Play These Indies: Gridd Retroenhanced, Matterfall, Nex Machina

The sci-fi is heavy in this edition of Play These Indies. This time, we'll be taking a look at the on-rails action of Gridd Retroenhanced and, not one, but two Housemarque titles, Matterfall and Nex Machina.

If you missed our last collection of indie titles, be sure to check out GameCrate's previous edition of Play These Indies.

Gridd Retroenhanced

Platforms: Xbox One, PC

The strength of Gridd Retroenhanced lies in its simplicity. The game is an on-rails flying shoot 'em up in the same vein as Star Fox. It's actually a lot like Star Fox, right down to its brevity. But while Antab Studio's arcade-styled shooter may feature a rather short campaign, it also includes an addictive Endless Mode. It's also a pretty difficult game, so while you could theoretically get through the story in under 30 minutes, you're bound to spend much more time than that trying and retrying just to get to the end.

There are only a couple of power-ups to aid you as you fly through the Tron-like levels. Every so often, you'll upgrade your ship's weapon, turning your single-fire shots into multi-fire missiles that come in really handy when you're trying to dispose of obstacles and enemies that get in your way. You can also pick up a shield upgrade, which is especially useful considering just how many things pop up that try to kill you.

Speaking of which, there are a few boss encounters during your adventure. These aren't exactly brutal, but they're definitely tricky, requiring you to dodge incoming fire and shoot specific weakpoints that glow in an especially old school manner. Oh, and while we're on the topic of the game's bosses, there's one that's especially reminiscent of Andross' original appearance in Star Fox for the SNES.

While Gridd Retroenhanced may channel its inner Star Fox in terms of gameplay, visually, it's clearly inspired by Tron. The futuristic sci-fi aesthetic is excellent, and it fits the whole “you're hacking a computer system with your cool ship” theme. There isn't exactly much variety in terms of graphics, but the game looks rad regardless.

Gridd Retroenhanced isn't the most robust rail shooter around — it actually could've done with some branching story paths like Star Fox — but it's a fun throwback to the arcade-style action games of the '90s. The campaign is a fun and challenging ride, and though it's over way too soon, the Endless Mode will keep high score chasers busy for quite a while.

Matterfall

Platform: PlayStation 4

It's no secret that Housemarque has a very distinct ability to create wonderfully old school shooters that are as fast-paced as they are fun. To this day, Outland remains one of my personal favorites from the developer. Matterfall is the studio's most recent release, and it's definitely up there in terms of quality and entertainment value, even if it isn't as creative as something like Resogun or the aforementioned Outland.

Like a lot of Housemarque's titles, in Matterfall you progress by, you guessed it, shooting your way past various enemies. That said, while there's a lot of running and gunning, you're not just blazing past baddies. Aside from your main pistol and unlockable explosive weapons, you're also equipped with a matter gun. The matter gun is used primarily to activate barely-visible platforms that you can then use to scale great heights as you climb futuristic towers. These platforms sometimes act as makeshift shields, protecting you from rainfall-like bullet-hell projectiles that fill the screen quite often.

While the level design in Matterfall may not exactly be at the same quality as a lot of other Housemarque projects, it's the loop of activating platforms and scaling the sizable stages that makes this adventure so enjoyable. There are plenty of secrets for you to discover, and curious explorers will be rewarded for their efforts with new guns and other upgrades.

Matterfall is a fun blend of shooting and platforming, and it's worth playing based on how well it does both. If you're into leaderboards and high scores, however, you may be a bit disappointed. Because the game's levels are so large, sometimes it's hard to keep a solid multiplier going. Though it can definitely get intense, this isn't the speedy type of game that lends itself to high score chasing. At just about three hours in length, Matterfall doesn't overstay its welcome. It actually feels a bit on the short side, but thankfully, there are multiple difficulties to entice players to return.

This may not be Housemarque's best-looking game, but its glowing sci-fi landscape is still nice to look at. A bit more variety would've gone a long way, though, especially since there are so few levels and a lot of them share the same visual themes. Still, the game's art works well within its dystopian setting.

Though Matterfall doesn't top a lot of Housemarque's other titles, it's still a really good game and an easy recommendation. This may not be the developer's best work, but it's still a damn fine action game.

Nex Machina

Platforms: PlayStation 4, PC

Matterfall wasn't the only game released by Housemarque this summer. Nex Machina is another fine sci-fi shooter, and given how well it does leaderboard-based gameplay, it may be the better sell for a lot of folks.

Nex Machina is a top-down twin-stick shooter that's incredibly fast-paced and action-packed. The moment you begin playing, you're dropped into a crazy, enemy-filled world. You're constantly outnumbered, and it always seems like the strange alien creatures you're battling have much better weapons than you. In order to survive, you have to constantly fire away at enemies while moving around to avoid the insane bullet-hell fire that comes your way.

Aiding you on your mission of survival are a bunch of useful power-ups including burst fire, shields, explosive dashes, rocket launchers, power shots, and many, many more. Pick up a few of these, and you'll instantly feel a lot better equipped to take on the waves and waves of enemies that Nex Machina throws at you. If you take hits and die, however, you'll lose a power-up, and if you're unfortunate enough to lose all of your lives — it's going to happen — and use a continue, all of your power-ups are gone.

There are six worlds in Nex Machina, each containing a dozen or so short levels where the goal is to kill all the things and save as many humans as possible. Seeking out humans is a huge part of both the fun and the challenge that Nex Machina has to offer. A lot of the time, onscreen prompts will point you in the direction of the humans, as well as indicate whether they're in danger of being killed by an enemy. There are also humans that are hidden in the levels, and finding these people makes for a nice surprise.

Unlike Matterfall, the level design of Nex Machina is tailored a lot better for leaderboard players. Being confined to a smaller space makes the act of keeping your multiplier going a lot more enjoyable, even if you're dodging more enemy fire here than in Matterfall. Ideally, you could get through the entire Arcade mode in about an hour, but that's just in the easy and normal difficulty settings. If you dare take on the higher setting, you're bound to spend a lot longer just trying to survive, let alone increasing your presence on the game's online leaderboards.

In addition to the Arcade mode, you can also play single levels, and there's an Arena mode that adds different modifiers to the levels. While there's no online co-op, you could also have a friend join you in couch co-op.

On the presentation side of things, Nex Machina is a stunning light show, with bullets and baddies glowing ever so intensely as they fill the screen. The level designs themselves are also quite masterful, with various environments that range from fiery volcanic formations to lush forests. The game is really beautiful to behold, and entering each new alien land is always a spectacle.

Though I personally prefer the style of gameplay that Matterfall offers, I still think Nex Machina is the overall better game. It's more challenging, its leaderboard support is a lot more engaging, and it's also just prettier to look at. If you're into arcade shooters, this is one of the finest offerings you'll find all year.

And hey, let's not ignore the fact that we got two really cool Housemarque shooters this summer. That's pretty awesome.