Housemarque founders Ilari Kuttinen and Harri Tikkanen are very open about their love for classic coin-op arcade titles like Defender, Robotron: 2084 and Smash TV and their direct influences on their own approach to game design. So, at the 2014 D.I.C.E. awards they approached the creator of these classics, father of arcade shooters, Eugene Jarvis and convinced him to come aboard as a creative consultant for their next project. What began as “The Jarvis Project” was publicly revealed two years later at the 2016 PlayStation Experience to be Nex Machina, Housemarque’s first completely independent IP.
Finnish studio Housemarque first made a name for itself well over 20 years ago with the Super Stardust series. While the studio has gone on to show great range, developing everything from sports games (TransWorld Snowboarding, Golf: Tee It Up) to fighting games (Elfmania), their talent really shines through with modern takes on classic formulas, like the 2011 metroidvania, Outland and their side-scrolling PS4 launch title, Resogun. Often, console launch titles exist solely as a visual showcase for new hardware, thus aging poorly as a result. Resogun however, bucked that trend, offering fun and addictive gameplay in addition to its impressive particle physics. In fact, its popularity was such that it went on to be ported to Vita and PS3 and even received DLC two years after its release. Housemarque continues this trend of quality arcade throwbacks with Nex Machina.
An intense, twin-stick arcade shooter with a Smash TV style, top-down perspective, Nex Machina doesn’t just wear it’s arcade heritage on it’s sleeve, it’s inherent in the game’s DNA. The narrative is classically simple and should ring familiar to Robotron fans: rescue individual humans and save humanity by blasting the sentient robot army into a million, gorgeously rendered pixel particles. The aggressive soundtrack, written by Resogun composer Ari Pulkkinen harkens back to 80s sci-fi techno-synth while adding a sense of ass-kicking forward momentum to the gameplay.
Effortlessly blending innovation & nostalgia
When playing Nex Machina, it’s immediately apparent that every design element within the game was created by seasoned veterans of the genre. Nex Machina is incredibly tough to master on higher difficulty levels, yet the default “rookie” mode (featuring infinite continues) and the elegantly simple control scheme are easy to grasp and inviting to new players. Rather than slow down the action with a deliberate, RPG-like leveling system, Nex Machina drops power-ups, shields, and secondary weapons for players to pick up on the fly, Contra style. The “campaign” is an appropriately short arcade mode, which always starts from the beginning and can be banged out easily in one sitting, especially with a teammate via local co-op. The individual levels can also be revisited through the Single World mode, or players can earn in-game currency in the tougher Arena mode to purchase cosmetic upgrades for their character.
Despite its technically short “campaign” mode, like any great arcade game, the replay value of Nex Machina is exceptionally high. Aside from the game’s lack of online co-op, everything Nex Machina does, it does extraordinarily well. Arcade shooters may be considered old-fashioned, but the refined design and level of polish found in the game puts most modern titles to shame. Nex Machina borrows heavily from classic games of the past, but it does so in a meticulously thoughtful way. Gaming has come a long way over the past 30 years, but the combined creative talents of Housemarque and the legendary Eugene Jarvis have proven with Nex Machina that lessons learned from gaming’s past are essential to its future.