I dreamed of being an arcade hero, cool under pressure, chewing Hubba Bubba, riding my last twenty pence coin, all the way to the final boss fight. A hushed gang of acne-ridden misfits by the video-game cabinet, eyes glued to the score, most willing me on, and more than a few a little envious of my epic run. Totally in the zone; mind and hands moving as one. In a blur of overly dextrous button tapping and skilful joystick manoeuvring: I best the boss, crack a billion points, and become a video-game legend. Glorious pixelated immortality! But sadly as a kid back in the early-90s that 8-bit starship had most definitely sailed…
The 486 PC had landed. So naturally, I cut my teeth on Doom, the shareware version on two 3.5 floppy disks; battling Cyberdemons behind a beige box. The closest I ever got to neon nirvana was a couple of trips to SegaWorld London. But the roided-out next-gen cabinets: 16-bit graphics, and digital sound just lacked the old school charm of shuffling sprites, and polyphonic explosions. Truth be told, my gaming adolescence was all about the first-person shooter, home-built PCs, and loneliness.
Even as a grown-ass adult my gaming habits pretty much stayed the same, the only major change being I switched from PC to PlayStation 3 back in 2008. And unluckily, well, being stuck in my first-person shooter ways, I completely missed out on the late-00s boom of indy arcade shooters, dashing my chances of being the millennial Billy “The King of Kong” Mitchell yet again!
2017. Nex Machina. Man vs machine. The ultimate top-down, twin-stick, voxel shooter, according to the blurb. Surely now my time had come, my mind free from the follies of youth, my thumbs well seasoned from years of intense close quarter monster blasting. I was ready.
But I sucked at the game. Not just a little. Not even a lot. I totally sucked. And I felt bad, like really bad. All the time and effort Housemarque’s lead game designer Harry Krueger and arcade legend Eugene ”Robotron” Jarvis had spent crafting a dynamic and propulsive retro shooter and a real gem was utterly wasted on me…
Nex Machina is divided into five game worlds, the first being Techno Forest, which opens with the power-suited hero rocketing in on a jet-bike and dismounting onto the first level, and right into the line of fire of a gang of big crab-like robots. I died, a lot, on this small patch of map; a luscious green forest overrun by throbbing cable punk architecture, all beautifully rendered in 2D. And all pretty much destructible, after a couple of blasts from the hero’s day-glow cannon. On my penultimate life, I reduced all my robot oppressors to scrap metal. Dismal, I know. With that, I jetted into the air and landed on the second level of Techno Forest. And my sad, short, and well below average run came to an abrupt end, after I sprinted headlong into a pack of stampeding robotic crustaceans…
Rarely is one confronted with such utter personal failure in life. My once vivid dreams of being a legendary joystick warrior were left burning like robo-garbage in an industrial smelter. But I still had a review to write. So, I gave it another shot. And I didn’t fair much better… Now I’m kind of ashamed to admit it, but I did use my unlimited continues in “Rookie” mode to creep up Techno Forest’s fifteen levels; each one packed to the max with big crazy robots, laser beam obstacles, and exploding scenery! Finally, I defeated the level boss: Beamtron. I punished that massive, laser breathing, metal-skull. Well, I ran around it like a headless chicken, wearing it down slowly with my cannon, and just got lucky I didn’t die.
Even with my super noob playing-style, I had fun, and lots of it. My runs did improve; my mind and thumbs working together to produce short bursts of fluid action. A very addictive feeling, making this game all about the replay, and then some. I did manage to unlock a couple more of the game worlds: Crystal Mountain & Fire Cavern. Epic robotic carnage in ice caves and fiery volcanos, all set to a pumping synth soundtrack.
So far my best score clocks in at 1,963,180 points. Terrible, I know. Nex Machina is great. I’m not. I’ll never be an arcade hero, I missed that 8-bit starship back in the early-80s, but I can still enjoy the view of the galaxy it sails through ever onwards to that place of neon nirvana. And Nex Machina just might be it!