A modern Robotron is alive and well in 2017 and it is glorious.

Nex Machina hits all the right notes with its modern twist on a classic gaming experience. Inspired by games like Robotron 2084 and Smash TV, Nex Machina combines the best elements of prior twin-stick shooters with impressive sci-fi visuals, an adrenaline pumping electronic soundtrack, tough as nails boss encounters, and a perpetual desire to play "just one more level." I dare say that Nex Machina is one of the best twin-stick shooters money can buy and one of 2017's finest games.

There are few genres and even fewer games where I feel as though a well-rounded plot doesn't really matter. This is certainly one of those times. Simply put, you are a lone hero that is trying to save the remaining shreds of humanity from a bunch of evil, bullet spewing robots. Did you get all of that? Good, now get in there and start shooting because that is essentially all of the plot that the game gives you and I frankly did not need any other exposition beyond that. You get in, you attempt to rescue a few human survivors in each level, you blast away robot foes, and you keep going. You don't need anything else explained to you. You wouldn't want anything else explained to you.

Gameplay is fast-paced and takes place on some very well crafted worlds all with their own visual themes. In general, the graphics are very bright, often very colorful, and feature very clear distinctions between world geometry and enemies. The worlds are enhanced by the use of voxels that explode as you take out enemies or chip away at certain pieces of world geometry. Really, the only place you'll be able to see more colorful explosions is if you check out some local fireworks this Fourth of July. I never once found the number of on-screen voxels or explosions to ever be too much to handle. That is to say that they were never once distracting, but there are options available in the PC version to limit the number of voxels on screen if you so desire. Worlds are broken down into smaller levels with very little down time between each of them. It's a very rapid-fire game in multiple ways. There are also a number of hidden levels to discover, though doing so on your first play through, or even your fifth, may prove to be a little challenging. Filling each of these levels are a wide variety of robots that all want to see you dead.

As this is a twin-stick shooter, you will obviously use your left stick to move and your right stick to fire in a direction. From time to time, you will get upgrades to your primary weapon that will let you shoot farther, faster, and with a bit more power. You also have a dash/dodge ability that can be upgraded, allowing you to dodge multiple times in a row before the cooldown kicks in. This dodge does make you invincible but only for the length of the animation. Just be careful you don't dash into an enemy, because it takes just one hit to kill you. Your arsenal is rounded out by the ability to pick up special weapons. Just like your primary weapon, these special weapons do not have any sort of ammo restriction. However, unlike your primary weapon, these special weapons do have a slight cooldown period, so you can't just go ham with them. Some of these special weapons include powerful rocket launchers, a laser that decimates any enemy in its path but is slow to aim, a sword, and more. You can only carry one special weapon at a time, and many times you may want to avoid picking up a different weapon if you are already using the best one for the job. Just try to be careful with what you pick up in the heat of a battle. It is also very important to note here that if you die in a level, not only do you lose a life but you also drop either your special weapon or one of your character upgrades (ex: triple dodge or primary weapon upgrade). This upgrade will remain on the field after you respawn, so it's up to you to retrieve it. Failure to do so means you are without that upgrade or ability for longer than you would like. Keep in mind that dying on a level means that you start that particular level over again. Note that I said level and not world. The only time you will have to restart an entire world over again is if you lose all of your lives and get that always disheartening "game over."

Say you've mastered blasting these robot baddies to the next dimension. You're feeling pretty good about yourself, right? Wrong. Nex Machina is all about that high score and the thrill of the chase. You won't find yourself on any leaderboards if you just do the absolute bare minimum in each level, no sir. Remember that this game is about fighting to save humanity. As such, there are humans on almost every level that can be rescued. Yes, rescuing humans is an optional objective in this game. Some are in plain sight while others you have to find. Just like in Housemarque's Resogun, Nex Machina rewards you for how many humans are rescued. If you think rescuing them will be easy, think again. Those robots I keep telling you about? Yeah, they try to kill the humans on each level. Larger, tankier robots will seek out each human in a level and it's up to you to either rescue the humans before they die. At the very least, you can kill the robot that is attacking them to buy yourself a few extra seconds before picking them up. Beyond that, worlds feature a handful of other optional objectives to destroy that provide a nice boost to your score. Just keep in mind that once you kill every robot in a level, you are immediately whisked away to the next level. You need to be fast on your feet in rescuing the humans and taking out those optional objectives before finishing your primary task.

Brightly colored bullets will come at you from every direction and while you aren't totally hopeless, the odds are never really in your favor. Each enemy has a different behavior which will perpetually keep you on your toes. Some will mindlessly come straight towards you while shooting at you. Others will turn into turrets that fire off rounds of bullets around them. Still others fire laser walls that impede your path unless you take out the source or dash through to safety. The only time you can afford to take a breather is in the brief period during level transitions or after you conquer a world.

After you blasted your way through a good number of levels in each world, it's time for a boss fight. These encounters are easily the biggest threat you will come up against in Nex Machina. The bosses are large, imposing, and have a number of different attacks as the fight goes on. Just think of the term "bullet hell" and you have a good idea of what to expect in some of these boss encounters. They will put all of your skills to the test, even on the game's easiest difficulty. To add to the challenge, these boss fights typically come after taking out a dense wave of normal enemies. This means that if you lose all of your lives during the boss fight and use a continue, you will have to start again from before you took out those normal enemies. If you thought the boss was difficult the first time through, just imagine what they are like without a good number of accumulated upgrades.

Congratulations, you've defeated a world boss, now what? Now, you see just how many points you earned. You are scored based on completion time, how many robots you killed, how many humans you rescued, how many of the optional objectives you destroyed, whether you found the secret humans, whether you found the hidden levels, what difficulty you are playing on, and how many times you died. The really competitive players will undoubtedly want to 100% a world without dying in as fast a time as possible. Talented players will be able to complete the game in about an hour but the game is almost infinitely replayable for those that love finding new secrets or earning a new high score. I am not one of those players who can cruise through a game like this with a super fast time and that's just fine with me. There is still more than enough fun gameplay and challenge for a "casual" player such as myself.

Nex Machina is just shy of being a perfect game. You have gorgeous visuals full of bright colors, voxels, and easily distinguishable enemies. There are no complaints so far as the controls are concerned as they are very responsive, a big plus for twin-stick shooters. The sound effects and soundtrack are spot on for this game. Its fast tempo compliments the fast-paced gameplay perfectly and is right up there with some of the best game music in recent memory. Truth be told, the only sore spot with Nex Machina is the lack of online multiplayer. The only way to play any sort of multiplayer is if you bring a friend over to play locally. Even with this omission, it's hard not to recommend Nex Machina to everyone that enjoys playing a damn fine game.

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Additional Information
Nex Machina (Developed by Housemarque, Published by Housemarque)
Starting at $19.99 (USD) for the PC and PlayStation 4 (PC version reviewed)
Rated T for Teen for Violence and Blood
This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.