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Nex Machina – Review – “dodge, dip, dive, duck and dodge”

Nex Machina, a collaboration between Housemarque (Resogun and Alienation) and legendary game developer Eugene Jarvis (massively famous for Defender, Robotron & NARC), is an explosive arcade experience that gives a strong nod towards the fun coin-op games I used to play down the arcades in the 80s/90s.

As I patiently wait for the game to load I am greeted by the intro screen showing a machine of death, its eyes glowing on and off, red with power.  The retro arcade electronic music kicks in and I am prompted to press X to continue.

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I swear it just winked at me?

Gameplay

A list of game options presents itself and allows you to either experience arcade mode; an arena; or a single world.  A grin crosses my face as I see that local 2 player co-op is supported (I’m easily pleased as I seldom get to play on my own in this house!).  Today is different however, the kids are at school, the wife is out and i’m having a man day.  Having selected arcade mode the next screen prompts me to choose the level of difficulty from rookie, experienced and veteran.  I chuckle to myself as I see how the various difficulties affect the game, for example “rookie” allows unlimited continues where “experienced” has a few more enemies and ONLY 99 continues.  I select “experienced” as, c’mon, like i’m ever going to need 99 continues.  The level loads and within seconds I’ve lost a life.

Well I wasn’t expecting that!

As you hurtle into the Techno Forest World you are immediately placed into the centre of an arena and enemies rapidly spawn all around you and quickly home in on you.  The controls are thankfully very simple as there is little time to begin working out combos; left stick runs, right stick shoots.  I begin to spin around destroying the oncoming enemies which at this point only require one hit to destroy, however so do you!  The screen is soon full of exploding robots and my room is illuminated by blue lightning as my character is whisked up and to the next nearby arena.

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Pulling off a big kill sends ripples through the landscape.

As I am deployed, what seems like 100 robots rush towards me, I inadvertently shoot a nearby crate which explodes to reveal a weapon upgrade saying “scatter”  I run for my life, utilising the newly found “dash” button to evade the enemy and collect my pickup.  “It’s showtime punks!!” I say to myself as I spin on the spot and begin blasting the robots to oblivion, oh this is so so good!  Secondary weapons are also found randomly in crates and can be anything from a laser gun or sword to smart bombs, shields and detonators.  You can only hold one secondary weapon and you will lose it if you die.

My nostalgia level is through the roof at this point as I suddenly regress back to my childhood where I spent hour upon hour with my dad playing through games such as the Bitmap Brother’s Xenon and Xenon II Megablast.  My long forgotten skills of evading the oncoming baddies while learning their movement and shooting patterns suddenly come flooding back to me.

As I pass from area to area, I begin trying my hardest to save the poor humans that are wandering around the location.  Although its only a case of sprinting into them to rescue them, the enemy swarm about in an attempt to lose you precious time while larger enemy try to kill the innocent humans.  Time is of the essence and the bigger and badder your weapon, the more chance you have of getting to them first.

After around 10 minutes of playing I make it through to the boss level.  I must say that by this point I have used around 8 continues, sworn lots and have at times completely surprised myself when the screen has become full of laser beams and little herberts and somehow I have still managed to more or less survive; not so much the little humans however, it kinda went each to their own during those moments!!

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It looks manic but if you see the blue lightning you are off to the next stage!

The boss “Beamtron” enters the arena and once more I am whisked back to being a child and the first time I met the sentinel at the end of the first level of Xenon.  What was going to happen next? how was the boss going to move? where did I not want to be standing? what is the shooting pattern going to be? and more importantly where are the weak spots!  Without any hesitation purple skulls came from the mouth of Beamtron and cast out across the arena in 360 degrees.  As this is happening a laser beam is slowly rotating counter clockwise, destroying everything in its path, there is no choice to stay put in this game, you must run and gun and do it all the while remembering the famous mantra from Dodgeball “dodge, dip, dive, duck and dodge.”  As I put rounds and rounds into Beamtron as well as massive well timed hits from my secondary weapon, the smart bomb, the fight becomes more and more tense as the boss introduces more lasers into the mix.  I’m still not sure how I survived it, but I’m proud to say that I defeated Beamtron…and not a soul was present in my house to witness my greatness.  Thank-you Sony for video capture!!

Heart racing but feeling great I decide to quit out for a moment and get my breath back.  If Nex Machina was this fun single player, just imagine how great/frustrating co-op would be!  Taking a look at the “Feats” option reveals the in-game accolades that you can aim towards, several of which had appeared during my gameplay for example I had managed to defeat 10 enemy with one sword swipe.  Overall scores can be displayed to view across platforms which is a nice touch if you have a friend on PC and want to be competitive.

Graphics

Nex Machina oozes the concept but far better graphics of the older arcade genre which makes it very fun and fast paced.  The world landscapes are beautifully rendered with crisp bright colours that give a real sense of depth and destruction.  Humans to rescue, collectables and deploying enemy are colour coded so that you can easily see what is happening and this helps to quickly make your movement decisions.  There isn’t any lag during the constant action when it is all kicking off and I really enjoyed the way that a grid rippled through the ground beneath you at times, almost matrix like.  The levels are well designed, make sure to look for destructible scenery as you may find a secret or two!

1

Robot regretted going for the Chicken Phal…

Audio

The soundtrack by Ari Pulkkinen and Tuomas Nikkinen is pumping from the start and just watching the rotation of the static home screen into demo gameplay entices you, just like a coin-op arcade, over to play.  20 tracks feature on the game, each designed for the various worlds and boss battles that you will undertake.  I really like electronic dance music in a fast paced game like this, I swear it heightens your reactions!  Feel free to listen to the soundtrack on spotify here.

During gameplay a female voice comes across on the PS4 controller to update you with what weapon you have just picked up and if a human has been killed, all very handy when you’re knees deep in robot bits!

Longevity

Nex Machina can be completed in a few hours if you put your foot down however the various accolades and rewards require specific tasks to be completed in order for them to be achieved such as rescue every human, or in contrast, don’t rescue any human.  The ability to play various arenas and worlds allow you to see how you rank with the rest of the global population both on PS4 and PC in terms of score and length of time survived for.  If you are very competitive then there is a huge amount of replayability here.

I am hoping that in the future new DLC is released to expand on the already awesome levels as the amount of stages may be the only negative that I can find.  Having said that Nex Machina is an amazing game as it is a real blast from the past in terms of fast paced action, difficulty and excitement. I seriously can’t wait to see my childrens’ reaction when they have a play on this as for them this is a type of arcade game that they haven’t really experienced yet, and I may actually have a chance of looking good for once!

Nex Machina is available now for both PS4 and PC, be sure to check out the trailer below!

I award Nex Machina the Thumb Culture Gold Award with 9/10.

Jason Patrick

Atari ST, PC & PS4 Pro gamer, Father and Rock legend. Can normally be found lost somewhere in Bolivia during his spare time! PSN: Psycho_sparky

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