundtrack in Nex is a thumping good one with plenty of variation. As you might expect, many of these tracks are fast paced offerings but they still remain interesting: even on extended play sessions. The overall sound design is also very good, with plenty of distinct sounds that will let a well-trained ear know what is happening.
Is it PC?
As many of you know I’m a diehard Keyboard and mouse fan but in recent years I’ve been increasingly glad I invested in an Xbox controller. This game is just not the same without two analogue sticks under your thumbs, so if you don't have a controller just bear this in mind. While taking about controls the responsiveness of Nex is razor sharp, because it has to be. The sheer number of projectiles, mobs and lasers on the screen can be insane. Thankfully, when you die it will always be down to a mistake you made and not an enlarged hitbox.
As for performance, Nex is a dream to run and even with older systems you will not have too much to worry about. With a powerful Rig this game will run in 4K with ease and on a decent display: this will look phenomenal. There are various difficulties for players depending on your preference but even on experienced this Nex will kick your arse until you've adapted to the thrilling pace of each encounter. There are also new modes to unlock as you beat more stages which add another layer of progress if you so wish. While the game is fairly short, that is offset by a huge scope for replay: so I don't see this as a negative. There is currently a local co-op option which I am sure is great but for some reason, co-op over the net is not available. This is a real disappointment for sure and I might seek some clarification as to why it’s missing.
We’ve been spoilt for choice these last few years for fast paced ‘bullet hell’ games. Titles like Nuclear Throne and Enter the Gungeon have certainly helped attract new fans of the genre. The developers of Nex are clearly masters of their craft and it shows. When playing this game you do get absorbed into its furious pacing and I always put the controller down with a smile on my face (maybe with the occasional rage). If you are a fan of twin stick shooters then this game is an essential purchase for you and one which I’ll be playing for many years to come.
Thank you for reading my review for Nex Machina, if you don't already you can follow me on Twitter @riggedforepic for all my new content as well as adding my humble site to your favourites.