The screen pulsates with pink neon lasers, flashes of light and gleaming skulls that chase after me, while I dash and dodge around, searching for humans and trying to stay alive.

The latest title from Housemarque, Nex Machina is an amazing visual spectacle and the pinnacle of the twin-stick shooting genre, which the Finnish developer owns almost exclusively. (Graceful Explosion Machine on Switch notwithstanding.)

The pace is frenetic from the moment your hero hops off his motorcycle and into the fray of attacking robotic spiders. Each of the six worlds is broken down into stages where the goal is to simply clear out all of the alien robot enemies and “save all the humans.” Nex Machina does a great job teaching you its mechanics as the difficulty ramps up quickly.

The game’s four difficulty levels provide an extreme level of challenge. While I made it through on Rookie during my first playthrough, I still used a few continues. Each run gives the player up to 5 lives, after which you must use a continue. On Experienced, you get 99 continues, and on down to only 5 for Master level difficulty.

Even Experienced, just one up from Rookie, provides an even greater challenge. The trophy list encourages players to complete the game without dying or while rescuing every human — including the secret ones — finding secret exits, destroying specific types of aliens and more. Even though a single play of arcade mode can take as little as 45 minutes, Nex Machina rewards replaying the game as you refine your technique.

There’s also an Arena Mode which pits players in direct competition with other players as you strive for the highest score in a specific world.

I haven’t talked enough about how the game looks, or how the electronic soundtrack fits perfectly. I’d never heard of a voxel before Resogun, and Nex Machina makes the earlier game’s voxels look downright primitive. The environments are gorgeous and varied, and even amid mass chaos, it is clear where the player character is on on screen at all times.

Thus far, I’ve been able to complete Rookie Mode and make it to the final boss in Experienced. (Well, the final boss that counts for a trophy…not the Nex Machina boss at the end…). The game is supremely difficult and can feel downright punishing at times.

During a run, you will upgrade the power of your weapon and dash mechanic, as well as unlock powerful secondary weapons. All of these upgrades can be lost in a matter of seconds with even a brief lapse in concentration; and if you are facing a later boss with the default weapon, you might as well start the whole run over. At the same time, this sharp difficulty seems extremely fair. If you take your time with a level, learn where enemies spawn and power-ups are hidden, you can get through anything.

Nex Machina is the most fun I’ve had playing a game since I defeated Ganon in Breath of the Wild earlier this year. Full stop. It’s my second favorite game of the first half of the year, and my favorite game on the PS4 this year. In a year filled with amazing games — Horizon, Nioh, Nier, MLB The Show, The Golf Club 2 and many more — that’s saying a lot.

I want to improve my score in the Rookie difficulty; I’m driven to reach Nex Machina in Experienced, and I want to explore each of the difficulties. I want to discover all the secrets, save all the humans and beat Kyle’s high score. I won’t stop until I get there.

Nex Machina

Nex Machina
97

Overall Score

10/10

    Pros

    • Stunning visuals
    • Incredible frantic twin-stick gameplay
    • As good as you'd expect from Housemarque

    Cons

    • Level of difficulty could frustrate some, even on Rookie