Grab a controller and strap in as we dive, dash and shoot our way through Housemarque’s ‘Nex Machina’, a top down shoot-em-up (SHUMP for short) that scratches that trigger finger of all us old school gamers. Developed with the help of creative consultant Eugene Jarvis, best known for this classic arcade offerings such as Defender and Robotron 2082, Nex Machina aims to bring the SHUMP style of gameplay to the 21st Century.This is no small feat and we dove into Housemarque’s newest title to see if they hit the mark. So grab that coffee, sit back and enjoy our Nex Machina review.
Nex Machina as a fun, twin-stick shooter
Designed as a twin stick shooter, Nex Machina is a fast paced and visually stunning game with easy to pick up concepts and controls. The concept of a SHUMP is pretty straight forward. Move through continuously more difficult levels gathering power up, collectibles and kills all while dashing, dodging and diving around the level. The genre is known for its insane pacing and nail biting combat and when push comes to shove this game hits all the right feels. Everything from level design to combat are excellently developed and delivered.
The game has a beautiful color pallette with a great mix of pixel art and more modern set pieces. Enemies feel varied and intentional in design forcing the player to react and change strategies constantly while playing. The overall feel of the visuals is one of intentional insanity all while giving just the right visual cues to help prevent the player from getting overwhelmed by everything that is happening on screen.
Gameplay is smooth and consistent and I found that despite the chaos of combat there is a beautiful rhythm to gameplay that is a tribute to the developer’s experience. If not handled well SHUMP’s can simply become frustrating to the point of rage or easy to the point of boredom. Nex Machina manages to hit that sweet spot of challenge that offers the chaos and tension you want without overdoing it. During the PC playthrough I found that a controller is the only reasonable way to play the game and once my Xbox One controller was linked up everything was intuitive. The controls were well laid out and responsive which for this genre can make or break the game.
The game offers a few different modes; a single world (exactly what it sounds like), arcade mode (with full leaderboard support and where the bulk of the game will be played) as well a co-op mode (with couch co op support only). The insanity ramps up with the addition of a second player and many an hour could be played trying to beat each other’s score. The leaderboard system works great and really does make replay something worth doing for those who love bragging rights.
The worlds themselves were varied and unique, each one having a specific overarching theme. Unlocked through playing Arcade mode, each level offers a progressively difficult set of challenges leading up to a climactic boss fight. I was happy to see that each boss fight was a very unique experience forcing a different set of tactics to defeat. For those that want the experience without perhaps the controller throwing rage that can come from SHUMP’s there are several difficulty settings with the lowest offering unlimited continues. The only caveat to this is that if you choose to continue your score is recorded to the leaderboards and then whipped.
My only real disappointment with the game is how short it is. There are only five worlds at present each containing 15 levels. During my testing I was finding that I averaged about 35-45 minutes on each world which made world completion a 4 and half hour affair (give or take some math). I would love to see Housemarque bring some more of their excellent level design to the game in the form of new worlds. Hopefully with some time we will see this become a reality.
As a long time fan or a newcomer to the genre, Nex Machina is great addition to the SHMUP games list. It hits all the right notes and offers a satisfying experience. Available on both PC and PS4, this is a game I would recommend for lovers of the genre or those interested in trying out a reimagining of the classic genre.