I remember my arcade forays back in the day like they were just yesterday. I’d saunter straight on in to my local arcade straight off of a busy downtown city street. My skinny, pale, geek-powered arms would be dangling at my sides as I made my rounds, inspecting the different arcade machines within the dark confines of the oblong chamber. Clint Eastwood had nothing on me.
If I really wanted to go all out, I’d strut right up to a twin stick shooter cabinet. Since twin stick shooters were so popular back then, the entire cabinet would be teaming with fellow gamer-geeks, who were all scrunched together at the front and sides of the machine in order to get the best view they could of the action.
Of course, since my body was so “aerodynamic” (read: scrawny) I usually had no problem squiggling my way through the phalanx of gawking (and sometimes slobbering) geeks in order to plop a quarter just at the bottom of the game cabinet’s screen. This signaled to the others that there could be a new sheriff in town. Okay, okay, it merely indicated that I was reserving a place in the player queue.
Once I got my opportunity to shine, I didn’t waste any time getting down. After sliding in my quarter and standing front and center in front of the main game screen, I prepared for battle. Moments later, my arms wiggled this way and that as I jerked the two joysticks back and forth, left and right, in what must have resembled some sort of Slinky exposition.
The more I blasted away at the game’s enemies, the more prestige I gained within the squinting, darting eyes of my heavily breathing (and often foul smelling) compatriots. If I managed to make it to the final stages of a game (which was quite often…of course), I begin to feel a rush of adrenaline kick in as I dodged lasers, bullets, or other projectiles, and continued to blow away everything that moved on the (usually sticky) screen. And when I won—whoa! What a rush. I’d be praised repeatedly by everyone in attendance. A couple of times, I even had a geekoid or two follow me around as I swaggered off to my next game. Those were the days…
But twin stick shooters didn’t last for long. As the years rolled on, fighting games and other genres began to take over more and more of the gaming landscape within the arcades. By the time home console systems became popular, arcades were effectively irrelevant. Twin stick shooters were about as dead as a doorknob.
With the recent wave of retro-nostalgia—not just admiring things that came before, but actually embracing and attempting to recreate all things retro—twin stick shooters have been making a heartfelt comeback. Particularly within the last few years, with games like Geometry Wars 3: Dimensions Evolved, Helldivers, Dead Star, and of course the now infamous serial killer-emulator, Hatred. Much like many games these days which feature pixelated graphics are now seen as envogue, many of the older, classic genres are being dusted off, rebranded or re-embraced, and put out on the assembly line. These are great times, not only for nostalgics, but also for youngsters who are curious about the fun-filled days of yore.
Which brings us to Nex Machina, an aggressive, in-your-face, powerhouse of a modern twin stick shooter. First off, I’d like to commend the game’s developers, Housemarque, for not caving in like weaklings and giving us some half-baked MOBA. This is pure, un-distilled arcade twin stick action, with no fillers and no preservatives—just how we like it. Nex Machina is devoid of any gimmickry or any sort of trickery (with regards to in-game micro transactions that are all the rage these days). What they have delivered instead is a lean, mean, blast-everything-that-moves-on-the-screen experience.
Yeah sure, there’s the allusion of a perfunctory backstory which tells the classic tale of man vs. machine. Humans, so busy with having their little faces buried in some sort of screens, have failed to notice that AI has advanced to the point to where it now views all fleshy bi-pedals as vermin. Robots are suddenly mass-produced by the AI in order to eradicate the pesky pink nuisance. It’s up to one man (and his gun of course) to rise up and fight against the evil robots—that man, of course, is you.
You begin the game by rolling in on your motorcycle, jumping off of it in a dramatic dive from on high, and immediately engaging a gaggle of bolt heads. From there, just like the classic twin stick shooters of old, the action never lets up.
Nex Machina’s controls are fairly straight forward, although I’d highly recommend using a game control pad rather than the typical keyboard and mouse setup. Your right analogue stick moves your character around and the left one aims and shoots at pretty much anything that moves. There is also a limited dash ability that you can utilize in order to phase through waves of lasers, but that’s about it. It’s all about how you maneuver around each of the fifteen areas within the six main areas.
There is a little meta-game that can throw curveballs at you as well. Littered throughout each level are power-ups. Some are more obviously placed and others are harder to find. On top of that, however, are random human civilians that are aimlessly wandering around each level. When you encounter them, they’ll begin to flash red, which indicates that they are about to die. This offers up some interesting choices for the player—should you risk it all and go snag the hapless human for extra points, or continue on with your continuous score combo that you’ve been on a tear with?
Visually, Nex Machina scores high as well. The bright and dazzling graphics have a minimalistic, clean look that can entrance you with all of its pulsating and blazing lights and effects. You can tell that the developers not only did their homework on classic twin stick shooters, but also took it to another level with the advancements of today’s computing power.
I’d consider Nex Machina much more than just another nostalgic trip to the past. Although it does a great job of emulating the twin stick shooters of old, it has enough uniqueness going for it to stand well on its own. It can also deliver that esoteric, adrenaline-rushing feeling that will keep your sweaty fingers glued to the controller as you try to complete that last stage…and then one more…and then another…
Nex Machina features great graphics that make its twin stick shooter theme come alive. However, you want to have a pretty beefy gaming PC or gaming laptop in order to play it at a decent framerate. So, you may just want to invest in a decent gaming rig:
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