You will be tested

House­mar­que’s lat­est romp is pun­ish­ing but ul­ti­mately re­ward­ing if you take the time to sharpen your skills.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Technology - By MADHAVAN M bytz@thes­

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?

Vivid vi­su­als

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.

Bru­tal bosses

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.

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