It’s getting harder and harder these days to just sit down and play a game for twenty minutes while you wait for a phone call or whatever. Games are movies now, after all, and they demand attention. Nice, long spans of attention with few distractions. You might miss some of that expensive voice acting otherwise. That doesn’t mean that bite-sized games don’t exist anymore, though, and Nex Machina is a great example of how this sort of paradigm can still work.
Nex Machina plays out a little like the bastard child of Smash TV and Defender; players who tried the developer’s previous title Resogun are bound to notice some similarities. Your little guy runs around blasting baddies and avoiding blasts while rescuing other little guys. One hit is all it takes to kill you, so careful dodging and situational awareness are vital to making it through. To defend yourself, you’ve got a recharging dash and a little peashooter you can aim with your mouse or right analog stick, allowing you to fire in one direction while moving in another in true twin-stick shooter fashion.
Defeated enemies sometimes drop power-ups that allow you to up the ante a little, offering a spread shot, multiple charges or explosion effects for your dash, boosted range and so on. What’s more, you can obtain subweapons that have a cooldown period but provide much greater firepower, like a devastating laser or a charged-up piercing shot. That last one is a personal favorite, particularly because of the fantastic graphical effect that shows your character gathering up power for each blast.
You’ll lock and load through five worlds comprised of multiple maps each; when a map is cleared of baddies, you’ll move on to the next. It’s worth noting that you don’t really get a choice in the matter, so you’ll want to rush to rescue humans, find secrets and shoot special collectible enemies before leaving. Particularly inquisitive players might even find secret exits on some maps that lead to otherwise inaccessible areas. It can be tough to find a second to dig around for secrets, though, given that the forces against you include turrets, moving laser fences, human-blasting big guys and, of course, wave after wave of fodder.
While Nex Machina’s gameplay is rooted in the arcades, its presentation is all modern. There’s a fantastic stylized sci-fi look going on here and it’s amazing, especially on PC where the game has room to shine. Also noteworthy is the thumping techno soundtrack, which is amazing and suits the on-screen action perfectly. My sole complaint would be that things can get a little too busy at times and it’s possible to lose your character in the mess, but that’s to be expected in a game like this.
As an inexpensive and quality arcade blast-’em-up, Nex Machina‘s pretty hard to beat. This sort of low-investment game is a favorite of mine; it’s one of those games you can feel comfortable about booting up for half an hour instead of setting aside a big chunk of time to get drawn into the world. Frankly, I think it’s a must-have unless you’re dead set against playing games that don’t force you to consume lore or watch cutscenes.