We always look forward to playing whatever's next from Housemarque. This is a studio that has truly mastered the art of twin-stick gameplay, and its latest entry in the genre (if you can call it a genre) that you could argue the studio now completely dominates, Nex Machina: Death Machine, is another fantastic game that draws inspiration from the glory days of coin-crunching arcade action.
Building on the visual style and voxel destruction of Resogun, Nex Machina this time drops you into a series of quick-fire stages where you once again have to save the humans while blasting away at mechanised enemies that spawn around you and then come at you from all angles. As you destroy your opponents, weapon upgrades and shields drop and must be collected, increasing your potency. There are also secondary attacks to bust out for special occasions, and a dash that's used to either dodge incoming shots or push through otherwise deadly energy beams.
At the end of each zone you're greeted by, yes you guessed it, a giant boss battle. These are very well designed, with predictably fair but challenging attack patterns that you need to weave through while all the time returning fire as you whittle down their screen-length health bar. It's not long before the play space is full of projectiles and you're dancing around them, clinging on for dear life. However, dodging bullets isn't enough, and you've got to land your own if you want to progress.
There are five zones to play through - Techno Forest, Crystal Mountain, Fire Cavern, Machine City, and Future Labs - and each one is decorated differently. The enemies that spawn here, there, and everywhere evolve across the different zones, and between the shots they fire at you, the bullets you send back, and the subsequent explosions that pop like fireworks all around, the whole thing is nothing short of mesmerising. Simply put, it's a feast for the eyes.
Impressively, despite the chaos, it's never too busy on-screen, and we were able to keep on top of what was going on for the vast majority of the time. Each zone is made up of short stages, and once you've cleared one, your character boosts over to the next and starts the whole process over again, carrying on until the boss is eventually defeated (or until you run out of continues, depending on the difficulty setting). Along the way there are secrets to discover, such as hidden humans, but these can be hard to find with everything that's going on around you, and if you clear the level too early, you can be transported to the next stage before you're ready.
Like all Housemarque games, the true longevity comes from high score chasing, and Nex Machina is a case in point. There's actually not a huge amount of content here, and unless you're going to take pleasure from trying to set personal bests, beating your friends' high scores, and replaying the same stages with slightly revised objectives (such as, for example, proceeding through a mission without saving any humans), then you're probably not going to get much out of the game. There's a handful of modes; Arcade has multiple difficulties to play through; Arena levels unlock as you earn in-game coins and enemies have modifiers; Single World lets you play one zone without having to play those before it (great if you want to practice in Future Labs, for example); Local Co-op does exactly what it says on the tin; and Feats is a list of challenges that you can complete across other modes. Still, if you're not up for replaying the same content and hunting down those high scores and carefully hidden secrets, Nex Machina might not be your cup of tea.
However, if you're a high score chasing, twin-stick twiddling arcade aficionado, then Nex Machina: Death Machine is very much what you're looking for. The movement is snappy and responsive, the feedback from your weapons is satisfying, and the chaos on screen is perfectly balanced and, at times, glorious to behold. We also appreciated the fact that the studio has spread its wings beyond the confines of PS4 (although perhaps the PC version could have done with a few more customisation options, and swapping between input devices wasn't as easy as we would have liked). At the end of the day, if you liked Resogun (or, indeed, Alienation or Super Stardust Ultra), you're probably going to like Nex Machina. You might even love it.
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