Every Friday, A.V. Club staffers kick off our weekly open thread for the discussion of gaming plans and recent gaming glories, but of course, the real action is down in the comments, where we invite you to answer our eternal question: What Are You Playing This Weekend?
After years of riffing on his foundational arcade classics, the Resogun and Super Stardust creators at Housemarque have gone ahead and actually teamed with Eugene Jarvis for their latest game, Nex Machina. Jarvis is a legend of early game design, and his most lasting contribution is probably Robotron: 2084. It didn’t invent the concept of dual-joystick shooters, where you use one stick to keep your avatar safe from hordes of encroaching enemies and another to shoot in 360 degrees, but it did advance them well beyond anything that had come before and amplified that formula with kaleidoscopic visuals that were wild enough to match its tense, non-stop action.
It should be no surprise, then, that Nex Machina is a pretty direct reimagining of Robotron: 2084. Its several worlds are divided up into many individual arenas where your little dude dodges waves of bullets and killer robots while trying to save human civilians and rack up as many points as possible. Similar to enemies in Resogun, those robots explode into beautiful showers of tiny cubes that fill up the screen with their neon glow. The game is really leaning on its arcade roots, putting the focus on high scores while providing luxuries like ample continues and multiple modes, but it’s bolstered that purity with tons of secrets hidden in each world and a dash button that lets you make some particularly daring moves. It’s a glorious thing to look at and a simple pleasure to play.
Until recently, I knew Layers Of Fear exclusively as the game that sent me a wooden box full of shards of glass as a promotional stunt. I assumed something broke in transit, which seemed a fitting metaphor for the game itself, a by-the-numbers trod through an old mansion (or something) that received a muted reception from pretty much everyone. Last week, on a lark, I booted it up with a friend, and ended up rushing through it in a sitting, utterly enthralled. The game’s best played as a B-movie, a funhouse ride full of overwrought performances, increasingly nonsensical jump-scares, and a few daringly surreal nightmare spaces. It aims for Jacob’s Ladder but ends up closer to The Number 23, and it lifts from P.T. but plays like 50 Cent: Blood On The Sand. It’s a friction-free odyssey into the so-bad-it’s-good world of mid-tier game design, finding infinitely entertaining new ways to detail a failed artist’s descent into madness. You will know true terror when a painting of a dog suddenly transforms into a painting of a dog—made of eyeballs! Call up a friend, buy some beer, and enjoy. By the time the game starts throwing puzzles at you, you’re almost done.