Twin-stick shooters seem to be ten-a-penny nowadays, so in order to swipe the cash out of your pocket they need to bring something to the table. I played Neuro-Voider recently, and that was pretty cool. I got to customise a mech with upgradeable weapons and blast my way through twenty levels of rogue-like robot doom. Laser Disco Defenders (also very cool) had a great system where all shots fired stayed on the screen, creating a self-inflicted laser hell. Nex Machina: Death machine eschews cool mechanics in the favour of neon visuals that will make your eyes bleed if you stare at them for too long.
There is no story. No motivation at all other than ‘shoot this stuff or die’. There are no gimmicks. There are barely any weapon upgrades. You shoot enemies until they are all gone and then you move onto the next stage. After a few stages you fight a big, bad boss. Then you go to the next stage and do it all again. So why would you even play Nex Machina? Because it’s honest fun reminiscent of Super Smash T.V. In a genre where gimmicks are king, it’s a surprising breath of fresh air.
The whole game is paced wonderfully. You’ll fight waves of enemies that increase in toughness, dashing around collecting the human survivors to boost your score. Enemies will march blindly towards you at first and in later levels the screen will be packed full of fodder to blast away in a satisfying shower of cubes. Neon bullets and lasers will scar your eyes. You’ll spend life after life trying to clear a screen, only to have some random goon spew bullets at you from a direction you weren’t prepared for. Death results in a beautiful explosion of more garish lasers and a reset of the screen, allowing players with the patience to learn the patterns of the enemies to reap the highest of scores.
Power-ups can be collected throughout a play through to aid in smashing more baddies into dust. Expect to grab rocket launchers, grenades and smart bombs, as well as a few minor upgrades to your primary weapon. Each death will result in the loss of one of these upgrades, but fear not, the power will stay exactly where you died. This adds a nice little dimension to the game; do you go back and collect it, or abandon it in favour of rescuing more survivors?
The whole thing looks superb. It really does. If you take a glance at any one of the screen shots above, you will see what I mean. Bright pink lasers, lava, robot enemies, more lasers; the stages really are packed with enough neon to make the eighties look pathetic in comparison. As mentioned earlier, everything explodes into cool little cubes that scatter onto the floor. It’s a nice touch that for some reason reminded me of the old Lawnmower man films. The sound design is also pretty spectacular. The whole thing has a funky techno-style soundtrack that compliments the constant sound of bullets smashing into enemies. It also gets a huge amount of bonus points for utilising one of the most under-used features of the PS4; the speaker in the control pad. I always get a kick out of this. Even though it’s only used to announce a new power up being collected, the fact that is there gives Nex Machina a boost in the sound design score that otherwise would have been missed.
It’s not perfect by any means. I would have liked to see a few more power ups to collect, a few more upgrades to the primary weapon, that sort of thing. Although the visuals are extremely appealing a little more variety would have been nice. As it is, enemies are pretty similar and there is a LOT of neon pink flying around the place. A broader use of the colour palette would have been appreciated. Other than that, Nex Machina: Death Machine is a solid game, perfect for high-score chasers. It comes from established developers Housemarque, who have improved upon their similar attempts at the genre, and aside from the main game (which is packed with secret areas and survivors to collect) offers an ‘Arena’ mode where players are tasked with clearing stages with a number of stipulations such a time limits and the such to add replayability. It’s a little bit pricey for my liking, but if you are in the market for a twin-stick shooter you can’t go wrong with this one.