Nex Machina Artwork

Content Type: Gaming Reviews
Date: June 30, 2017

Nex Machina is a top-down arcade twin-stick shooter available for download from the PlayStation Store for the PS4. Nex Machina is created in partnership between Housemarque and Eugene Jarvis which is an incredible pairing given that Housemarque has developed such outstanding games as Super Stardust, Dead Nation, Outland, Resogun, Alienation and Matterfall, while Eugene Jarvis is responsible for such retro classics as Defender, Robotron: 2084 and Smash TV. Housemarque’s founders Ilari Kuittinen and Harri Tikkanen met Eugene Jarvis at the D.I.C.E. Awards in 2014 in which they naturally asked the man who inspired some of their games including Resogun; if he wanted to collaborate on a game. Eugene accepted, Project Jarvis was born and that eventually became Nex Machina. Housemarque and Eugene Jarvis would automatically be described as a dream partnership, but can Nex Machina truly reflect the quality of their greatest achievements in the videogame industry?

Arcade provides the classic gameplay experience with five worlds to progress through, although a sixth world is unlockable when playing on any difficulty level above rookie difficulty, while single world mode allows the player to choose any world that has been unlocked from completing them during the arcade mode.

Arena mode provides a range of objective focused challenges to participate in single player in which the player must complete their objective; despite only having five lives and no continues. Objectives include playing techno forest, crystal mountain or fire cavern and making a high score of 1,000,000 for bronze, 2,000,000 for silver and 5,000,000 for gold, although further objective challenges as gradually unlocked. The player’s quality of performance within the challenges is vital as it offers in-game currency for achieving success in relation to the objectives such as finishing within the bronze category providing 25 gold coins, while silver produces 50 gold coins and gold provides 100 gold coins. However, arena mode requires an online connection to play which only makes sense if objectives will be dynamically updated from Housemarque’s server side, but the possibility to play offline would be preferable as it is an excellent game mode.

Feats include what are effectively over 200 challenges such as saving a total of 1,000 humans as they are being harvested; saving a total of 31,337 humans in arcade mode; killing each of the six enemy bosses on each of the five difficulty levels; killing each of the six enemy bosses a total of 100 times in any mode; killing a total of 5,000 crawlers in any mode; and much more besides which makes for a positive design choice as it provides a further reason to replay every world.

An important gameplay element of Nex Machina is focusing on the survival of your character for as long as possible in order to gradually increase your multiplier, therefore increasing the amount of points you earn for destroying each enemy in an attempt to achieve the highest score possible, although the multiplier will reset when your character has been defeated.

The player can customise their character via earning in-game currency from arena mode. There is a fair amount of customisation including the ability to change armour colour from default colour of cyan to yellow, blue, white or pink for 50 gold coins per armour colour. Stormrider I is the first helmet available, although there are further helmet designs to purchase such six more stormrider helmets costing 100 gold coins per design, seven vektor helmets for 100 gold coins each and three steel helmets costing 200 gold coins. There are also various body types with male and female being available from the beginning, while there are six masculine body types costing 200 gold coins per body type, six feminine body types for 200 gold coins each, three cyber knights costing 400 gold coins per body type and three cyber huntresses for 400 gold coins each. Additional character customisation includes changing the bullet colour from a default of blue to grey, light blue, yellow, green, purple or red for 100 gold coins per bullet colour, alongside a profile picture with the first being free, although there are 40 more profile pictures comprising of Nex Machina artwork including 34 available at 20 gold coins per profile picture, three profile pictures at a cost of 40 gold coins each and three profile pictures costing 80 gold coins per profile picture.

Despite every enemy being robotic in structure; enemy design is still rather varied as enemies range in size, shape and attacks including small and large spiders, laser beam and bullet shooting turrets, horizontally and vertically standing circular discs and much more besides. Larger enemies are particularly foreboding as they will harvest humans; therefore destroying the larger enemies is essential as that naturally increases the chances of saving the humans which is a further major gameplay element in itself. Lots of enemies are spawned next to your character in waves, although portals continue to spawn further quantities of enemies until each portal is destroyed. Enemy bosses appear at the end of every world possessing an ominous amount of firepower in their armoury and certain patterns of attack that must be overcome in order to reduce their extensive health bar to 0%.

Environment design is as varied as the enemy design and is equally as world class as all of Housemarque’s previous games. Each of the five worlds and unlockable sixth world have their own unique aesthetic such as the first world Techno Forest containing plenty of vegetation and trees, while the second world Crystal Mountain has snow falling and ice on the ground and the surroundings of the third world including large quantities of rock formations and magma pools. There are vast amounts of secrets hidden within each world such as secret areas for your character to immediately progress onto as an alternative route before rejoining the path of the world a few areas later and secret humans to be saved which can be found by destroying objects that are usually positioned at the circumference of multiple areas.

Nex Machina is reminiscently of Super Stardust; weapon upgrades can be collected for the primary weapon including weapon spread and weapon range, while secondary weapons such as a laser or sword can be collected to strengthen your arsenal and power-ups include a shield to improve your armour from enemy attacks and the ability to dash through laser beams and groups of enemies.

Nex Machina’s remote play performance is excellent as it retains the quality of graphics, audio and general performance from the PS4 version, while remote play performance during local co-operative multiplayer is just as impressive as single player. The controls have been appropriately optimised including firing or swinging a secondary weapon and dashing is mapped to their R1 and L1 equivalents of R and L respectively, while the rest of the control scheme is identical which makes for a comfortable control scheme as though it was developed with Vita in mind.

The controls are appropriately mapped to the DualShock 4 controller with four separate pre-set control layouts guaranteeing a comfortable control scheme for all players. The default control scheme consists of changing the direction of the right analogue stick to fire your primary weapon; pressing R1 or R2 to fire or swing your secondary weapon; pressing L1 or L2 to dash through enemies; changing the direction of the left analogue stick to move or alternatively press up, down, left or right on the d-pad; pressing the share button takes you to the share feature menu; and pressing the options button to display the pause menu. Vibration occurs when an enemy has attacked and defeated your character, although the only disappointment regarding the four pre-set control schemes is being unable to re-configure any actions to be performed through the touch pad as it is unused, while there is also no light bar implementation which could have produced green when saving a human, a colour representing a power-up such as light blue for collecting a shield and flashing dark red for being defeated by an enemy.

Graphically, Nex Machina is astonishing as it possesses a voxel retro artistic styling complimented by mesmerising aerial traversal when venturing from one area of a world to the next, stunning particle effects and flawless performance even when surrounded by dozens of complex enemies. Graphical filters provide a further retro throwback including grayscale, retro, darker and edgier as well as the default modern interpretation of retro, while distance morphing changes the look of the environments to feature more voxel cubes set within the same styling as the particle effects. HDR is supported on both PS4 and PS4 Pro, while PS4 outputs at 900p, although PS4 Pro support provides 1080p for players with a 1080p television and a 3360×1890 resolution for 4K TV owners which is not quite 4K, but certainly produces a graphical enhancement.

The presentation of Nex Machina is solid with a great user interface across various menus such as the title menu, main menu, single player menus, multiplayer mode menus, feats menu, online leaderboard rankings, options menus and gameplay menus with support for navigation via the left analogue stick, directional pad and face buttons, although it does not include support for navigation via the right analogue stick and touch pad. The background of the main menus onwards focuses on an open landscape with rock formations, vegetation and stormy skies.

Ari Pulkkinen who previously composed the soundtrack for Housemarque’s Resogun, Dead Nation and Super Stardust HD in addition to Frozenbyte’s Shadowgrounds and Trine trilogy; returns to compose a pulsating soundtrack that fuses influences from retro videogames and synthwave. Sound effects include firing weaponry at enemies, enemies shooting back and explosions when enemies and particularly enemy bosses have been defeated. The DualShock 4 speaker implementation is yet another Housemarque game that makes some of the best usage of the feature by producing voice-overs in a tone reminiscent of Resogun; indicating when and which type of power-up has been collected; when the strength of a weapon has been maximised; an increase in multiplier has been earned; all humans in an area have been saved; when shields have been deactivated following a collision with an enemy; and more besides.

The trophy list includes 39 trophies with 23 bronze trophies, 11 silver trophies, 4 gold trophies and 1 platinum trophy. Easier trophies include the Not In My House bronze trophy for saving a human while it’s being harvested; the Look At Me Go bronze trophy for completing a feat; the Behold, For He Goes Up To Eleven bronze trophy for fully powering up the hero; and the Why Are You Running bronze trophy for killing a disruptor. Harder trophies include the Fea(s)ts gold trophy for completing 100 feats; the Storm Runner gold trophy for beating Machine City on experienced difficulty in under 5 minutes 45 seconds; and the No Touching gold trophy for clearing a single world on experienced difficulty or higher without getting hit. It is estimated that depending upon skill and a good trophy guide to provide some helpful tips that it would take between 15 to 25 hours to platinum the trophy list.

There are five difficulty levels including rookie, experienced, veteran, master and hero, although master difficulty level is only unlocked upon completion of the entire arcade mode on veteran difficulty level in single player, while the challenging hero difficulty level is unlocked when arcade mode has been successfully completed on master difficulty level in single player. Nex Machina provides a fair challenge on rookie difficulty as there are more than enough enemies attacking, although unlimited continues are afforded; therefore providing the perfect difficulty to learn the gameplay mechanics and area layouts within the worlds, while experienced difficulty provides 99 continues which is still more than enough, however a larger amount of enemies attacking at a slightly faster pace of movement and more humans to save are two big factors. Veteran difficulty imposes a maximum of 10 continues, despite a further substantial increase in the quantity of enemies, their movement speed and even more humans to save; master difficulty enforces a maximum of 5 continues, while significantly further increasing the amount of enemies, their speed of movement and enemies fire revenge bullets upon being defeated, although the player moves and attacks slightly faster. However, rookie, experienced, veteran and master difficulty levels are just a warm up for the main event of the hero difficulty level which amps up everything even more.

Local co-operative multiplayer allows two players the ability to play arcade and single world mode. Camera positioning is appropriately optimised for local co-operative multiplayer as it pans back as both players are on separate sides of the area. Arcade mode shows the amount of points each player has individually earned when having progressed as far as both players want to venture in your co-operative run, although single world mode does not.

It would have been amazing to have a local competitive multiplayer mode included within Nex Machina in which one player would be the lead character attempting to destroy every enemy and save all humans that lay ahead, while the opposing player controls and positions the robots in an endeavour to destroy the hero and harvest every human before they can be saved. Even though local multiplayer is the overlooked feature that gamers are crying out to be included in most recent game releases; it would have been great to see a full compliment of co-operative and competitive multiplayer in local and online environments, although no online multiplayer is present at launch.

The cross-platform online leaderboards are focused on worldwide rankings and friends rankings with each leaderboard containing each player’s rank; name (PSN ID); score; date and time of score submission; and displaying if the score was achieved on PS4 or PC with your personal ranking listed at the bottom of the screen in the arcade, single world and local co-op modes throughout all five difficulty levels, while arena mode has an online leaderboard for every challenge. Every player who has posted a score on the online leaderboards also has an automatic upload of their performance from that mode, world and difficulty which is an excellent design choice as it allows players who feel as though they have produced their maximum, but are still way off the pace of the highest scores yet want to improve their score; to be able to view how the very best players have achieved their respective scores and locations of secrets that they have found and certain techniques which you have previously not discovered.

Replayability stems from classic arcade gameplay throughout five worlds, a sixth unlockable world and secrets in arcade, single world and arena modes, challenging objectives in arena mode and feats, five difficulty levels, local co-operative multiplayer for two players, cross-platform online leaderboards and watching replays from other players high scoring performances that will collectively keep players returning for as long as Super Stardust or Resogun.

• Title: Nex Machina
• Developer: Housemarque
• Publisher: Housemarque
• System: PS4
• Format: PSN Download
• Cross-Buy: No
• Cross-Play: No
• Players: 1-2 (Local Co-operative Multiplayer)/Online Leaderboards
• Hard Drive Space Required: 2.02GB (Version 1.04)

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Great review. I can’t remember seeing one so thorough. I like the ideas for using the lightbar too. I’ll have to play the game sometime. I only wish it looked a little more original.

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