You will be tested
Housemarque’s latest romp is punishing but ultimately rewarding if you take the time to sharpen your skills.
THERE are games you play for fun and then there are games that you play to test your skills, hoping the years of gaming has turned you into a pro.
Or maybe you were just born in the age of arcade machines when every title was a test of skill and sanity.
Finnish developer Housemarque, which made its mark with Resogun, is back with Nex Machina, an intense arcade shooter.
Developed in collaboration with Eugene Jarvis – the man behind classic hits like Defender and Robotron: 2048 – the game will push you to the very limits.
Like most arcade games of yesteryear there is only a hint of a story as there are no dialogues or cutscenes. You are travelling in an alternate universe where robots have edged out humanity and you just can’t have that, right?
Nex Machina is broken up into five worlds that are beautiful but what will take your breath away is the sheer destruction – robots and objects blowing up into a thousand pixels in a blaze of neon glory.
Each world is made up of multiple levels – in each one you’ll have to survive wave after wave of enemies in order to get to the next.
The enemies come in various shapes and sizes, most with unique attacks that will require you to change your game plan on the fly.
Some chase you, some fire at you from a distance, and some send pulses of deadly rays and all of them only need one hit to send you back to the beginning of the level.
You start with a limited number of lives – when you run out, you have a choice of using a (virtual) coin to continue. The number of coins at your disposal is largely dependent on the difficulty, of which there are four (and none of which are easy, by the way).
However, using a coin will set the score back to zero.
To aid you in battle are power ups that, for instance, allow you to dash multiple times, increase the range of your bullets or its spread. There are only several types and though they are dropped in random order, you’ll get them all if you stay alive long enough.
When you get your mojo going, playing Nex Machina is almost magical. You’ll be dodging and dancing around bullets and enemies with finesse – it will almost make you feel like Neo in The Matrix.
But as we live in the real world, the reverse is also true – make a mistake and you’ll start to lose not only your mojo but also your power ups one by one so it’s a terribly slippery slope.
Help the humans
In each level you’ll find a random number of humans and you have a choice of saving them or your hide. It’s highly risky and you’ll hate yourself if you die in the process but for reasons unknown, I just can’t stop myself from saving the humans.
There are also plenty of secrets to uncover too from hidden humans to alternate paths. You don’t have to look far to discover the secrets as Nex Machina allows top players to post entire videos of their gameplay but be prepared to watch and weep at their mastery, as it’s almost inhuman.
The game also grants you a secondary weapon – rocket launcher, laser, detonator, smart bomb and .... sword.
I’ll be the last person to ask you to bring a sword to a gunfight but it has a feature worth exploiting if you can get a handle of it. The sword is the only weapon that allows you to, literally, swipe away bullets.
The biggest challenge are the bosses that are waiting for you at the end of each world – they pack an insane amount of firepower and their attacks get crazier as you deplete their lifebar.
Each boss has a slightly different style of attack but all of them will blanket the screen with bullets so you’ll have to be in a trancelike state to avoid them.
And this is the only time Housemarque shows mercy – instead of booting you back to the beginning of a level, you are allowed to continue battling the boss as long as you have enough lives to spare.
However, lose all your lives and the level will be reset, along with your score. This is a big bummer because you will have to wade through multiple waves of enemies before you can get to the boss again.
Bits and bytes
Nex Machina is a game that will keep you coming back just so you can beat your score or your friend’s so you can climb up the leaderboard. Alternatively, you can team up with a friend to share the pain as it also boasts local co-op though strangely it’s lacking online multiplayer.
What makes Nex Machina fun is that it’s challenging but not to the point that you feel that the computer is cheating. It’s just the perfect blend of pleasure and pain. NEX MACHINA (Housemarque)
Twin-stick shooter for PC, PS4
PRICE: PC – RM38 on Steam; PS4 – TBA RATING:
PROS: Tough but insanely fun; brilliant boss battles; watching things blow up never gets old; pulsepounding soundtrack. CONS: You will feel the pain.